Bountiful Baskets offers healthy, affordable produce | TSLN.com

Bountiful Baskets offers healthy, affordable produce

LeftAlign.11Families and individuals living in rural communities enjoy fresh produce as much as city dwellers, but sometimes the country folk don't have the opportunity to buy as much of it as they'd like to.

The Bountiful Baskets Food Co-op has become a solution for many who face obstacles such as price and distance when shopping for fresh vegetables and fruit to include in their weekly meals.

Tami Gilbert, who ranches with her husband and their children near the tiny northwestern South Dakota community of Ludlow, said she first heard of Bountiful Baskets from a friend in Arizona. As soon as she learned a few details about the organization, she was determined to establish a site in Ludlow so that her friends and neighbors, and her family, could participate.

"I did some research. There were some in the Black Hills at that time but when I first started checking around, they weren't accepting any new locations so I put my name on the list and waited for a few weeks," she said. In order to get a site going, an individual desiring to help organize the project is required to volunteer twice at already-established drop-off locations, she said. "I volunteered twice at Baker (Mont.) and once at Spearfish, (S.D.) she said. And she was hooked. "The reason I went to Baker the second time was because we wanted the food," she said. "It was so good."

Gilbert said that project organizers, working with the interested folks in their community, can decide if they want the food once per week or every other week. Ludlow decided to get on the every-other-week schedule. Anyone who participates in the program by utilizing the groceries is encouraged to volunteer about once per month, according to the website.

While she served as the Ludlow organizer for a while, Gilbert, said that a neighbor took over the Ludlow location after she got busy last summer with "weddings and other events" that would have prevented her from overseeing the project for four weekends in a row.

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Gilbert said the organizer receives a report on Friday detailing the food that will arrive on the truck, along with the names of the individuals who will pick up food. Then on Saturday morning, the truck drops off the bulk boxes of food and continues on to the next destination. Volunteers then sort the items so they are ready to pickup. "People can sign up online and then after they join, they just login every other Monday and sign up for the number of baskets they want." Gilbert said the baskets consist of approximately 50 percent fruits and 50 percent vegetables, and cost $15 each. Co-op participants won't know the exact contents of the baskets until they pick them up. "The food adds up to a value of about fifty dollars worth of produce, so it's a great deal," she said.

In addition to the standard basket offered each week, seasonal produce like tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, plums, etc. is also available in larger quantities and must be ordered at the same time. Breads, granolas and sometimes tortillas, honey and other products are offered as well at reasonable rates.

Some people in the community worried that the Bountiful Basket project might take business away from local grocery stores, which is a valid concern, Gilbert said. "But I don't think it is hurting the grocery stores. I think people pick up their baskets and then they often stop at the store and put things in their cart to round out the meal." Plus, she added, the baskets usually consist of mostly "common" food but they include one or two more unusual items like kale or artichokes, so many local shoppers have broadened their horizons and are now more likely to purchase the more unique products from the local store when they don't receive them in their baskets.

Now that they are becoming more familiar with the program, people in the Harding County area "love it," Gilbert said. She commented that she has come across people from around Martin, S.D., where her sister is a project coordinator, who thank her for helping her sister get their neighborhood involved. "It's a great community feel-good thing. Everyone is there helping, and it's always fun to see neighbors that you might not otherwise take the time to visit."

The cost savings are a bonus, giving folks the ability to afford more healthy food choices. "It's no wonder society is growing more and more overweight. It's easy to pick out a bag of potato chips or cookies when you are shopping, just because you get more bulk for your money," Gilbert said.

The project organizer receives a free basket on each truckload in appreciation for their work, Gilbert said, adding that the Ludlow organizers share the basket with people who can use the produce, like an elderly person who couldn't use an entire basket. "We don't need the extra food and there is usually someone around who can, so we just share it."

According to the website, the co-op was started by two ladies and has grown by leaps and bounds since 2005. Tanya Jolly and Sally Stevens explain online that the co-op uses "local produce first when available, then regional produce if it is not." They add, "this is a grass roots, all volunteer, no contracts, no catch co-operative."

Bountiful Baskets are available in many counties throughout Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota and many other states. Go to http://www.bountifulbaskets.org for more information. F

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