I’ve posted a letter from my friend Robert Waldrup (President of the Oklahoma Food Coop about the Coop’s first monthly food delivery! It is very exciting to see this take off.

To read the letter click on the link below:

From an email forward by Robert Waldrup:

November 20, 2003

There was one point in time earlier today.

We had set everything up to start picking the individual customer orders.

The two walls of the hallway in front of the Family Life Center gymnasium at Epiphany Catholic Church were lined with tables, each loaded with orders brought by a particular producer. Boxes, bags, and ice chests had made their way from literally the four corners of this state to Oklahoma City.

In the center of the hall were two more rows of tables. On those tables were empty bags, a brown paper bag inserted into a plastic grocery bag. Each stood upright, with an invoice stapled to it.

Anyway, I looked around and for a moment felt pangs of fear, thinking, “you get yourself into such situations Bob Waldrop.” And, “maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.”

But fortunately, the success of this day wasn’t up to me alone. There was a whole crew there. And everybody worked hard, and worked smart, and so it has come to pass that as near as I can tell right now, only two items went astray. One is a bag of turnips that should have gone to Edmond, and the other is a bag of dried corn that should have gone to Norman. Plus we have unfinished business in re about 3 lambs which I will pick up tomorrow in eastern Oklahoma. I am going to the blessing of the cornerstone of the new monastery being built at Clear Creek, the Abbot of Fontgombeault in France (the mother house of the Clear Creek priory) will be there, also the Bishop of Tulsa. Anyway, the three lambs are Clear Creek lambs so those items will make it to their appointed locations over the weekend; one of those lambs was donated for us to give to the poor.

One pickup was late at the central OKC location, so I brought their stuff home and about the time I got it in my freezer and fridge, they called and came by and picked it up, so all the Oklahoma City, Norman, Enid, and Edmond deliveries/pickups have been made, and the Tahlequah orders were handed off to Kathy Carter-White’s daughter and presumably will make their way to their appropriate homes.

Snafus along the way were minimal but manageable. I forgot three ice chests at home, one producer with a few items didn’t show up, there were some minor out of stocks on a few produce items (weather related, so must be expected), but corrections were made to invoices that were sent out. One person at the OKC NW pickup had brought a check already made out, and her invoice had a couple of adjustments, so she just gave us the check and said for us to apply it to her next order. We went over peoples’ orders with them and as Walt said in his email, “It appears that people got what they ordered.”

Everyone that I saw today were excited and happy about their orders, and in a rush to get home to try some of this good food.

The total of the invoices I ran yesterday was $3,221, which doesn’t include the 3 lambs because we don’t know their price until I talk with the processor and get the weights. I would guestimate the amount of invoice adjustments to be less than $100. We had 35 orders, the average order was $92 and change.

Here’s how we organized the order picking. The customer bags were arranged on the tables by delivery area. All the OKC NW bags were on two tables, all the Norman were in their area, etc.

Each person took one order, and got everything together for it, putting it together on their appropriate delivery area table. If they had several frozen items, they went into one bag, if they had several refrigerator items, they went into another bag. Then all the fridge and freezer items were put into the freezer and refrigerator, organized by delivery route. In the freezer we used big black plastic garbage bags to separate the different delivery routes. Each invoice was marked with the number of bags they had, and whether they had something in the fridge or the freezer.

I didn’t see how Walt organized his ice chests for transport to Norman, so he may have something to say about that. For the OKC NW orders and Central OKC orders, they were in the fridge or freezer until the people came and picked them up or they went into coolers for the trip to the central OKC pickup.

Here’s some lessons I learned today.

Three thousand two hundred dollars is a lot of food. Especially when some of it comes in 75 pound bags. We should probably put an upper weight limit on incoming bags, hehehe, or recruit more young strong 20 somethings.

