A Story of Heartache and Headaches That Led to Organic Produce Club

Categories: Behind the Line
Annie Malka started the buying club when her first produce business failed.
After this post comparing an organic produce buying club to Whole Foods, I got an email from the club's owner explaining how the whole thing came together.

Annie Malka, owner of Annie's Organic Buying Club, has a heart-wrenching story about how she came to distribute produce from the Keys to Tallahassee. She explains it in a question-and-answer via email:

How'd you get started in all of this?

My husband, Jack, and I ran Delicious Organics, a full-service organic grocery delivery service.  We came out to the Keys from Miami to potentially open a brick-and-mortar store. Around this same time, the economy started to go bad. We thought it was just the time of year, so we put more money into the biz. We had moved into a bigger warehouse, so timing was just awful. We emptied out savings, our home equity, everything we had, and then came to the realization in November that it wasn't a phase. This was it. Tears. So many after five years. We were crushed, on so many levels,
because we had tapped out all our savings and lost our home, everything we had worked for and saved over our working careers.

We simply could not find fresh organics in the Keys -- and certainly not reasonably priced. I would stand in front of my open refrigerator and cry. Really. I didn't know what to feed my kids anymore.

Real food is a passion for me, so the thought of getting cheap, nonfood to fill my kids' tummies, well that just sent me over. I realized I had to do something. I had the connections with farms, I knew about what to do, I knew seasons and which farms to trust, I didn't have any money, but certainly we could do a buying club where we all pitch in and pool our buying power to get things direct.

What did the growers and distributors think?

At first, gosh, we didn't command any respect from the growers. We have members who have been with us for a year now, and they can attest to our growing buying power and greater value and varied shares of fresh organics. And the thought of buying food for other people -- to choose what others would have on their dinner table -- I literally broke out in hives from the stress of it all. Food is serious to me. It's been quite a year, and I have learned so much.

What sets you apart from other organic produce buying clubs?

We offer variety, quality, value. I think what sets us apart too is that we have different kinds of shares (full, veggie, half, fruity and add-ons for more veg or fruit), and those speak to each of us so that we can find a good fit. That way, there is something for almost everyone to enable us to each eat well instead of a one size fits all, because we all have different lifestyles, food sensitivities, and eating patterns and we can each find the right fit with the right box. Some of this is very new for people, eating fresh produce, so I always look for great simple recipes that are yummy to help use everything in the box. We include over 20 pages of easy-to-use recipes with each share with everything from soups, appetizers, raw and cooked foods, meals, and even desserts.

Do you make money from this?

One day I hope to take a salary from this. I work crazy hours like you would not believe, but for now, I get my food and am very happy to be able to feed my family real food even after our serious financial loss; I know there are many others who know that pain all too well too. I am so grateful that despite what we have gone through, we have food, our health, one another. And I'm grateful to be able to use my passion and what I know to offer fresher organics and more affordability. I am especially thankful that so many enjoy it and are eating well. Our members make our club. I get emails all the time from people losing weight, stories about kids trying a veggie for the first time and asking for more, inspiring calls of people that have made an entire change in how they eat and think about food and life, emails about new friends they've made through the groups and how they are now supported in eating better, recipes that members love. All the time, I get emails saying things like "I never knew I liked beets" or "I have to tell you the celery was delicious." I mean, how wonderful that people take the time to share that with me! And we are all trying things we would not have otherwise bought at the stores, so we have a more varied diet. We are lessening our carbon footprint and promoting quality of life. This is much more than just an organic buying club.

Where do you see this in, say, five or ten years?

My husband asks me all the time, and I am not sure. I just go with it each day. I can say that getting fresh produce directly into homes is amazing. I find grocery stores are very strange places. There is hardly any food there, and so much waste between the packaging and electricity. I always feel like an alien whenever I set foot in there, so we try not to frequent them too much, getting what we need from the club. I'd love to see that expand so that me and others can get everything we need directly, fresher, and at a better price with less packaging and waste.

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