For the last 20 months, I have been part of a Fruit and Vegetable Market Buying Group. It started with 3 of us, grew to about 6 and is currently sitting at 5, which is a good number. Being a part of the group has been fantastic. Not only are the fruit and vegetables at much cheaper prices there is the opportunity to try a greater variety of produce. The other fun thing is trying out new ways to use up excesses that inevitably occur from time to time.
So what exactly is this buying group? Well, we do a run to our local fresh fruit and vegetable markets – The Brisbane Produce Market – every fortnight. These central markets are where all the producers bring their produce to sell wholesale to the trade (early morning) and then to the public (from 9 am). We have to buy in bulk and all purchases are cash only.
Although the trade gets in first and obviously get better prices and the pick of the produce, the quality and prices that are available to the public are still sensational compared to buying at the local supermarket.
Mind you, it can be very treacherous to the uninitiated as there are trucks, forklifts and trolleys going everywhere. It is total chaos until you understand the order of things. Also, there is a lot of pushing and shoving that can go on from fellow shoppers as everyone wants the best produce.
Over time, we have developed a system to make sure we get the best out of each run and that everyone contributes. It works really well for us, so if you’d like to replicate this, please do. Here’s how it works.
- The run is usually set for every second Thursday – which is the day we have found we can get the best selection. The market is also open to the public on Wednesday and Friday so if the person doing the run can’t go on Thursday, they can go one of these other days.
- On the Monday of the market week, a spreadsheet is emailed out listing the more common and popular items to buy. This list has been fine tuned and simplified over time and has been set up with formulas to make the final calculations easy. Each person indicates Yes or No if they wish to have the item that week. For some products we indicate quantity eg strawberry punnets.
- All spreadsheets are returned to one person who compiles the list into a final spreadsheet. The final copy is emailed back out and the person doing the market run prints it out to take.
- We have some big plastic boxes to help with sorting and a trolley to use at the markets. These are all dropped to the central sorting point (the house of the person doing the run), along with money the day before the run. As a rule of thumb, we each put in $50 per run. If someone feels their spend may be higher, a bit more goes in. I usually put in around $70.
- The person doing the run heads off with the trolley, spreadsheet and money, arriving as soon as the gates are open to the public, as the produce sells very quickly. The idea is to buy the most requested items first – those that everyone wants or at least 3 or 4 people. If after this there is still money left, the spend becomes discretionary. Items that were less requested may be purchased, or seasonal items not included on the list. The latter are called ‘extras’ and are evenly split amongst everyone.
- The produce is then sorted – we have paired up for this so there is at least 2 of us to help with every sort. Often however, everyone joins in and helps over a cup of tea. We use the spreadsheet to keep track of who wants what and put the produce into boxes.
- From here, everything is taken home and used. Over time I have found many ways to use up all the produce – freezing, bottling, making sauces – and enjoy the challenge of finding new recipes and ideas. And if worse comes to worst and the produce deteriorates before it can be used, it goes into the compost so the garden benefits.
A Market Buying Group is really a worthwhile exercise and has many benefits. I hope this inspires you to consider a group and if you can find some people to band together, go for it. You won’t be disappointed.