I think we had the right amount of orders for us today, first time out of the chute. It was enough to keep us excited, it was enough product that the producers were excited and hoepful, it was enough to make us work hard and be tired at the end of the day, and thus know we had accomplished something. When I arrived at Epiphany Church this morning, the hall was empty except for a few tables, and when I left at the end of the day, it was empty again and the floor was swept.

Anyway, I’m glad we didn’t start out with 100 orders. I wouldn’t be afraid of that number for December, as long as we prepare properly for that delivery day and take into account the things we need to learn from today.

We need more coolers next time, even if the dollar amount and number of orders is about the same. We should look into buying some professional quality chests.

We used 8 tables, arranged in groups of two, for OKC NW, OKC Central, Norman, and “Everywhere Else”. These were arranged in the center of the hallway.

We used 10 tables along the walls to hold the incoming producer deliveries. There were the typical tables you find in church social halls, maybe 6 or 8 feet long (I will measure one tomorrow).

We used carts from the church kitchen to pick the orders. Each order picker would take a cart, and put the customer’s empty bag on it, and then using the invoice stapled to the bag, go around to the various producer tables and fill the order. As each item was found and picked, it was checked off the invoice. So we need one cart per order picker.

We had three grocery carts that the parish uses to collect food for the poor, and to transfer bags of groceries from the church’s food pantry to the office area where people pick them up. They were very useful. We used them to move frozen and refrigerated items to the freezer and fridge, and then to bring them back. We used them to hold producer product at the beginning of our order picking when we were pretty much out of table space. Customers used them to take their food out to their cars. Several expressed amusement and surprise at seeing grocery carts.

So if we move this Delivery Day event around to other places, as is likely will happen, and certainly when we get our own central distribution place, we will need our own grocery carts. Two of today’s carts had been donated by Wal Mart, I myself had gone and picked them up, and one of my private amusements during the day was seeing those Wal Mart carts rolling all those cooperative local food groceries around the room and out to waiting vehicles.

Wherever we go, we will always need a large place to work with access to refrigerators and freezers to do this. The space we used was about 35′ wide and probably 70′ long. I will have to measure the freezer at church to see how big it is and that will tell us something about what we need freezer-wise.

Most of the producers labelled each item individually or had their own bags labelled individually and that was perfect. If there is any one thing that we did that made the order picking successful, THIS WAS IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If we hadn’t asked them to do this, and if most of them hadn’t done this, then I think we would have had a lot more “gone astray” items than we did.

As it were, there were a few moments of hilarity. There were two dozen eggs that wandered around all afternoon. First one was gone, and we marked it off her invoice, then it was found so we adjusted the invoice again and then the other dozen (they were from different producers), was missing. I found it just as the other order was about to go out, so once again the invoice was adjusted. I wrote an apology for all the scribbling on the invoice. But it was kind of funny in its own way. I do think that a guardian angel has watched over this entire event this past week. e.g. my making a backup of all the working delivery documents last thing on Monday night and thus having that backup available on Tuesday when my computer was knocked over by an errant cat and thus literally crashed and its information no longer available.

Christian Cheese put their orders in attractive seasonal paper bags, and that was a real nice touch. Honey Hill farm put attractive little tags on their orders.

Five people picked today’s orders. They were Leava Major, Walt Kelley, David and Michelle Worley, and me. More help would have been, well, helpful, maybe 2 more people for the amount we did today. This would suggest a ratio of one worker to seven orders. Some time today was used for figuring out and fine tuning working procedures, it is likely that as we do this more often, we will get better at it and thus volunteer productivity will improve.

We started setting up the tables and bags about 11:30, and by a little after 12 noon we were picking orders, and we finished that about 3 PM. Bruce Johnson and Barbara Hagen came later in the afternoon and took the orders from Epiphany Church to the central OKC dropoff, Walter Kelley took the orders to Norman, David and Michelle (who had driven all the way from Adair county, picking up product along the way from Belle Starr Buffalo) took the Tahlequah/Eufaula orders back with them and dropped them off on their way to Westville.

