It’s almost unbelievable to think that it has been nine months since the COVID pandemic was declared and our lives drastically changed. I distinctly remember the moment when our team realized we would have to cancel our first auction of the year, back in March. That moment was followed by many hours of planning and discussing how we could operate the produce auction throughout the pandemic, with our community’s safety as a top priority.
We knew that despite the uncertainty of the time, there would still be plenty of produce, thanks to our hard working farmers; likewise, people still needed food. How could we encourage people to support our regional food system without drawing large crowds out to Chesterhill and risking community health? The answer to this question was solved through a number of strategies, but one of the biggest changes to our 2020 CPA season was the expansion of our Buying Club.
Though Buying Club had been around in previous years, 2020 brought it to a much larger scale, with more members than ever before. Buying Club is a membership throughout the auction season in which members receive a weekly bag of assorted seasonal produce from the CPA. This year, we also offered weekly and or monthly shelf stable items such as jams, maple syrup, and Shagbark products.
The produce bags are pre-packed and picked up by members at various locations, making this a quick, easy, and safe way for people to receive local produce. The Buying Club also ensured that our farmers would have a consistent market for their produce throughout the season, despite the unpredictable year. The Buying Club spent over $40,000 on local food in 2020.
With over 150 members, Buying Club was a key component to a successful auction season in the midst of a pandemic. Our team became experts at packing brown paper bags full of fresh produce. After each auction, we would assemble the buying club bags and load them into our van for distribution the next day This task was definitely a team effort that required moving, sorting, packing, and loading over a thousand pounds of produce bags.
For me, the highlight of Buying Club was the distribution days. Our members would always express excitement and gratitude when picking up their bags. Some members would mention a recipe they made with their produce or how they tried a new vegetable for the first time. Some would tell me that they shared their produce bag with friends, family, or neighbors because they had so much, or that they were able to make salsa, sauerkraut, or canned sauce with the abundance. Fruit was definitely a favorite amongst members; I looked forward to the days they received berries, apples, or watermelon because you could see the smiles on their faces, even with masks covering them. These interactions were especially meaningful during the stressful and tiring weeks.
It was truly a privilege to be a part of our community’s resilient regional food system during unprecedented times. If you are interested in joining Buying Club in 2021, look for sign up information in late March/ early April on our Facebook and website.
Rachel McDonald is a COMCorps member serving her second term as the Food Access Coordinator with the Rural Action Sustainable Agriculture team. She studied geography and political science at Ohio University with a focus on Food Studies, and plans to continue Food Studies in graduate school. She enjoys hiking, baking, and engaging with the wonderful community here in SE Ohio.