Arlington produce co-op looking for more volunteers, participants

Stephanie Dickson shows off some baskets of the produce that
Stephanie Dickson shows off some baskets of the produce that's available at her Arlington co-op.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Stephanie Dickson.

ARLINGTON — Stephanie Dickson is aiming to offer affordability, a variety of choice and a sense of community in local produce shopping.

Dickson began running a produce co-op in Arlington in the fall of 2009, through a co-op based in Arizona, but by the fall of last year, she was ready to go independent with her co-op.

"I started participating in the co-op because I wanted to give my family access to more fruits and vegetables without breaking our grocery budget," Dickson said. "I decided to form our own co-op in order to have more control over what types of produce we were getting, and to be better able to resolve any issues that came up with the orders."

The Arlington co-op that Dickson manages is completely volunteer-run, with an estimated 150 families participating. The co-op runs every other Saturday, with produce arriving early Saturday morning and volunteers showing up at 6:50 a.m. to sort it all into individual baskets for each of the participants, who show up at 8 a.m. to pick up their produce.

Volunteers do all the work of ordering and sorting produce, assisting participants when they arrive, directing traffic and cleaning up afterward. For their part, participants order online in advance so that the produce can be divided up evenly. Participants can choose from conventionally grown and organic produce, as well as a rotating "ethnic-themed" basket and bulk cases of produce. The conventionally grown and organic produce baskets each include approximately seven different kinds of fruits and an equal variety of vegetables.

"I've heard from more than one participant that it feels like Christmas morning when they arrive and see what they're getting that day," Dickson said. "There's a great feeling of community spirit as we work together on Saturday mornings to get everything sorted and picked up. I love to look out at the group and see people talking and laughing and sharing, often asking each other, 'What is this food and what do I do with it?'"

Those who are interested in volunteering, participating or learning more can log onto the Arlington produce co-op's website at Dickson assured those who are interested that no commitment is required beyond their first time at the co-op, and there's a number of ways in which they can help out if they wish.

"This is the time of year when many people are acting on their resolutions to eat healthier," Dickson said. "The produce co-op is a great way to have access to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables at a great price."

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