Jerry Logan brought Mark Parman’s order, which he had dropped off to them I guess yesterday and which they kept in their commercial freezer until today and helped get everything set up. We met Ron Beshard of Sleeping Bear Creek Bottling in Woodward this morning, and visited with Don McGehee of PDH farms, George Christian of Christian Cheese, Susan Graf of Crestview Farms. Kim Barker brought Cattle Tracks wheat, Country Sunshine fudge and jellies, and his own Walnut Creek Farm grassfed beef and lamb last night, and took back the Enid order with him. The Stepp’s had come by Saturday with their refrigerated trailer and dropped their order at our house, it was kept in our home freezer, but do to a communications snafu, 2 items were left off their Saturday delivery so Mrs. Stepp came by this morning first thing and left those items plus two buffalo summer sausages for the volunteers to munch on and some buffalo cookbooks. The summer sausage was very good.

Judi Kastl came to town Tuesday for the horse show and brought her beef plus Lost Creek Mushroom Farm’s orders. Natural Farms in Tulsa shipped theirs by refrigerated truck, it arrived yesterday and I kept it in the freezer at Epiphany overnight. Whipporwill Pecans mailed their pecans, they arrived at Epiphany Church yesterday. Leava Major brought her soaps with her, and Walter Kelley brought Swinging Gate Farm’s orders, plus picked up Van’s Pig Stand’s orders at their Norman location. Horne’s Organic Farm order was dropped by yesterday by a guy from the state dept of Agriculture organic certification program who had been to his farm that day to certify his on farm organic poultry processing procedures. That was dried corn and some corn stalks. 4 of his bags had a bushel and a half of corn in them.

For items that came from producers in bags, it worked best for customer names to either be written on the outside of the bags with a magic marker or written on a label or tape attached to the bag.

Communications in the time between the orders and the deliveries was characterized by snafus and we need to have backup procedures for the next order cycle. Orders were generally sent by email, but some of those emails apparently did not make it to the intended recipients. For the December order, I am asking the producers to immediately acknowledge receipt of their order. I am also telling them that if they don’t get an order from us on the 12th, they should call me. I will call anyone I haven’t heard from by phone or email on the 12th.

We also need to work on the turnaround time on prices for items for which there isn’t a standard weight, mostly meat items. Some of the delay this time was caused by communications snafus, i.e. emails not getting delivered, and thus people not knowing that they needed to get us the information. (Our best guess on this in some situations is that spam filters may have deleted our emails.) It took us from last Thursday to Tuesday of this week to get all of the information we needed for the customer invoices, so instead of collecting in advance as we had originally planned, people paid when they picked up their orders. That worked fine as far as I know.

The producers who showed up today and had invoices were paid on the spot, the other checks will go out probably tomorrow, there are a couple that we don’t have an invoice from yet. One final test of our procedures today will of course be the balancing of the books, i.e. money paid by customers for orders equals money paid to producers for invoices plus the coop fee of $3.50 and the occasional home delivery fee of $5 or out of OKC area delivery fee of $1.50. I also think that we will break even on our costs directly related to this delivery, which includes volunteer compensation, mileage, home delivery fees, and $3.79 for brown paper bags. Plastic bags were also from members except for some from a roll brought by the Worley’s.

One of the lessons we said today that we should remember is that whenever you start a food coop, recruit members of church staffs early and often. Church staff members have access to facilities and communications networks and that is helpful. Our membership includes staff and lay leaders in several churches — Unitarian, Church of Christ, Baptist, Congregational, Catholic. Without church help, maybe we would have made it to today’s adventure, but it would have been a lot more difficult and would have cost us more money.

We need to develop more customer members in areas outside of Edmond/Oklahoma City/Norman, in order to ensure the economic viability of those transportation systems that bring product into town.

There was another interesting happening today.

