A deliciously big bargain: Bountiful Baskets

I’m a fool for a good deal, especially when it involves food, and OH MY I’m in love with my latest discovery: Thanks to several volunteers – including DMU osteopathic medical student Chris Edwards and his wife, Rachel, and Erica DeKorte and her husband, Brad, another DMU osteopathic medical student – DMU is now Des Moines’ first drop-off site for Bountiful Baskets, a grass-roots, all-volunteer food cooperative (BBFC). I took advantage of this delicious deal for the first time last week and fully plan to continue doing so – and you can, too.

A bit of background: Sally Stevens and Tanya Jolly, two friends in Arizona, started Bountiful Baskets in May 2006 with two sites that regularly offered families affordable, healthy food. The co-op has since grown to sites in 16 states, all focused on offering food that’s high-quality, low-cost and as local as possible. That doesn’t mean only foods grown in each site’s locality. For example, most bananas sold in the U.S. are from a “couple gargantuan conglomerate growers” in Central America or the Caribbean, stated a recent BBFC e-mail message to customers. The bananas BBFC offers, on the other hand, are all from small farmers in Mexico, which saves the co-op money, keeps that money with those small farmers and helps make the carbon footprint smaller.

Here’s how it works: Early in the week, you visit BBFC’s website, find the site in your area and reserve one, two or three baskets with your credit card payment of $16.50 per basket ($15 plus a $1.50 handling fee to pay for credit card processing, servers and other expenses). Then you pick up your basket on the assigned day. Most sites have weekly distribution times; because the Des Moines site is relatively new, it’s distributing every other Saturday morning – but that could change as more people sign up (hint, hint).

DMU student Chris Edwards beams at some recent Bountiful Baskets.

Sally and Tanya do all the purchasing, per the number of baskets reserved at each site. Volunteers like Chris and Rachel arrive an hour before the assigned distribution time, divvy up the food – typically half vegetables, half fruits – and check customers’ claim receipts against a list. Any unclaimed baskets are donated.

Because all the BBFC “staff” are volunteers, all the money goes to buying food. Bonuses: The baskets distribute year-round, not just during garden season, and they often include fun “surprise” foods that help you be both healthy and creative in the kitchen. (Check out the BBFC website for lots of great recipes and tips on storing and using your basket’s goodies.)

As a first-time BBFC customer, I paid $19.50 – the standard $16.50 plus a one-time, first-customer charge of $3 – and here’s what I got:

  • a large bag of red grapes
  • one pint of blueberries
  • nine bananas
  • one whole pineapple
  • one head of broccoli
  • two bunches of green onions
  • one head of Romaine lettuce
  • two pounds of carrots

Even better, the stuff was gorgeous – not a bruised blueberry, mushy grape, brown lettuce leaf or blemished banana in the bunch.

“Bountiful Baskets is a fun program that gives us a sense of community. And it’s a good break because there’s no school involved,” Chris says. He and Rachel first learned about BBFC while living in Idaho. “We’re eating a lot more fruits and vegetables. And the variety in foods from week to week forces us to expand our repertoire.”

Sounds like a win-win-win to me. You can get on the BBFC board, too, by visiting its website linked above; for information on the Des Moines/DMU site, click here.

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