Buy It Wholesale–Free Food Now and Free Food Later, by P.O.

I wanted to share with my fellow preppers a way to rapidly increase your food storage. Yes, it’s legal and for real!  I have no sales pitch and nothing to gain out of this, I’ve been doing this for almost a year now and the results have been just amazing.
My wife and I started a Farmer’s Market in our community almost three years ago.  The following “system” I have developed since then has come from our experiences there as well as my almost 20 years in restaurant management.  It can easily work for you with minimal effort.  Please stick with me because I’ll run the numbers for you off of actual prices in my area and you’ll be shocked and amazed at how much all of us are getting charged by our local supermarkets!  Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to do this, read on, as there is some very valuable information that could save you big money on your preps! 
If your family is like ours we don’t have a lot of money left over after paying the bills. Times are tough.  So if you could find a way to put a little cash in your pocket, eat fresh fruits and veggies for free, and be able to can or dehydrate them for free, then wouldn’t you?  Even if you and a few friends pitch in and buy produce in bulk and split it evenly amongst yourselves you can dramatically reduce your current food costs as well as your future food prep costs.  You can then use that saved money for other prep areas like medical supplies, ammo, and guns etc.
I call what we do a Local Food Co-op because it’s not really a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).  Basically I buy an assortment of produce (fruits and veggies mainly) by the case or bushel and sell boxes (or bags) of assorted produce for either $10 (small family) or $20 (large family) with plenty left over for our family to eat for free and we have our dehydrator going 24/7 kicking out dehydrated food free for future use.  Now let me clarify a few things before I get into the “nuts and bolts” of this operation.
First, the people that buy produce from me get it for far less money than they can get it from Wal-Mart (or any other supermarket in our area ) and it’s almost always better quality or at least the same quality.
Second, it doesn’t take too much time at all to run.  You’ll need to spend a little more time up front getting all the needed information but after that less than five hours a week should be all you’ll need to devote to your food independence.  I spend an hour and a half once a week going to buy the produce. ( An hour of that is the round trip to buy it and about a half hour to purchase everything needed.)  I might spend another hour and a half dividing out the produce into orders for the customers and then getting them to the customers.  (Most of my customers are either friends, family, neighbors, or coworkers.)  Is it worth it to you to spend three hours a week so you and your family can eat all the fresh fruits and veggies they want for free all week long and all the produce you can dehydrate and can for future use for free? 
Third, you don’t need to be an expert to set this up and run it for yourself and lastly, you don’t need dozens and dozens of customers to do this. I started with just 10.  People will come looking for you when word gets around about how good a deal they can get.  Most people are in utter disbelief about how much produce they get for the money when they get their first order!  A few have even tried to give me more money than what I  charge.  Now on to the meat and potatoes…

First we’ll run some numbers.  I’m using the actual prices I’m paying right now (12/2/10) for this example:

This is roughly based on a weeks worth of produce for a family.  Let’s say you get 10 larger size families wanting “in” at a $20 share a week. So week 1 goes like this:

10 families at $20 =                              $200

That $200 you take and go buy:

100 lbs of potatoes for                             $40
25 lbs (case) of tomatoes for                   $12
bushel (30 lbs+) of green beans for         $19
bushel (40 lbs+) of oranges for               $20
bushel of cucumbers (40 lbs+)for           $10
a bushel (25 lbs) of bell peppers for        $14
bushel (40 lbs+) of red delicious apples  $20
case (25 lbs) of yellow squash for           $12
case (12 lbs) of zucchini for                    $12
50 lbs of onions for                                  $20
Total money spent:                                  $179                                                                

You go and divide up the produce and each family gets:

5 lbs of potatoes
2 lbs of tomatoes (that’s around 6)
2 lbs of green beans ( that’s almost a half a plastic grocery bag full!)
3 lbs of oranges (about 5-6 oranges)
3 lbs of cukes ( about 4 or 5)
2 lbs of bell peppers (5 to 6)
3 lbs of apples (5 to 6)
2 lbs of squash (6 to 8)
1 lb of zucchini (3 to 5)
3 lbs of onions (5 to 7)
That’s 26 pounds of food for $20! Can you walk into any one store and come out with all that for $20?

