Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 18, 2013

Locals form buying club

Joining forces to cut costs, eat healthy

Tim Preston
The Independent

ASHLAND — With a budget based on the income of a schoolteacher and a working musician, Lisa McNeal is one of many local residents who intimately understands the value of a dollar at a grocery store.

With a desire to eat healthy foods without breaking the bank, McNeal is one of a dozen who’ve already joined forces to form the Healthy Foods Buying Club.

“We’re looking to change that to something a little more catchy,” McNeal said with a chuckle last week after an organizational meeting in the food court at the Kyova Mall. The effort began in earnest about three weeks ago, she said, largely crediting the involvement of Bethany Deborde and Rolling Hills Folk Center for getting the ball rolling.

“We got a really great response from people, so we decided to go ahead and set our meeting,” she said. “Everybody who hears about it gets excited.”

Cattle farmer John Ruggles of Olive Hill was at the first meeting and provided insight based on his experience with buying clubs and co-ops, McNeal said.

“He was a wealth of information,” she said.

Ruggles will fill the club’s first beef order from his Rolling “R” Farm, where he raises grass-fed cattle without antibiotics, steroids or hormones. McNeal said the order will be placed next week, allowing newcomers an opportunity to get in on the deal.

“We already have 50 people and it is just word of mouth,” she said. “The bigger the crowd, the better the buying power.”

The folk center has arranged for a trip to Lexington for a tour and talk with the staff at Good Foods Market, which began “as an even smaller buying club than we have,” McNeal said, explaining organizers hope the new club can grow into something to benefit the community.

“We’re hoping to someday have a co-op with a storefront,” she said. “We’re hopeful for big things.”

The group is seeking local sources for food, including poultry, dairy products, grains and produce.

“With local foods we can get both the quality and a good price. Plus, there’s a freshness factor there,” McNeal said, explaining options for dairy products are limited by strict regulations, although club members may have other options to explore for those foods.

Early conversations have also pointed out the need for education programs, such as classes in canning and preserving fresh foods in season or cheese making. McNeal said she believes people who get involved with the club will be surprised about the choices.

“They will have more food options that they’re not aware of because we are moving away from the grocery store,” she said.

For more information about the effort, look for the Facebook pages of the club or folk center or call McNeal at (606) 315-4609.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com.