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A little Berkeley Food Conspiracy nostalgia (long)

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The discussion of an Ueber-Yuppie food court opening in Berkeley in the vicinity of some sacred ground has caused a mix of emotions in various people including me, who felt impelled to dig up the Bible of PC Foodiness in Berkeley of the late 1960's (thanks to Mother Earth news). My then wife and I were the "Cheese Coordinators" for the North Berkeley-Albany "Cell" of the Berkeley Food Conspiracy ca. 1968-1970 and I can vouch for the fact that the procedures were honored and followed as if they came straight from the Little Red Book:

================================================ THE GREAT FOOD - BUYING CONSPIRACY

PEOPLE'S OFFICE
BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA

The food-buying co-ops take cooperation among members to make them work but savings are really something (20-50%). They function this way:

1. Neighborhood groups of five to eight living units get together and send representatives to a Thursday night central meeting. Every adult pays a non-refundable, one-time kitty fee of $2.00 or more as a cushion for fronting the money to buy things. At the meeting, orders are taken from the representatives of each group for fruit and vegetables.

At 6:00 AM Saturday morning, three or four people go down to the Farmer's Market in San Francisco and buy organically grown fruits and vegetables in boxes or crates and save lots of money.

Between 10:30 and 12:30 everyone comes and gets his stuff at a central location. The price per lb. is a bit marked up to cover waste - there's always left-over stuff since you have to over-buy a little (crates come in standard amounts). Markups might be 1¢/lb. for items under 10¢/lb., 2¢ under 20¢/lb. 3¢ under 30¢/lb. etc.

You'll need:

1. large vehicles (two if over .30 living units are buying).
2. Two bookkeeper-cashiers and a table.
3. Space-two or three spaces in your parking lot.
4. Two or three scales ($1-$3 used at Value Village in Richmond or Oakland or at Flea Markets, baby scales are best).
5. CASH to pay the farmers - no checks accepted.
6. Paper bags and boxes so people can carry their stuff home.
7. One person to dispose of left-overs (see "Dry Goods' below).

2. Domestic and imported cheese at a 20% discount (on 20 lbs. or more) is available from the CheeseBoard on Vine near Walnut in Berkeley.

The order, composed of each group's orders combined is phoned in on TUESDAY MORNING (make sure and tell them you're a new group), and picked up at 8:00 PM Friday night. It is paid for then.

The cheese is cut up and weighed on Friday night, and put into packages for each group. It is distributed TO GROUP REPRESENTATIVES on Saturday morning with produce or dry goods (see below). Group reps pay the cashier for their group's order.

You'll need two-three people to handle cheese.

3. Once a month or so you may want to buy good, organic dry goods. The prices are well below even non-organically grown things bought in the supermarket. You may want to contact Bill O'Connell or Marcia Binder at FOR THE LOVE OF PEOPLE, on Telegraph in Oakland just this side of the new freeway overpass on the right as you head south. (No phone). They are a health food co-op and they get good things at low prices if you buy in large quantities (like 100 lbs. of flour, 30 lbs. of raisins, etc.

FOR THE LOVE OF PEOPLE needs our help in going and getting the stuff, as their truck can't hold too much. Contact other co-ops to find out when everybody's going, and a caravan of People's Co-ops can go together to the wholesalers.

Sometimes dry goods can be purchased in large quantities at very reasonable prices therefore:

1. Storage space is needed, preferably a kitchen or room with a sink. Maybe you could wheedle out a basement room from your landlord or manager (ask the latter to join, if he's a resident!) near where you distribute produce. You also need plastic-bag lined garbage cans and five gallon ice cream containers for storage, as well as ladles, scoops (cut out plastic bleach bottles are great!) and funnels. Also jars for honey, peanut butter and oil.

2. Lots of front money is needed - one way is to sell $5.00 or more worth of SCRIPT to members, enough to cover the cost completely each time you make a dry goods run. Members then pay in script for dry goods!

The same price mark-up system as for produce is advised. There is always waste.

Dry goods are distributed at the same time as produce.

Bookkeeping for dry goods is easy with script. Script in $1.00 amounts can be used, with purchases which come to under or over the even dollar being paid in script and change. You'll need one or two cashiers, and one or two people to help weigh things out. (P.S. Script could be paper, coins, special stamped objects, you name it.)

GENERAL HINTS: In the case of produce and dry goods, everyone weighs his own and tallies his bill, with the cashier checking the addition. Equal participation and equal responsibility. It works if you're careful to be accurate. Cheese is another story. Cutting is tricky as cheese varies in density from one kind to another. Waste is more costly at 70-90¢/ lb.

Produce buyers should try to get to know the farmers and should draw up the price list on the way back. A blackboard is handy for listing prices.

================================================

Eating the cheese "waste" was our reward for our efforts ;-)

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  1. Thanks for that lovely trip back to when food subversiveness was cool. I was a kid in "marvelous Marin" then and my parents and neighbors had a bread collective. Each week one family would bake for all the others. I think there were 6 or 7 families. It was a beautiful thing, which unfortunately I can't imagine happening now.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Junie D
      m
      Morton the Mousse

      Food collectives are still alive and well in Berkeley - mostly in the Southern part of the city closer to the Oakland border.

    2. Hi Gary-

      Well, it is 4 years since you wrote this, but better late than never! I used to live in the Berryman Commune, right off Grove St. (pre-MLK Way). I remember commune members-vegetarians all- going over to the San Francisco Farmer's market. Also recall that great cheese we had through the Food Conspiracy. Ah, yez. Veggies and cheese would be distributed from different communes as I recall. Wonder where all the Berryman Communards ended up? Any of you out there? Randy, Bodahn, Julie and John Summersquash-where are you now? Virginia Dumas

      2 Replies
      1. re: ayakitzapim

        Hi Gary, I'm an old friend of Virginia's from back in 1980ish. We used to have wonderful meals at Mama's Cafe on Broadway?. Would love to hear from her. She can find me on FB. Thanks, Saskia Valentine

        1. re: dutchskyblue

          Saskia? Tell me more....I don't remember your name, but Valentine sure rings a bell. Did you work in the shipyards with me?

      2. One of my earliest childhood memories is at the CO-OP that is now an Andronicos near the cheese board. They had the wholemeal fig bars that still eclipse fig newtons in my brain. And the stairs up to member offices were concrete without back risers-- very terrifying to a toddler.

        1. My parents were in the Food Conspiracy when I was a babe in arms, late '60s.

          1. I remember the Cheeseboard in the early '70's - and being condescended to by a tall, imperious, and snotty woman on the topic of cheddar cheese (on which - five years old or older Canadian version - I was raised from a tiny child younger than the cheese and even then knew a thing or two about).

            1. Since this discussion originated, Google books has posted a 1970 Life Magazine article about the good food movement in California. It includes a photo of a Berkeley Food Conspiracy Saturday morning distribution, as well as a long forgotten Berkeley store, "Wholly Foods." http://is.gd/bX3iY

              1 Reply
              1. re: soupçon

                Ah yes, Wholly Foods, at the corner of Shattuck and Ashby! I lived a few blocks away, and it was certainly a fixture of my childhood. We jokingly called it "Wooly Foods."

              2. OMG
                i think i love you and your wife!