Now here’s what you and your family get out of the deal:

$21 cash (offsets the gas and wear and tear on your vehicle to get produce)
50 lbs of potatoes
5 lbs of tomatoes
10 lbs oranges
10 lbs cukes
5 lbs bell peppers
10 lbs apples
5 lbs squash
2 lbs zucchini
20 lbs of onions

That’s $21 cash and 117 lbs of produce for three hours worth of work!
You could sell off two more shares for another $40 in your pocket and still have a bunch of produce to eat all week and plenty more to can and dehydrate for future use.  You could also give more of the produce to your customers that is entirely up to you. That’s free food now and free food later!
About the only up front investment is you’re going to need a scale to weight the produce.  I got mine from the kitchen department at Target for around $20.00 and it’s weights up to 11 or 12 pounds before the scale tops out.  I also bought a bigger cheap plastic bowl to put on the scale to weight out bulkier items like green beans or potatoes for another couple of dollars.  Just remember to “zero” out the scale when you put it to use or your weights will be off.  It wouldn’t hurt to have a heavier duty scale to weigh your bulk cases just to make sure you got what you paid for.  I just use our bathroom scale and set the cases on that. It works great and I didn’t have to go out and buy one. [JWR Adds: In many jurisdictions, scales must be state-certified as “legal for trade.”]
So, obviously, you have to figure out where to get your bulk produce from and there are several ways to do that.  I would start by opening up the phone book or do a web search for produce companies for your local area or biggest city by you.  Ask them to fax or email you a copy of their latest produce price list.  Some update them daily, some weekly.  Get on their e-mail/fax list so you get updated pricing.  Get pricing from several produce companies if possible.  The price lists also include the case count (how many of something come per case or case weight.
Also be sure and sign up for their newsletter if they offer one.  It will tell you about shortages (huge price increases) due to weather etc. as well as price swings due to being in between growing seasons.  For instance, as summer winds up, tomatoes wind down in most areas of the country leaving about a four week span until Florida’s winter crop comes online.  Prices can spike from $12 a case to well over $20 and I’ve seen over $40 last year when Florida had a freeze that wiped out a bunch of tomatoes.  This is useful information as you can stock up on some produce that has a longer shelf life or brace your customers for temporary outages or reductions in their usual amounts of that specific item.
You should also check with your local farmers.  Most are willing (and want) to sell directly to you during their growing season.  It can never hurt to build a relationship with your local farmers.  In a SHTF scenario they may be your only option to source food if you can’t grow it yourself.
  Another place to get bulk produce is from Restaurant Depot if there is one in your area.  It’s free to join you just have to show proof you have a business. (Any business!)  They generally want to see your business license as proof but are pretty lenient usually.  Even if you don’t have a business bring a friend or coworker who does as they gave me four cards with my business name on them.  Meaning anyone with a card can shop. (Hint, hint!)  They have unbelievable prices on a wide variety of produce as well as bulk foodstuffs such as spices, bouillon base, instant potatoes and hash browns, #10 cans of everything, bulk dried fruit, etc.  And if that’s not enough they also carry 20-to-100 lb bags of wheat, assorted flours, assorted rice, assorted beans, split green peas, lentils, corn meal, sugar, et cetera.  They also beat Sam’s Club on most prices also including lunch meats, chicken, and beef etc.  This place is a Preppers dream!
Once you get the price lists you now know the bulk pricing your typical restaurant would pay.  Next get a few weeks worth of newspaper ads from your local supermarkets.  That, combined with going to the grocery stores will tell you what the average consumer pays for produce.        

