Have you heard of Bountiful Baskets? It’s a food cooperative delivering fruit and veggie baskets, as well as add-ons like whole wheat bread and granola, to many cities in the Western US. Their website is: bountifulbaskets.org
The idea is that by pooling resources, and with some volunteer labor at the drop-off location, fresh produce can be made more affordable. All the ordering is done online, and -here’s the kicker- can ONLY be done between about noon on Monday and 10pm on Tuesday, Mountain Time. And, if you don’t show up to collect your produce within the 15 minute window, it could be donated (I did forget the first time I ordered, but the lady at the drop was kind enough to call me and Mr. Wonderful dashed out to get it for me. Phew!). So if you order, take some advice from the experienced and set yourself an alarm on your phone for the day it arrives!
The whole concept of co-oping is a great idea, and I was pleased to learn that a drop point started in my town in December. Although I hadn’t ordered that week, I ran down to the drop point on Saturday morning and snapped a few pictures of what was being handed out to those that had contributed.
Each participant gets a basket (literally a plastic laundry basket) with fruit, and one with veggies. They then transfer those to their own bags, or some of the boxes for recycling, and take home the goodies. Above is a picture of two boxes…I’m thinking that each must be one share (having both fruit and veggies) from that day. The conventional produce basket is $15 and upgrading it to organic puts your contribution at $25.
In addition to your basic basket, you can order add-ons, like this guacamole bag, with onions, cilantro, about 5 avocados, tomatillas, jalapenos, garlic and limes, which runs about $8.50. Also available in December was a Gingerbread House Kit; fresh baked house pieces and fresh icing included. This week, I saw a “Juicing Pack” available with a description of “hoping for apples, chard, carrots, cucumbers, celery, beets, blood orange, ginger.”
And “hoping” is part of this commitment. There aren’t any promises of what you will get. You just find out what comes when you get it. This might be frustrating for some; for others it adds some excitement to meal planning.
Here’s a picture of the bread pack add-on. These packs of 5 loaves are generally $10; a great deal if this was on your list anyway.
Here again is someone’s produce basket contents (fruits and veggies in there) with a Granola Pack. I believe I saw the granola listed for $10, with excellent ingredients if granola is part of your diet.
Most of the produce seems to be standard family fare; persimmons or multicolored carrots is about the extent of the exotic produce.
So…the week after I checked out the goods, I made my first order.
Order #1 -Late December
I chose the organic basket ($25), and there is also a handling fee of $1.50 for every order, organic or not. Additionally, there is a one time fee of $3 to purchase a plastic basket for organization at the drop. Here’s what I got:
Pineapple, baby carrots, red potatoes, celery, tomatoes, green beans, avocados, pears, 2 kinds of apples. It was late December, so you can hardly blame them that the tomatoes weren’t ripe. The avocados were on the small side, but most of the organic ones I’ve seen are. The pineapple took a couple weeks to ripen. The apples and pears were all delicious, if on the small side. You can see by the packaging on the produce that they came from national organic brands. Also, since this was the “organic box” vs. a conventional produce basket, it came shipped as a box. It was not divided out with the other produce, but shipped from Arizona as a whole box.
I think it was a good price for what you get. Not amazing: local sales on all these products could give better savings, but you’re unlikely to get them all on sale in the same week. I felt that the food was in good condition, and all delicious, or would become delicious with ripening.
Order #2 -Early January
I ordered again, and this time no organic boxes were available, so I went ahead with the conventional ($15). Thankfully I did not forget this time (I tell ya, set an alarm on your phone!) and so I headed down to my local elementary school for the pickup. It was lovely to see so many families coming out on a frosty winter morning to gather fruit and vegetable baskets. And here’s what I got:
Celery, multi-colored carrots, brusselsprouts, sweet peppers, avocados, tomatoes, grapefruit, bananas (small), oranges, apples, strawberries. A very good deal for $15. They were all in good condition upon arrival, except for the brusselsprouts which seemed to have encountered frost as the edges were slimy as if frozen. I had heard tales that the delivery truck encountered snow and barely got through, so chalk it up to that? The strawberries were not ripe, and after leaving them on the counter for a day, we ate them anyway, since they were going to mold soon. Strawberries aren’t a winter fruit.
In general, I try to eat what is in season. It tastes better, it’s more likely to be grown in the US (avoiding the fumigation upon arrival in the US), and I’m more likely to find organic foods at reasonable prices. Of the foods above in the conventional basket, I regularly buy avocados, brusselsprouts, bananas, oranges, and grapefruit conventional, because they have less pesticide residues. All the rest I only buy organic, as they are heavily sprayed and/or retain their pesticides after washing. You can download a free guide to the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” on Enviromental Working Group’s site, or download a free app to your smart phone which will allow you to look up produce item by item while at the market.
Bountiful Baskets is for you if:
- You buy conventional produce anyway, or if you would like to buy organic produce, but you don’t have any health food stores near you that carry it.
- You don’t have picky eaters of specific veggie/fruit allergies in your family.
- You can remember to order and pickup at certain times each week.
- You aren’t gluten intolerant, so you can take advantage of all the great deals on bread, etc. which gives you more value for the time you spend ordering and picking up.
- You have time to volunteer occasionally an hour before pick up time.
- You enjoy the challenge of working a broad selection of produce into your weekly meals.
Bountiful Baskets is probably not for you if:
- You want to buy mainly local, in season, or small-footprint organic.
- You have fruit or veggie intolerances so you’re not able to eat some of what comes each week.
- You cook “month at a time” style, or in other ways which require certain specific ingredients.
- You can’t remember to order or pick up.