Food Club: Know Thy Food

As we learn in the video, the Know Thy Food buyer’s food 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


  1. says

    I’m a KTF member and have some thoughts on the food club and the cafe income dilemma.

    Maybe advertising to a larger demographic would help. It’s great that the cafe is open for mother/child activities and provides entertainment for little ones. But, this environment isn’t attractive to business people and older individuals who want to lunch with friends.

    Advertising new expanded options in local papers (eg. The BEE) might attract groups other than the mommy/baby set. I’m a grandmother and love kids, but don’t want to hang out with a hoard of toddlers and a guy singing nursery rhymes while I’m trying to enjoy a meal or discussion.

    Also, have you considered seasonal cooking classes at the cafe? People pay for cooking classes. How about culinary team building at the cafe? Businesses pay well for these events.

    I’m available for discussion and specific ideas, if you’re interested in my input.
    Thanks and good luck.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing your ideas, Judi. Hopefully you and KTF will be able to get together and discuss.

      As for the cafe, the entertainment factor is a scheduled event. When we first arrived it was quite quiet – a good place to meet and have conversation with someone.

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