A weekly series about our food and sustainable agriculture.
As we learn in the video, the Know Thy Food buyer’s club started back in February of 2008, when Rebecca Andersson and other young mothers realized they wanted to have more control over the food they were feeding their children. The small group of parents banded together to start buying organic food directly from a distributor. The food would be delivered in bulk to Rebecca’s house, where moms would meet to sort it and bag it right in her living room and dining room. They loved the feeling of empowerment.
“We really know what’s in our food. We really know where it comes from and where our money goes,” Andersson said. “It’s not supporting a mystery corporation that maybe’s doing things that we don’t know about and that we wouldn’t want our money to go to.”
But as Know Thy Food grew, so did the traffic — and in 2009, the City of Portland threatened them with $200/day fines if they kept operating what the city initially claimed was a commercial business operation in a residential neighborhood, but the added traffic was their principal concern.
“I really felt strongly that the City shouldn’t be able to determine how we buy our food,” she said. “We were getting farm fresh eggs and raw milk and grass fed meat and all this amazing stuff and I didn’t want to stop. I wanted that food and I felt like it was our right.”
Briefly, the group attempted to abide by city rules limiting cars and visitors by splitting distribution points, but the rules were too confusing and half the members left. That left Know Thy Food at a crossroads — get a real, larger space, or shut down. So in May 2010, Andersson signed a five-year lease on a warehouse.
Since then, Know Thy Food has expanded to almost a thousand members, supports nine part-time employees and operates a cafe. Since part of the goal of the once-a-week buyer’s club is to provide healthy food at a reasonable price (Anderrson only adds a 10% percent markup to the wholesale cost), organizers were hoping that the cafe would become the profit center for the business.
“The café still isn’t breaking even, so we’re still working on that. Everybody tells me, ‘It takes at least 18 to 24 months for a café to kind of get going.’ Right now we’re at the two-year mark,” she said. “It’s actually been harder than what I expected.”
Text post by Melinda Tichelaar