Bountiful Basket Food Co-Op Provides Fresh Produce at a Frugal Cost

By ERIN TURNER

It’s been a number of weeks since the frost hit and blanketed all of our summer crops in the garden.  Despite preserving most of our harvest by either canning or freezing our produce, I miss having fresh produce abundantly stacked in my refrigerator.   Yes, I could go to the store and get some but with shelves and shelves of canned goods, there really isn’t a justifiable reason to spend that kind of money.

I do make sure we have bananas and oranges every couple of weeks so we have some variation in our fruits.   While I love eating our own food and wouldn’t change it for the world, I do need some crunch from fresh celery or a nice lettuce salad to go with a pan of lasagna every now and then.

So when a student from my Couponing Class last week mentioned how she saves on fresh produce by participating in the Bountiful Basket Food Co-op, I decided to research it and see what it was all about.  It is exactly what it sounds like…a food co-op where people from all over contribute money in exchange for a basket of fresh food.

Fresh Produce

Fresh Produce from Bountiful Basket FoodCoop.

It is run by volunteers so there are no employees to have to pay.  It is a grassroots national organization which gathers folks who want fresh, healthy food for low prices.  By having thousands of contributors, the founders Sally and Tana can purchase fresh produce, organic breads and such at wholesale prices.

Since there is limited overhead the members reap the benefits.  It is a no-contract deal, so if you just want to purchase a basket every so often, you can.  Or if you want one every week, you can.  No strings or contracts.  They ask contributors to volunteer whenever they can, again there is no requirement but the opportunity is available.  And really, who wouldn’t want to help out a couple of times a year in order to get fresh produce at a low cost?

Well, after doing my research online I decided to give it a try.  I ordered up a basket which is 50% fruit and 50% vegetables.  This past week they also offered a variety of “add-ons” so I added a bag of Organic Honey Whole Wheat bread (1 bag=5 loaves) and 5-3lb bags of Natural tortilla chips which haven’t been baked yet.  I placed the order and paid online so it was easy and convenient.

Saturday was my pick-up day at Jefferson School.  I took the boys to pick up our basket.  They thought it was weird we were going some place to get produce…”Mom, why are WE buying produce from someone else?”  But their questions soon began to go something like this, “Mom, I can open the bag of carrots and have one?”  and “Can we have mashed potatoes for dinner?”

After standing in line for a short time, we were guided by helpful volunteers to a row of laundry baskets filled with fruits and vegetables.  I was told to fill my box with two of the baskets which I did readily.  Then I moved to another table to pick up my order of tortilla chips and bread and finally I passed through the check out table.  All in all, we spent maybe 15-20 minutes there for pick-up.  Better than going to the grocery store to pick up the same items.

What struck me as I unloaded the items was the freshness and quality of the produce.   And believe me, as someone who grows food for a living, I am pretty critical of the quality of vegetables.  I also liked the fact that all the produce except the tomatoes were from the USA.  As well as the breads and tortillas.

So, here is what I got in my box:

  • 8 cameo apples
  • 1 cantelope melon
  • 1 bunch of bananas
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 5 large potatoes
  • 1 bunch of tomatoes on the vine
  • 1 bunch of celery
  • 2 large bunches of leaf lettuce
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 pkgs of carrots (plus 3 individual ones)
  • 1 large bag of red grapes

A good amount of food, I’d say!  And you know what I paid for all of it?  $15.00!  Now, I could have paid an extra $10 and received ALL organic items.  I like that they have that option.

As I mentioned I also picked up the bread which was $12.00 for 5 Organic Honey Whole Wheat…that’s $2.40 a loaf which is comparable to a Wheat Montana Healthy Loaf.  And I picked up 5, 3lb bags of uncooked tortilla chips.  These are just corn tortillas cut into wedges and bagged.  All you have to do is lay them out on a baking sheet, season and bake!  They are all-natural with only 3 ingredients: corn, water and lime.

Freshly baked bread

Organic Honey Whole WheatBread.

I threw these bags in the freezer and will use throughout the winter.  I paid $4.50 for each bag.  Since we have Taco/Nacho night at least once a month, I love having those healthy chips ready for baking up fresh instead of buying commercial brands.

I wasn’t sure how this experience was going to turn out…whether I’d like it, whether it was a good deal or whether the produce would pass our family’s standards.  After this first experience, I can tell you we are heading back for more!

Missoula provides a variety of pick up locations and pick-up times.  All pick-up days are on Saturday.  I highly suggest checking it out online at bountifulbaskets.org.   Their website is full of great information and lots of details.

One of the areas of difficulty when a household is trying to keep their food costs within a frugal budget is how to incorporate healthy, fresh produce.  As most of you know, there are not a plethora of coupons for fresh fruits and veggies.  There are some coupons, but they aren’t available all the time.  I feel that this option through Bountiful Baskets is a great solution!  We will use this throughout the winter until our own gardens are full again.  At $15 a week, I am excited about combining these fresh veggies with our own canned or frozen veggies for healthful and frugal meals for my family!

 

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 Erin’s got tons of tips for saving money, couponing, sticking to a budget, and living sustainably in her blog archive.

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Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.

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