Portland Food Co-op Exceeds Expectations

By Carol McCracken

During it’s short life-span this non-profit has grown rapidly and it’s future continues to look promising. Its about food and its escalating price which is making it more and more difficult for many Hill residents to find “healthy food at reasonable prices,” says Bill Lee, a member of the steering committee for Portland Food Co-op. The steering committee meets monthly at the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization’s office at 92 Congress Street.

At the end of last year, 8 members of the Food Now Buying Club, which operates under the Food Co-op umbrella, ordered $650. worth of product from its then only food supplier – United Natural Foods. As of June, 44 members had ordered $2,000 from each of the non-profit’s two suppliers – Crown of Maine having been recently added. Each supplier delivers once a month to designated locations. The Food Now Buying Club is “where the action is now” said Lee last month in an impromptu interview at the North Street Community Garden where he and his Japenese wife, Taeko, maintain a hard-working presence.

The recent sale of the Whole Grocer on Marginal Way to Whole Foods was the catalyst for the organization of the co-op. Members with cars take turns picking up the produce at several locations. Those without cars perform other responsibilities that keep the organization functioning smoothly. “It’s run by co-op principles,” Lee said. “What each of us does, benefits others,” added the unpretentious gardner.

Since returning to the States in 2001 from Japan where he taught at the college level, the couple settled on the Hill. Lee is a part-time statistics professor at three local institutions of higher learning in the area. He’s also expects to receive another Master’s Degree this summer. The soft-spoken Lee said “I’m not unduly rude” and “I’m not a dancing bear.” In other words, he takes his teaching seriously and so should his students.

“The Portland Food Co-op is my main interest these days,” says Lee as we return to weeding in our respective garden plots. Perhaps Bill and Taeko would consider starting a gas co-op on the Hill, I wonder…next time….