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Bountiful Baskets offer variety and surprise for health-conscious consumers
Life is like a bountiful basket: You never know what you're going to get.
Bountiful Baskets is a nonprofit co-op based in Mesa, Ariz., that offers conventional and organic produce to residents in the Yuma area and around the state.
Sally Stevens, who co-founded the volunteer organization with Tanya Jolly, explains that the produce is fresh and inexpensive because it is ordered locally from the wholesale market and handled by volunteers instead of a paid staff. “We work on getting local produce, so most of the winter produce is very local to Arizona.”
Produce that is not grown locally comes from as nearby as possible. “We get bananas from family farms in central Mexico instead of the Caribbean, because Mexico is closer,” Stevens said. “Plus, we like to support family farms.”
Bountiful Baskets has been available in Yuma for a little more than two years, she said. “It's kind of like one of those best-kept secrets. We never do any marketing. It's all word of mouth. It's not a business, and we don't make any money off of it, so certainly we can't pay for advertising. It's just something that my best friend and I started.”
Jolly started the first Bountiful Basket site in Mesa about eight years ago, Stevens started one in Gilbert about a year later, and then they merged the two on the Internet in May 2006. Both having grown up in California — where fresh, inexpensive produce is abundant — they wanted their families and others to have the opportunity to eat healthy foods every day for life, Stevens said.
Nancy Patterson, director of Club Yuma Fitness Center, hosts a Bountiful Basket pickup site at the club. She said she normally has members join her in volunteering and unloading the produce.
Patterson said she enjoys receiving the baskets because it offers a great opportunity for one-stop shopping, and because what's inside always comes as a surprise. “You never know what you're going to get, it's like a box of chocolates,” she said jokingly.
Patterson, also a nutritionist and a personal trainer, explained that for $15, you can get a basket of fresh produce containing both fruits and vegetables.
She added that when you begin to eat healthier, “you're going to feel better and things are going to work better in your body.”
Participants also have the option of adding other items to their orders, like a case of strawberries, granola or loaves of whole wheat bread, or ordering other packs like the Italian pack or the basket of prepackaged organic produce.
On one Saturday in August, she said, more than 55 people ordered baskets at her Yuma location.
Jacky Mader, a mother of four who was one of those who ordered a basket that day, said she has been picking up baskets for the past four months. She and her husband compared the total price they paid for a baskets with what they pay for the same produce in a local grocery store and found that they were saving anywhere from $50 to $75.
Plus, she said, the fruits and vegetables are fresher. “We didn't eat healthy as kids, we ate whatever we wanted. Now my kids eat fruits for snacks. They eat healthy because I don't want them to have the health issues that come along with eating junk.”
Debbie Sebree, who has been getting the baskets for two years, said she started purchasing the produce on the recommendation of a friend. She noted that first-timers should bring something easy to handle to contain the produce and should not count on recognizing all the fruits and vegetables they receive.
“It lets you be a little bit adventurous without going to the grocery store and buying some really expensive and unusual vegetable. I've never found anything that was bad. It's always fresh, it's always good.”
Tina Clark, who has been ordering baskets for several months, added that the variety of fruits and vegetables she gets forces her to experiment with new recipes. “I feel like it's challenged me in the kitchen.”
To participate or for more information about Bountiful Baskets, visit www.bountifulbaskets.org. Stevens recommends reading all the information on the website before starting the program, to avoid any frustration or misunderstandings.
Nancy Gilkey contributed to this article.