Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Could a Co-Op Save You Money?

I think so! Not only that, it would probably improve your health!

I got the idea to join a co-op just last week. I had been reading a blog post somewhere and the author was talking about having joined one. I wondered if we had one in our area, and as I had never heard of one nearby, I "Googled" "co op near (nearby city, my state)."

I was so excited to discover Bountiful Baskets. I pretty much read their entire web site as soon as I found it, looking for the drawback. I couldn't find one. Even my husband was excited about it. I have brought other ideas to his attention before, looking for ways to get healthier food into our home. CSA? Nope. Too expensive right now. (The ones in our area require you to pay for an entire 10 week agreement up front). Farmer's market? Did you see those prices? I tried every rebuttal I could think of, to no avail. (But we'd be supporting our local economy. Don't you want to keep our dollars in our state? We'd be eating fresh produce in season...it's healthier...) I do feel those are valid reasons, and if we had room in our budget, I would love to support our local farmers directly.
Here is what we received for $15
So anyway, in case you don't know, here's how it works: You "opt in" at any particular time. Ours is a week by week agreement. (We make a contribution on Monday, and pick up our basket on Saturday). It costs us $15 for about $50 worth of conventional produce- the same stuff you would buy in the grocery store. The people who run the co-op (all volunteers- so you're eliminating more cost there) scout out the best deals for the members, and basically the cost is so low because there is no retail mark-up. The middle-man (in this case, the supermarket) is eliminated so we get produce straight from wherever the grocery store gets it, and also local farms. In our case, our produce comes from our state first, and then other items come from regional suppliers...other states and some come from Mexico (which is pretty close to us). I think in the case of Mexico, pretty much the only thing that comes from there is bananas, and that is opposed to getting them from South America. The co-op is able to get them at a better price, and in doing so, supporting smaller farms in Mexico rather than a huge conglomerate in South America somewhere.

They also have organic produce available for $10 more per basket. They offer other special deals on pantry staples such as rice, beans, granola, and different oils. These vary from week to week. Produce by the case is available as well. For instance, for the past two weeks, we've ordered 8 lbs of strawberries for our smoothies! It's cheaper than the frozen strawberries we've been getting from the supermarket. We also ordered some really awesome bread. We chose 9 grain bread which contains nothing artificial and nothing I'm unable to pronounce or buy from the store myself! And it was cheap! I'm talking $2 per loaf! And really good, by the way!

a Jerusalem artichoke
Another awesome feature is the opportunity to try foods that we wouldn't normally eat (or even see in the market, for that matter!). It's kind of an adventure! In our first basket, we got Jerusalem artichokes (or sunchokes), which looks like ginger's more full-figured cousin, but is actually more closely related to a potato. We also got a bunch of Forelle pears, which I had never seen or heard of. They're like cute little mini-pears.
a Forelle pear

You really can't beat the prices, and joining a co-op means fewer trips to the grocery store! My husband is happy, I'm happy, our children are happy, our planet is happier. In my opinion, you really can't go wrong with this option.

The only reason I could see that it might not work for someone is the fact that you have very limited time to pick up your basket. We have a twenty minute window in which to pick up. And you have to pick up from a specified location. Bountiful Baskets has several pick up locations near us, and I noticed they are active in several states. Is one of them yours? Do you have a co-op in your area? I think it would be totally worth it to look into it- if you haven't already!

I can hardly believe that it's taken me so long to discover this awesome program. I've lived in my area for over 15 years! I don't even know of anyone nearby who is a member of a co-op. Now that I know about it, there's no way I will go back to paying full price at the grocery store for produce! (Unless there's just something I need).

Could this opportunity be a benefit to your family and your budget? Have you ever been a part of a co-op? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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