When you think about December foods, fruit and veggies probably aren’t the first things that come to mind. During a month of cocoa, candy canes and cookies, produce seems to take the backburner. That is until you find a basket full of bounty is just a few blocks away.
Last Saturday I left my house with a scarf and a box to collect my first Bountiful Basket at Washington Elementary. Bountiful Baskets is a Food Co-op that offers the public a conventional produce basket every other week. Two women began the co-op as a way to help families save money on healthy food and in about six years it has grown from two sites in Arizona to hundreds of sites in 16 states.
My barren refrigerator recently reminded me of the produce co-op I’d heard so much about. So I logged onto their website and ordered my first conventional basket. Sites operate at about six different schools around the St. George area so you can choose the most convenient and close for you.
I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived bright and early Saturday morning, but I learned the ropes just a minute after I arrived. Bonnie Jones, the volunteer site coordinator, found my name and assigned number on her list and matched it to the number on two laundry baskets of food lined up in rows in the elementary parking lot. She instructed me to empty the contents of both baskets, one fruit and one veggie, into my box along with any extras I had purchased, then to wipe out the basket with a provided yellow cloth. And that was it.
I hadn’t spent five minutes of my time and yet I was loaded with a literally bursting box of produce. No line at the checkout, no pesky little produce bags and scales to estimate your produce prices; my shopping was finished—and completely hassle-free. I didn’t even need my wallet since I had paid for my purchase online days before.
Other women, and quite a few men too, rushed right in to the parking lot, loaded up their goods with perfectly executed maneuvers and rushed right back to their mini-vans in a matter of minutes as if a produce policeman were about to make his rounds.
You see, a conventional Bountiful Basket consisting of 50 percent fruits and 50 percent vegetables is $15, with a first-time fee of $3 to pay for the baskets that hold the food–although they prefer to call it a contribution rather than a cost since it is a volunteer-run operative. Then you can add extras on to your order such as bread, tortillas, tropical fruit, or in my case gingerbread cookies and icing for an additional contribution.
Monica Cluff, a Bountiful Baskets volunteer from Washington, said the extras change throughout the year, just as the produce in your basket changes from week to week.
“Last month we got all kinds of food for Thanksgiving, like extra potatoes and yams,” she said. “In October we got Halloween cookies and we recently got persimmons— something I never would have never tried if it hadn’t been in my basket.
“Those who are adventurous and willing to try new things have a lot of fun with it,” Jones added.
I definitely underestimated the amount of produce you get in a basket, so you can bet I’ll be ditching my box the next time I come around. That might not be for a while, however, since I now have more produce than I know what to do with for my little family. I arrived home with five tomatoes, four green peppers, three broccoli crowns, 3 yellow onions, two cucumbers, one head of butter lettuce and a handful of radishes alongside 9 kiwis, seven oranges, five D’Anjou pears, four Fuji apples, a container of blackberries, and a pineapple.
Holly Mattson from St. George has been doing Bountiful Baskets for about three years. She said she plans all her meals around what she gets in her basket and she uses the Bountiful Basket Facebook page to find recipes and ideas using the produce she has.
In addition to the conventional basket, Mattson gets five loaves of the 9-grain organic bread which she says lasts for weeks and is a better quality and cost than the grocery store.
“The amount of food you get and the amount of money you pay is awesome,” Mattson said. I’m paying only about $15-25 a week for my produce and the extra of bread. It’s a good deal.”
With my fridge stocked for the apocalypse, I wondered just how much I would have paid for the same amount of food if I had purchased it at trusty Walmart. So I headed down the street to find out. Since I’m no mathematician, I brought along my finance-major husband to total the research. After 30 minutes of adding, subtracting, and a few impulsive purchases, our hypothetical produce cost came to $34.05—which did not include the cost of blackberries, an item that was missing entirely from the produce section. So without the $3-4 cost of berries, I saved a grand total of $19.05 with Bountiful Baskets. Score!
Now all that savings is great and everything, but I admit I was a bit overwhelmed with the task of getting my money’s worth from produce I just don’t know how to prepare. However, just as that question crossed my mind, I received an email from Bountiful Baskets that literally listed ways to get all of my food eaten. Even better!
Those using Bountiful Baskets are encouraged to volunteer at least once at a site in their area. Jones said they generally have a lot of people volunteer, and about 125-145 people show up for baskets every week.
“It’s good to have the help as well as the input we get. Since it’s run by volunteers, each site is done a little differently. We take a bit from everyone’s input and improve the site as best we can. Just a few weeks ago we made a change that improved the process. It’s all trial and error.”
Jones said volunteering makes the co-op a whole different experience than if you were getting paid.
“It’s fun for the community to do something together,” she said. “It’s camaraderie of working together. And the price of the produce isn’t bad either.”
For more information or to order a basket, visit http://www.BountifulBaskets.org.