For many members of the Land of Lincoln Buying Club, buying the organic food in bulk is a necessity because of health conditions. Others are determined to eat organic, natural foods, and the buying club is a way to buy in bulk for 20 to 30 percent less than through a retail store.

Carolyn Bjerk of Riverton has been meeting a food delivery truck in a Springfield parking lot once a month for 26 years.

On a recent Tuesday morning, the truck delivered food to members of the Land of Lincoln Buying Club in the parking lot of Little Flower Catholic School in Springfield.

Bjerk picked up a case (12 loaves) of 100 percent rye bread and a large bag of dried dill weed. The rye bread is for her 34-year-old son, who is allergic to wheat.

For many members, buying the organic food in bulk is a necessity because of health conditions. Others are determined to eat organic, natural foods, and the buying club is a way to buy in bulk for 20 to 30 percent less than through a retail store.

Bjerk, a nurse with five children and four grandchildren, first learned of the buying club when her youngest son — now 28 — was 2 years old.

“He was allergic to a lot,” Bjerk, 62, said. “We had to make everything he put in his mouth.”

When her kids were young, Bjerk bought large quantities of wheat flour, oatmeal and other ingredients to make bread.

“I used to make six loaves of bread at a time,” Bjerk said. She doesn’t need to bake in quantity now, and she doesn’t want to attempt to make the rye bread that her son eats. But she continues to buy sunflower seeds, nuts, spices and brown rice in bulk.

Jane Nicoletta of Springfield became interested in the buying club about five years ago, when she suspected her son’s frequent ear infections could have been caused by eating dairy products. That’s when she began buying soy milk for her children, ages 10 and 8.

“Now they like soy milk better than cow’s milk,” Nicoletta said. She said she buys a case of soy milk (four gallons) each month.

Nicoletta coordinates the club’s orders from United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), a regional distributor of organic foods based in Iowa City, Iowa.

Twelve families belong to the Land of Lincoln Buying Club. To buy from UNFI, the club must have a minimum order of $750.

“Not everyone orders every month,” Nicoletta said. The club didn’t have enough orders in August.

Nicoletta said she saves 20 to 30 percent on the food that she orders through the buying club. She likes the Greek yogurt, which is a little thicker than plain yogurt found in the grocery store, and boxed macaroni and cheese that is made with whole-grain pasta and natural cheese instead of processed cheese.

“It is very nutritional,” she said.

Many families in the group buy ingredients from UNFI because of a gluten intolerance, she said.

Denise Barth of Pleasant Plains has been buying food with the club since shortly after the it was formed nearly 20 years ago.

“It has really changed through the years,” said Barth, who has three children and two grandchildren. For many years, the orders had to be written on individual 3-by-5-inch index cards, and members brought their orders to her home. Now, members place their orders on the Internet or by phone.

Barth still grinds her own wheat to make flour. She buys many whole grains from UNFI, including wheat, barley, brown rice and oat groats. She makes oatmeal by placing the groats in a slow cooker with water overnight. By morning, the oatmeal is creamy, hot and ready to eat.

“Organic foods are just healthier and better tasting,” Barth said.

Many members buy bulk grains, rice and pasta, but they also purchase spices, canned chicken broth, convenience foods and natural cleaning supplies such as hand sanitizer, recycled toilet paper and a new addition — organic produce.

Barth said she saves on many products that she orders from the club, although sometimes the sales at the local organic food store prove to be less expensive than what can be ordered from UNFI. She said she prefers to buy from local vendors whenever possible, but the buying club is a good alternative, especially for large quantities.

Convenience is a consideration for Tony Rothering of Auburn. He said he especially likes the convenience foods that his family buys from the club and the ease of a once-a-month pickup.

Rothering said his three children enjoy the healthier versions of macaroni and cheese, cereal bars and other foods.

“It definitely does save us to buy in bulk,” he said. A case of cereal bars may last three or four months.

“We rotate items that we buy every month,” he said. “Some things we can’t buy other places or not in the quantity we would like.”

Although Rothering lives in Auburn, two of his three children attend Little Flower School in Springfield. At the most recent delivery, the truck was more than a half hour late after a new driver became lost. The kids ate breakfast in the car as they waited.

Despite the delay, the children made it to school on time and dad completed the grocery shopping with little effort.

Theresa Grimaldi Olsen can be reached through the State Journal-Register's food editor at (217) 788-1520.

Blueberry Buckle

From Jane Nicoletta

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 egg

1 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream (see note)

2 cups unbleached flour, sifted

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups frozen or fresh blueberries

Topping:

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup unbleached flour

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Thoroughly mix together the sugar, butter and egg. Stir in yogurt or sour cream. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt; stir in. Fold in blueberries.
Spread batter into greased and floured 9-inch square pan.

Blend topping ingredients in food processor. Sprinkle topping onto batter. Bake about 25-30 minutes or until toothpick stuck in center comes out clean. Serve warm from the oven.

Note: Greek yogurt is thicker than plain yogurt found in grocery stores.

This recipe can be doubled and baked in a 13-by-9-inch pan.

Makes 9 (3-inch) squares.

Crockpot Oatmeal

From Denise Barth

1 cup oat groats

2 cups (or a bit less) water

Place groats and water in a slow cooker and cook on low overnight. By morning, the groats will be hot and creamy. Optional: Top oatmeal with honey, diced apple or raisins.

Makes 4 servings.

For more information or to join the Land of Lincoln Buying Club, call Jane Nicoletta at 971-4179.

For information about United Natural Foods, Inc., go online at www.unfi.com.