Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Great Co-op Experiment

Have you heard of Bountiful Baskets? I first heard about this food co-op last fall, but never acted on it as a single lady and never thought to divide the spoils with a few friends. Oh well. Mike had heard of BB too, and brought it up a few weeks ago. We decided to give it a go, especially as we're trying hard to focus on eating fresh, healthy food.

So we tried to sign up for last week's pick-up, but after only a few short hours, all the Utah county spots were claimed and we had to wait for this week to get on board. It's pretty popular, I guess! We ordered the standard basket for $15, plus a $3 charge for a first time purchase and $1.50 processing fee. You can check out the BB website for all their add-ons.

Now, we had a few reservations. Would we get food we'd actually eat? Would we get enough produce to justify the $19.50? Would the food be good quality? We had heard from Mike's boss that the baskets seemed pretty skimpy, so we had our doubts.

I picked up our "basket" this morning. For the record, they have laundry baskets set up in advance with all the site's orders. I simply showed up, gave them my name, and they showed me my food, which I transferred to my own bags. I love that they avoid extra packaging!

Here's what we got:
You like the cracked walls, right?
3 mangoes
6 bananas
1 cantaloupe
6 Fuji apples
6 oz. blackberries
1 head romaine lettuce
1 bundle Swiss chard
6 ears white corn
8 oz. mushrooms
6 tomatoes
6 Anaheim peppers

My first reaction was, "Eh, this is okay." Of the things in our basket, we only buy apples, romaine, and tomatoes on a regular basis. We usually get bell peppers instead of Anaheim peppers. Everything else we like but don't usually buy.

So we got food we like, but not food we usually buy such as carrots, celery, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, and squash. But Mike and I agree that it's nice to have fresh, locally grown produce and we like the challenge of cooking with unfamiliar foods.

But then of course I get curious... What would we have spent on this food at the grocery store? So I went to three local grocery stores: Smith's (down the street from our house), Macey's (on Bulldog), and Buy Low (a little farther from our house but famous for its cheap produce). These are the three stores where we shop, so I wanted to know what sort of deal we really got with BB.

At Smith's we would have spent $28.49! And that's not including the Swiss chard, which they don't carry. Now, their produce was really pretty. The apples were a little bigger, the mangoes a little riper. The romaine there was smaller. Smith's corn was pretty sad looking. The bananas were super cheap.

At Macey's, we would have spent $30.02, although they were the only store I visited that carried Swiss chard. Macey's also had pretty produce; they have a lot of employees constantly trimming and fussing over the food, making sure it's beautiful. The romaine looked nice, but the cantaloupes were pretty tired.

At Buy Low, we would have spent $18.45, plus whatever Swiss chard would have cost. I checked Buy Low's weekly ads too, since they have produce specials on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but none of our basket items were included in this week's sale. Buy Low definitely had the best deals, but the saddest looking produce. They only had 6 ears of corn in the entire store, but they were pretty nasty. Mangoes were cheap, blackberries were super cheap. The Fuji apples were scary looking, though. Anyway, Buy Low would have been a little cheaper than BB, although they didn't carry Swiss chard, and if we do BB again, we won't pay the first timer fee, so BB would still be cheaper overall.

The big question is whether or not it's still worth it. Just because it's cheaper to buy from BB doesn't necessarily mean we're saving money. If we only buy $10 worth of produce every week anyway, spending $16.50 next week doesn't make much sense. Decisions, decisions...


  1. I have always been interested in doing this. I'm interested to see if you decide that it was worth it.

  2. When I was in Provo I was a big fan of the Utah Community Food Co-Op. They had half shares (if you are single like I was) and full shares if you were feeding more people. I remember it being really cheap and I would go early to help hand out the food which meant that I got any left overs too. They have pick up points all over the Wasatch Front and I really liked the quality of their produce. Things to think about...