This article was originally printed in the Ontario Natural Food Co-op (ONFC) newsletter, "Food For Thought", June 2002, Issue No. 35. ONFC is a wholesale distributor of natural and organic foods and other products.
Parents of homeschooled children are always seeking ways to provide educational experiences for their children. I have found that operating a food buying club offers so many valuable and useful learning opportunities. Many concepts such as reading, math, computer skills, environmentalism and food issues, geography, finances, physical education, socialization, cooperation, volunteerism, networking and organizational skills can be learned from a buying club. Here are just some of the ways that this is accomplished:
READING ~ My 11 year old daughter assists with inputting food orders which requires reading skills in different formats -typed or written. Also, when sorting the food she will read ingredient labels to determine if Mom and Dad will order this product....especially if it is an interesting looking cereal or snack food item (e.g. chocolate bars). She will comment, "Mom, this does not have too much sugar in it" or "all the ingredients look O.K. to eat!!" She also assists with sorting the food into boxes which requires reading the member's food order and finding that item on the table.
MATH ~ Children can learn what is meant by singles or cases, what 946 ml or 1 litre looks like by seeing and comparing the actual item when it is delivered. Also, calculating the invoices for each member's food order provides for math skills in a) totalling the order, b) learning what a 1% discount is and how it is calculated and c) learning what PST and GST are and why they are charged.
COMPUTER SKILLS ~ My 11 year old recently inputted approximately 18 orders into the Excel Macro program. In checking her work I only needed to make a couple of revisions. She was persistent and didn't walk away from the task after a couple of orders. This is great for learning a computer program and enhancing computer and keyboarding skills on top of improved reading skills.
ENVIRONMENTALISM AND FOOD ISSUES ~ ONFC's mission statement - "Our mission is to support a sustainable food system by providing, with integrity, quality service in the distribution of organic and natural foods and products within a socially responsible, co-operative network." Ordering through ONFC provides many opportunities to discuss a) how our food purchases affect the environment and our health, b) why we don't shop at the local grocery store like everyone else, c) how we can contribute to a sustainable food system and what does sustainable mean, d) what is fair trade and why this is important to support and promote which leads nicely into discussions of social justice and economic fairness for all.
GEOGRAPHY ~ Discussing where our food comes from and how my coffee purchase (I know, I keep trying to give it up!!) affects the livelihood and environment of those in other countries where it is grown. Learning "the lay of the land" so to speak when delivering specials and catalogues to members who are located in several different communities in our area.
FINANCES ~ Learning about a) adjustments (credits and debits), b) what cheques are and how that relates to cash, c) identifying and understanding paper money and coins and what each is worth, d) totalling up the cheques and cash, determining what is owed to ONFC and submitting payment within the proper time frame.
PHYSICAL EDUCATION ~ My children seem to enjoy assisting with bringing the boxes into the house and helping members take their food orders to their cars. This provides great exercise and strength training. However, I also find this a bit perplexing since I hear many complaints when I ask them to clean their room!!
SOCIALIZATION ~ Children can enjoy natural experiences in meeting and talking to others when buying club members help sort or pick up their food. They get to know our ONFC driver as well. This provides "real life" socialization experiences where they can meet and talk with people from various age groups and backgrounds as well as play with other children at food pickup time.
COOPERATION ~ Operating a buying club requires cooperation on everyone's part. Children can learn how this is crucial to the club's success and that it contributes to goodwill and solidarity among its members. Parents can also educate their children with respects to how ONFC operates differently from other businesses and how the cooperative approach contributes to choice and personal empowerment.
VOLUNTEERISM ~ Children can learn first hand how volunteering is important and valuable in a buying club. Hopefully this will instill in them the desire, in the future, to volunteer their time towards worthwhile endeavours in order to gain a wonderful sense of well being. They can learn to contribute to the greater good without expecting monetary reward.
NETWORKING ~ A bonus to getting great food delivered to your door is the wonderful networking opportunities that arise with members of the buying club. Our children get to interact and learn from people such as the following: social activists, naturalists, educators, other homeschoolers, CSA organic farmers and nutritional consultants. Members can gain access to sources of organic produce, gluten free baked goods and free range, organic eggs from members within the club or from outside sources through networking. The children learn a more holistic approach to living their lives and how real communities should and can work.
ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS ~ Many useful organizational skills can be learned when operating a buying club such as: a) setting up an ordering schedule, b) getting information to members, c) receiving and inputting orders, d) sending orders to ONFC, e) receiving and sorting food orders and f) quality control checks (i.e. verifying that what you ordered is what you have received from ONFC and ensuring that the each member's order is sorted correctly).
So, there you have it. Sounds like a pretty intensive curriculum to me.
I also came to the realization recently that homeschooling provides a great opportunity for new buying clubs to start up and blossom. Many homeschooling families belong to a local support group. Therefore, it shouldn't be too difficult to rally five people to start a club since everyone knows each other and they meet on a regular basis.
As I said to Kim De Lallo (Member Relations and Education Coordinator at ONFC), "If we can take up the rewarding experience of homeschooling our children, how much more difficult could it be to operate a buying club? What a great learning experience for our children."
Wanetta and her husband Keith have been homeschooling their three girls, ages 11, 8 and 5 since the day they were born in the town of Paris, Ontario.