To recap a bit of our history, our cooperative order delivery service grew out of the oklahomafood.org website which began as a food security/social justice project of the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker house, a lay religious community I founded in 1999. Among other things, we deliver food to people in need who don’t have transportation to get to a regular food bank. Well, we have all obviously been very busy pulling this cooperative project together and as a result I have had less time for other things, such as begging for food and money to buy food to give to the poor. Thus, this Saturday we are supposed to deliver food to 100 households, and frankly, on Sunday the cupboard was very bare. One parish had promised food for ten households, another parish pledged ten more, and aside from that we had 25 pounds of hamburger (from Kastl’s), about 60 pounds of beans, 2 cases of Ensure, and maybe four bags total of miscellaneous groceries. Christ did wonders with five barley loaves and a couple of fish, but I was dubious about what we could do. But here again, fortunately I didn’t have time to worry about that today. This morning early I said to myself, “Bob, you just have to worry about that tomorrow. You have enough to worry about today.”

Well, about an hour later, one of the parish’s donating food for ten called and said, “we can do more.”

And then producers started showing up at Epiphany Church and saying, “We brought you some extra to give to the poor.” And then some of the customer members had bought food for us to give to the poor. This evening when I got to Allan’s and the central OKC pickup, in the Central Park neighborhood, it was at their neighborhood association house where they put food out for anyone to come and get for free (mostly organic vegetables, a bit past their prime but still good, given by a local independent “health food store” instead of being thrown away), and they gave me carrots and potatoes. So besides my own household’s order, I came home with nearly a pickup load of organic produce and food to give to the hungry. One of the customer members bought a lamb, which I am picking up tomorrow from the Clear Creek monks, for us to give to the poor. Another customer member gave me a check for $100, which was good because when I came home, a homeless family knocked on the door about 9 PM and needed gas and a prescription filled. Thus, “O me of little faith and often full of doubts” once again had an opportunity to be reminded of the presence of goodness and beauty in the world.

For the December order, we will have a line item in our price list where people can give money to buy local food to give to the poor.

So that’s all I can think of tonight. I’m sure I will have more to say about this later.

Many thanks to all the people who helped make today reality. What was once theory, speculation, and wishful dreams has turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy of success. It may fairly be said that “one delivery does not a cooperative success make”, but one delivery is certainly where that process begins.

At any point in the development of this, we could have turned around and decided, “no we can’t do this.” There was a lot of reason to do that, it was certainly the easy way out — to step back from a scary project that was suddenly coming to life and not remaining in the “dream world”. It is always an “experience” when something that is deep in your heart jumps out and become reality. That is what happened today.

It is always easier to just talk about something than to actually do something. Doing something is scary, it breaks routines, upsets comfort zones, and challenges establishments. But it is also fun, exhilirating, and in our case, has an immediate instant gratification payoff in terms of really good and tasty and nutritious and wholesome local food grown and produced by people we know, whom we have seen with our own eyes, and felt the strength of their handshake with our hands.

In more prosaic terms, we proved that talking and thinking, combined with sweat equity and a little bit of money wisely spent, by people with good hearts and common purpose, can put together the seed of a local food system that can succesfully receive food from producers and deliver it safely to customers in Oklahoma. When we see the financial report, I think it will show that we haven’t spent much more than $1,200 in the grant or coop money to get to this point, plus there have been probably $500 in expeditures made by others on our behalf (i.e. donations of postage, envelopes, copying, Sierra club paying our website fees, etc.)

One more thing. I saw my first honey comb in a long time today, from Honey Hills farm. When I was a kid, most of the jars of honey sold in the grocery stores in Frederick had honey combs in them, but I haven’t seen one in years. It was so beautiful, bright gold shining in reflected light, emblematic of the mission and work of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.

The December orders will be delivered December 18th, and the orders are due December 11th. Y’all bon apetit, you hear? and SEASON’S EATINGS!!!

Robert Waldrop, president, Oklahoma Food Cooperative