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I frequently mention my love of co-op fruits and veggies.  The typical responses among my varied circle of friends ranges from immediate discomfort (eyes shift away and downward, hands go into pockets, a comment regarding hippies is uttered), to skepticism (attempts to argue over the pricing structure, insistence that the organizers are somehow scamming people), to plain genuine interest in what it is all about.  So I decided to talk about it.  Maybe it exists in your area.  Maybe after this, you’ll get on board and join Bountiful Baskets yourself.  Maybe it doesn’t exist, but you’re interested enough to contact Sally & Tanya at Bountiful Baskets and ask how you can start your own site.  At the very least, if anyone in YOUR circle of friends mentions a co-op – at least you’ll be a little more educated.

First of all, before you decide to order from BB, you have to know that you do NOT get to choose what is included in your main basket.  The only guarantee is that it will be approximately half fruit, and half veggies.  That’s it, the end, no more discussion.  For me, this provides a welcome opportunity to expand my fresh produce horizons.  When presented with a new item, my creativity goes into overdrive and I often find that I love something I would never have picked up from the store, left to my own devices.

Secondly, you HAVE to set aside time Saturday or Sunday to prepare and store all this produce appropriately.  I have many methods, however those will be detailed in other posts.  These items are fresh, yes, however you have to realize that they’ve been picked, packed up, and spent X amount of time on a truck.  There are no preservatives. Leaving your BB haul “for later” can result in things going bad as quickly as overnight.   It helps, too, if you plan your meals out a week in advance. In my house, this is an absolute necessity – there are too many of us to feed for me to just wing it night to night.

Third and last – there are a wide variety of add-ons you can choose from every week.  They vary by season, by popularity, by region.   To purchase an add-on, you have to purchase a main basket.  Everything is so incredibly reasonably priced, getting the main basket just to get an add-on is still very economical.

This week, I ordered of course the regular basket which was as follows:

1 head of bibb lettuce; 4 gala apples; 7 red pears; 7 bananas; 2 broccoli stalks; 1 huge avocado; 2 bunches collard greens; 1 honeydew melon; 1 bunch spinach; and 12oz strawberries. The cost of this HUGE amount of produce was only $15.00! I dare you to match that at your local grocery store.

I’ll post my recipes later for what I made using this week’s haul, but the greens (which I’d never cooked before!) ended up being a DELICIOUS side dish to my Cajun Chicken Fricassee.  I also made:
Crepes with Strawberry and cheese filling
Wilted Spinach Chicken & Rotini
Chocolate Banana Protein Bars (a must with two young athletes in the house)
The melon, pears, and apples went into lunches for the hordes, and the broccoli was cut up and frozen for future use.  The tomatoes, I added to my first add-on, which this week was 20lbs of tomatoes – for just $12.00!

There are two layers in this crate.  I’m not sure what WAS in my head, however can I just tell you how surprised (and a teeny dismayed) I was to discover just how many freaking tomatoes are in TWENTY POUNDS?!?  I got them home and stared at them for a good long time, then put on my Holly Homemaker cap and got to work.  I ended up making a TON of different things with these tomatoes, which I’ll detail in another post, then link back here.  I have a more intimate relationship with tomatoes than I ever thought possible, suffice it to say. And did I mention TWELVE DOLLARS?!?

A fairly regular offering from BB add-ons is the Mexican Veggie Lovers Pack:

1 large bunch cilantro; 1 head garlic; 2 zucchini; 6 limes; 8 tomatillos; 2 huge yellow onions; 4 jalepenos; and 3 avocados. The price? A measly $8.50!  I chopped and froze half the cilantro right away, using olive oil and an ice tray – a brilliant idea I got from BB themselves, actually. I’ll post that as well, in case any of you aren’t familiar with this method.  I roasted the jalepenos, put the zucchini into a to-die-for turkey chili, sliced the avocados for garnish on chicken chilaquiles, and used the tomatillos, some onion, garlic, and jalepeno for an amazing salsa verde.  EIGHT. FIFTY.  The specific ingredients on the Mexican Veggie pack do vary some, just depending on what’s available to the purchasers that week, however I’ve never been disappointed with any of the contents.

Another frequent add-on is the Tortilla Pack.  The first time I ordered this one, I didn’t realize that the tortillas were as fresh as they are – meaning, they’re not cooked.  I left them in the pantry for a couple days and noticed they’d started molding – eek!  I didn’t make that mistake again, and got them into the freezer the moment we got home.  For $10.50, you get seven dozen tortillas.  Let that sink in a moment.  SEVEN. DOZEN.  That’s 84 tortillas, at about $.12 each.  Considering (in my area, at least) a pack of 10 tortillas from the store runs about $3.99 – this is a DEFINITE steal!  The tortillas themselves are delicious – light, thin, amazing tasting.

What you see above is: 3 dozen 12 in. flour Tortillas; 2 dozen 6 in. flour; and 2 dozen 6 in. corn. A ton of these are still in my freezer, however so far I’ve used them for Chicken Chilaquiles, Chicken Tortilla Soup, and Sweet and Spicy Shredded Pork Enchiladas.

I had one more add-on this week, which was 19 pounds of some of the most delicious pineapple I’ve ever smelled.  Smelled, because I’m allergic to it.  You can see them there on the far right in this photo.  I completely forgot to photograph them alone, however – you get the idea.  I cut and froze a lot of it, and made a mouthwatering pineapple upside-down cake.  The kids took some in their lunches, too – a nice change from the usual apples & bananas.  I’m still pondering what to do with the rest of it – 19 lbs of pineapple is a LOT!  It was, if memory serves me, about 8 or 9 medium-sized pineapples.

To recap: For $60, I purchased ALL of the amazing produce and tortillas in that last photo.  I have a BIG family, and as such try to stretch my grocery dollar as far as I can get it to go – leaving us more money for things like family vacations, movies (the cost of which rivals the national deficit), Xbox games, and the like.

Back to my original point … co-op produce.  Tree-hugging hippie stuff? Yep, if tree-hugging hippies like saving money, supporting small family farmers, avoiding purchasing from big corporations, volunteering (did I mention you can be a volunteer at a delivery site? It’s not really volunteer, though – they pay you in EXTRA PRODUCE!), and the spirit of community felt by you and those around you all participating in something greater than themselves.

To find out if there’s a Bountiful Baskets location in your area, visit them HERE.

If you’d like to get more information on starting your own Bountiful Baskets site, visit HERE.