Do the math from the bulk price list from the produce companies to get a bulk to retail comparison.  For example… bulk price on a 50 lb box of potatoes might be $20.00 and a 5 lb bag from the supermarket might cost you $4.00.  So $20 / 50 lb = 40 cents per pound x 5 lbs is $2.00. Or pay the $4.00 at the supermarket.  Just bring a pocket calculator with you when you go and you’ll know before you buy it if you can make money on it (or at least break even) before you purchase.  When you get to know your pricing it ensures you won’t be paying retail prices on bulk purchases.
Now you might run the numbers and find just buying from you local produce companies will work.  You may even be able to get them to deliver!  But, there is usually an even better way.
Every decent size city usually has a “downtown” area where all the produce comes in by train or ship. ( Which is also usually where your produce companies are located)  Usually there is a downtown open air market or Farmer’s Market (or combination of both like in my city)  What happens there is the public can buy wholesale from the Farmers themselves or from the market.  These are where the real deals are, folks.  The same 50 lb bag ‘o potatoes you bought for $20 from a produce company can probably be had for $12-15 there.  Most places like this are open 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  They are open real early in the morning too, so you can beat the rush hour traffic by going either before or after.  They also seem to have a lot of the seasonal produce a week or so ahead of them appearing in your supermarkets.
The people there are usually pretty helpful and will answer questions about how many per case or pounds per case etc.  Just ask!   You can also open up and inspect the cases or boxes too.  You might need to buy the $14 case one week because the older $8 case looks a little too close to the end of it’s “shelf life”, while the next week the $8 case might be perfect.
The produce quality is usually better there also if you take the time to look around and comparison shop.  You’ll also have a choice of different sizes.  A 25 lb case of tomatoes can have 25 tomatoes in or it could have over 50.  (Far more than 50 if you get Roma or cherry tomatoes)
A few other items of note:  Pay attention to how many of an item come in a case or bushel.  Items like tomatoes, squash, zucchini are sold in different sizes or grades.  If you buy the largest size of tomatoes for instance there might only be enough to give every customer one where if you bought medium size case they might be able to get 3 or 4 even though the weight and cost could be the same.  When possible try to notice where your each of your produce items come from.  People would much rather buy local or regional than from some scary sounding city in a third world country.  People will ask and the more you know about your produce the happier you can make your customers. 

It is important to note that rules, regulations, and requirements imposed by various government agencies vary from location to location so I can’t even begin to cover that here.  But suffice it to say that a group of friends or co-workers buying wholesale and dividing it up amongst yourselves is viewed differently than if you have so many customers you have a warehouse with a retail shop up front and full-on marketing and advertising.  If you feel you need to know more on this by all means please consult your local government, lawyers, accountants, and experts in general.
I’ve been in the restaurant management business for almost 20 years and I can get produce far cheaper than the major international restaurant chain I currently work for with over 1,500 locations in 31 different countries, and now you can too.
Produce in this country and around the world is not nearly as abundant as you might think or are led to believe!  I have seen several severe shortages over my almost two decades in the restaurant business and they are happening more and more frequently.  I’m aware of on more than one occasion several national restaurant chains temporarily (meaning weeks or months at a time) not selling certain items because of shortages–caused by a multitude of reasons–here in the United States.  The restaurant chains stop selling it for reasons such as:

1.  They flat out can’t procure enough to supply their restaurants. 
2.  The quality of product they get is just too substandard to sell to their customers.
3.  Because of the shortage it becomes too cost prohibitive and would kill profitability.  
4.  They stop selling it so you can still buy it at the supermarket.  They fear the public’s reaction to food shortages will be to quit eating out and stock up and stay home.
So be warned: Get it while it’s still abundant and you still can afford it and can or dehydrate it for your future security.  I’m going to start including rice and various dried beans and put it in with my customers orders.  I plan on telling them to store it in 2 liter soda or juice bottles for their emergency food supply and buy a dehydrator with the money they are saving and get busy.   The U.S. government is now suggesting a minimum of a “few weeks” supply of food now.  They used to say three days was sufficient.  I wonder what’s changed all that?  Wouldn’t you feel a bit safer if you knew your neighbors and local community had emergency food you provided for below market cost?  If they have enough food to get though an emergency you won’t have to worry about sharing.  Tricking them into recycling/reusing the soda and juice bottles for storage would be an added bonus too!
I have found it helps retain customers if you switch up or rotate the types of produce from time to time.  Also throw in some different recipes or ways to cook or prepare some of the produce.  You’d be surprised how many people have no idea what to do with a sweet potato or that kids who hate green beans generally love them with Asian salad dressing on them.  (That is if you can get them to try the green beans in the first place!)
That’s pretty much it.  You find people who want to pay less for better produce.  Find out where to get the best bulk prices then you buy it, divide it up, and hand it out to your customers.  A couple hours a week tops for free produce and a little food security. You gotta love it!  I hope you have found this article helpful and informative. It has made a huge difference to my family of seven as it has helped greatly cut our food bill, sped up our emergency food preparations, and we now eat healthier than we ever have in the past.

Even if it’s not for you, then help a brother or sister out and pass it along because if you’d just take a minute to think about it, you probably know someone who could use this system.