Maggie Gyllenhaal food co-op

Would you stock shelves and schlep boxes of lettuce if it meant taking home cheap organic food? Well, that’s what actor Maggie Gyllenhaal, her husband Peter Sarsgaard, and her brother Jake Gyllenhaal do at a food co-op in New York.

A food cooperative, or food co-op for short, is a food distribution model that’s been around since the 19th century. Memberships make it possible to buy organic produce and other goods in bulk. In return, members get access to the wholesome food they crave at a price that’s lower than Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.

The difference food co-ops and other bulk buying clubs, like Sam’s or Costco, is that food co-op members decide what to buy. And often to keep costs even lower, members are required to volunteer their time to keep things running.

“We work at this place, it’s a co-op and if you work there you get cheap groceries,” Maggie Gyllenhaal told a celebrity gossip blog. “I don’t do it because you get cheap groceries, I do it because they have incredible food and incredible produce. You cannot just pay to be a member, you have to work there.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s food co-op in New York City has a storefront, and asks members to volunteer for 3 hours and 45 minutes each month, but other co-ops work differently.

Bountiful Baskets, a co-op with locations all over the country, is run on a completely volunteer basis—out of the trunks of people’s cars! Volunteers show up at a pre-determined location, frequently a parking lot, to help unload the truck and distribute baskets of produce and other goods to members who pre-ordered online. I tried and reviewed Bountiful Baskets, and was pleasantly surprised by the variety, quality, and most especially price of the produce I got.

Food co-ops aren’t for everyone, but they definitely have their perks—if you’re willing to do a little work, you can get your organic produce for as much as 50 percent off retail prices. And hey, if big-time movie stars like Maggie Gyllenhaal, can do it, we can too.

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Photo Credit: jlcwalker