Should you join a co-op?

Should You Join a Food Co-op? A Review of Bountiful Baskets


I’m always looking for ways to save on organic produce, and this past week, my family decided to try something new: a food co-op.

A friend told me about a national food co-op called Bountiful Baskets. Here’s how it works: Go to their website and find out if there’s a pickup location in your area, then find out if your location is an “A” week or a “B” week. Bountiful Baskets offers produce pickup every other week. When your week rolls around, you place your order on the website. In my area, you can choose a box of conventional produce or organic produce and then choose from add-ons that change weekly, including bread, tortillas, and specialty fruits and vegetables (these usually aren’t organic).

Should you join a food co-op?

How does a food co-op work?

Food co-ops work because the people who run it can buy directly from wholesalers and get a better price on items. Bountiful Baskets is a not-for-profit organization, and each of the locations operates with volunteers—they ask that you volunteer to help distribute the produce.

So I signed up for an organic box to try it out.  Here’s what we got:

  • 4 lbs peaches
  • 1.25 lbs tomatoes
  • 1.25 lbs kiwi
  • 1 lb plums
  • 1.5 lbs pears
  • 2.5 lbs apples
  • 1 baby broccoli
  • 1 head lettuce
  • 1 fennel
  • 1 lb yellow beans

Of course, the selection changes with the season and what they can get great deals on.  My husband went to pick up our box; there’s a very narrow window for pickup, and if you don’t come in that window, they donate your box to charity.  When he picked it up, the volunteers told him to inspect the produce in the box, and he discovered that some of the beans were moldy. The volunteers told him that normally he would only have the option to reject the whole box or take the whole box.  If we rejected the whole box, we could get a refund, but not a new box.  However, in this case, they had some extra beans somehow and swapped them out for him.

When I went through the box initially, I was very pleased.  Everything looked fresh and good quality.  Unfortunately, the big, gorgeous peaches I was so looking forward to eating ended up being a disappointment.  They all had some bruises on them, which wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but they got moldy almost instantly and were still too green to cut up and eat.  I tried to let them ripen, but they all molded before they were edible.  I ended up composting all of them.

The big question: Is a food co-op going to save me money?

That was my big question! So when I went to the store for milk and other essentials that week, I wrote down the current prices of everything I got.  Here’s how it worked out:

  • 4 lbs peaches @ $2.99/lb = $11.96
  • 1.25 lbs tomatoes @ $2.99/lb = $3.74
  • 1.25 lbs kiwi (4) @ $0.69/ea = $2.67
  • 1 lb plums @ $2.99/lb = $2.99
  • 1.5 lbs pears @ $1.99/lb = $2.99
  • 2.5 lbs apples @ $2.45/lb = $6.13
  • 1 baby broccoli @ $3.99/ea = $3.99
  • 1 head lettuce @ $1.99/ea = $1.99
  • 1 fennel @ $3.99/lb = $3.99
  • 1 lb yellow beans $2.99/lb = $2.99

TOTAL: $43.44

Even subtracting the peaches ($-11.96) that we didn’t get to eat, I would have spent a total of $31.48 on the rest of the items.

Want to know how much I paid for that same box of produce from the co-op?  $15.  That’s right.  So I saved more than 50 percent, even with some produce that wasn’t edible.

That’s still a pretty great deal!

Pros Cons
save 50% or more on produce some items may not be in good condition
try new things you don’t get to pick what you get
you get produce on a regular basis food co-ops may have very specific rules about when you pick up, etc.
you get involved with your community you may be asked to volunteer your time

Co-ops definitely aren’t for everyone. If you have a very picky family that doesn’t like to try new things, or if you’re very strapped for time, they may not work for you. On the other hand, if you’re open to trying new foods and don’t mind a few inconveniences to save big on produce, they can be a great option.

Have you tried a food co-op in your area? How did it go? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Original Photo Credit: mrwalker via Compfight cc

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