Here's a piece that I wrote up about the workings of Main Supply. Some things here are not SET IN STONE, just the way that we've chosen to do it in recent years:
Main Supply is our communal food collection and distribution system, open to any kitchen that maintains basic sanitation (appropriate hand wash, dish station, toilet facilities, compost and grey water and food storage and preparation techniques), serves their food openly and freely to any that ask (at their chosen meal times), and is willing to communicate reasonably and civically with the Main Supply focalizers and other kitchens. Kitchens should plan to provide the bulk of their own supplies but through cooperative economics, we can supplement that very efficiently. Sending someone knowledgeable with your kitchen's supply/meal plans to our biweekly Kitchen Councils (rarely more than 20 minutes) and serving Dinner Circle each night are highly recommended but not required.
As kitchens get set up and come within a day or two of being ready to serve, they will be added to the list of kitchens receiving shares of the next biweekly shopping trip. By mutual agreement, kitchens are assigned 1, 2 or 3 shares of food, based on their capacity and production. That number can, and often does, change from one shopping trip to the next. At the peak of the gathering we're usually shopping for 24-30 kitchens totaling 40-60 shares. With each shopping trip we also shop for 2-5 shares more than what we are expecting, to allow some overages and providing for 1-2 new kitchens that pop up on the shopping day.
Of the total purchases, approximately 2/3 is spent on fresh wholesale produce. We always find at least two different produce distributors in the area and check both price lists every day, buying some items from one and some from the other. Some years we even have access to a regional terminal market where 8-30 different companies have walk in refrigerated warehouses. We can competitively shop all of them, for each type of vegetable. We also contact these distributors before the gathering to arrange for them to order some items that are a more economical grade of vegetable, though maybe not as pretty. Also we have them set aside all of their seconds and products that are too old to sell but still edible. Most are happy to do that for us.
The other 1/3 is spent on other foods like dry goods and perishable products. We buy these from a variety of sources, including wholesale restaurant supply stores, occasionally, grocery stores running extremely good sales, large ethnic food markets and salvage food stores. These are stores that buy up and resell foods from stores that went out of business, mislabeled products, overstocks, dented or damaged products or occasionally good food that has passed an arbitrary sell by date. These often supply us with unbelievable deals, sometimes selling us full pallets of food for $100 or less. I spend the whole year leading up to the gathering hunting for the best possible prices in the state or region where we are gathering.
When things go smoothly, we try to have kitchen councils on Sundays and Wednesdays, do the shopping on Mondays and Thursdays and then distribute food on Tuesday and Friday mornings.
With each supply run we spend approximately 3/4 of the money on 20-25 staple items that almost every kitchen uses, like cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. For dry goods we usually buy lots of flour, rice, pasta, baking mixes and beans and let kitchens choose, say, 3 of those per share (20-50lb bags). This keeps kitchens from getting overloaded with things they don't need or use.
When we buy staples that a certain kitchen doesn't use, like garlic and onions, eggs or dairy, we always allow them to take a little more of something else, to make up for it. Kitchens are also encouraged to trade supplies with each other, to fit their needs and wants.
The other 25% of the budget is spent on smaller quantities of a larger variety of ingredients. Things like ginger, string beans, sugar, pancake mix, oatmeal, peanut butter or even a little bit of economical donut filling on occasion! These items are then made into piles of roughly equal worth (not necessarily what we PAID) of around $10-20. Then when kitchens come to pick up supply, they are allowed to pick a certain number of piles based on their size. This allows kitchens to have more choice in their food, brings more variety to the woods and encourages kitchens to come early and send someone who knows the needs and wants of their kitchen.
Along with the Magic Hat money, some Main Supply focalizers (including myself) welcome kitchens to send along additional funds, to purchase things above and beyond what Main Supply can provide. Receipts will always be provided. Sorry, but we cannot handle EBT/Food Stamp cards. No more than one credit or debit card per kitchen, per run, please. We ask that lists are kept to no more than a few special items that we wouldn't normally buy, per trip. We also need to receive the money and list by the close of dinner circle, on the day before we shop. If kitchens pay for extra supplies, they can *usually* pick them up as soon as the bus returns instead of waiting until the next morning. Unlike with Magic Hat money, with private funds, I personally (though not every focalizer) will honor requests for meat, coffee, tobacco or papers. I will not shop for your alcohol though.
In total we usually do between 5 and 8 total supply runs, starting 2-4 days after we first arrive on site (immediately following Spring Council).
Kitchens are also welcome to come up to Main Supply at any time, to see if other supplies are available. Generally any foods dropped by anyone at Main Supply, between supply runs, is considered first come, first serve. Main Supply will also be regularly stocked with an assortment of spices and baking ingredients. Please do not take more for your kitchen then you expect to use up in a few days. It is highly encouraged that kitchens regularly check their supplies and send any clean foods, that they will not use, back to Main Supply for redistribution.
Please do not drop supplies at Main Supply, expecting them to be delivered to a specific kitchen. They will likely be given to the first kitchen that asks. If you are bringing food that needs to go to a specific kitchen, you will need to bring them there yourself, find someone to carry them, or have someone wait with the supplies while you find someone to carry them. We CAN NOT be responsible for delivering your supplies OR guarding them indefinitely. Anyone sitting at Main Supply should not be assumed to be an "official worker". Involved Main Supply workers will likely only be at Main Supply on the standard distribution days.
We'd love to hear from kitchen focalizers *before* the gathering. Join this Facebook group for more info.