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There are always coupons floating around for stockpile items, but those rock-bottom prices for fresh produce and breads seem few and far between. That’s why I was so excited when I learned about Bountiful Baskets Food Co-Op in my neighborhood. How does $50 worth of produce for $16.50 sound? How about 5 loaves of fresh, organic, nine grain bread for $12? Or 30 pounds of top-quality apples for $28? Those are just a few of the deals you might get by participating in Bountiful Baskets.

What It Is

Bountiful Baskets is a volunteer-run produce co-op that has hundreds of sites in 16 states. The organization runs bi-weekly sites out of borrowed space to distribute high quality, inexpensive produce to the participants. Because the organization is 100% volunteers, and there’s no cost for the facilities where they pass out the baskets, they are able to keep the cost of the food extremely low. Check the Locations Page to see if there is a site near you.

How It Works

Baskets are distributed every other Saturday, usually in the morning or early afternoon.  You sign up and pay for your basket online the Monday before your distribution date. After you receive your confirmation number, take it to the site on Saturday at the time stated in your email to pick up your basket. As part of the effort to keep costs low, you bring your own bags, baskets, or boxes to take it all home.

What You Get

This is where it gets interesting! When you sign up for your basket, you don’t know exactly what will be in it until you see it on Saturday! It always contains 50% fruit and 50% veggies but doesn’t have specifics. In my experience of getting baskets for the past six months, I’ve found they contain mostly “normal” staples, such as apples and lettuce.  They also usually throw in something interesting and new, like mangoes or brussels sprouts. I discovered my kids like cauliflower and that I don’t really like pomegranates.  If you like to try new foods but are on a limited budget, Bountiful Baskets not only can provide you with some staples but throws in those fun extras without adding to your grocery bill.

The program also offers an organic basket for $25, and “add-ons” that vary from week to week. For example, in the past few months they had “Veggie Packs” with themes like Italian and Mexican.  They have also offered bulk purchasing of things like tomatoes and apples. There are even bread and grain options.

What You Need to Know

If there’s a site near you, and you’d like to give it a shot, set up your account at the website and find out your Saturday pick-up time. Carefully read the New Participant Instructions so you have all the details you need.  Log in on Mondays at noon (10:00 AM for Montana and Utah) of your week to sign up for a basket. Some sites sell out fast.  My local site sold all 100 baskets in 15 minutes last week!

Because volunteers run Bountiful Baskets, the organization asks that you help at your site when you have a chance. This could involve helping to unload the truck, filling the baskets, or passing out food. Usually volunteers are only needed for a few hours.  It may inspire you to start a new site if the demand in your area is high.

If you’d like to see some views from participants, check out Bountiful Baskets on Facebook.  Many local sites also have facebook groups. If you participate, ask your Volunteer Site Coordinator if they have one. It’s a great way to keep updated on the latest news about your site. When you’re at a loss as to what to do with a new fruit or vegetable, get inspired on Bountiful Baskets’  Facebook page where recipes are shared for those new foods that come along.

If you have any more questions, you’ll be glad to know Bountiful Baskets has an in-depth FAQ page.  You can also stay updated with Bountiful Baskets’ news and recipes by following their blog.

This has been a guest post by Rachel from Elisworth AFB, SD
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