Saturday, February 12, 2011

Food Co-ops Rock!

I can’t buy organic food, it is so expensive, who can afford that, I have a family to feed”. Man I hear that all the time. Well guess what? There are four of us and we eat only organic fruit and veggies, and we eat A LOT of them, for a total of $50.00 each month.

Twice a month on Saturday mornings, I wake up early and go pick up my organic produce at our food co-op. And if I volunteer and get there earlier to help unpack and distribute the produce, we get to divvy up and take home the extra fruit and veggies. Earlier during the week, I log on to the co-op website, chose from either a regular ($15) or an organic (25) basket, pay online, and wait until Saturday. I don’t know what I get, but it is half fruit and half vegetables.

For my scientific experiment, I chose regular and organic options to see how prices would compare to our grocery store options.

So; this is what I got last week, it cost me $15.00 (NOT organic).
I then went to Safeway, used with VIP card, and added up all the costs to compare the savings:
1 bag celery, 1.39ea = 1.39
5 lbs russet potatoes, 3.99/bag = 3.99
2 red peppers, 1.99ea = 4.00
1 16oz box strawberries, 3.00ea = 3.00
1 head of cauliflower, 1.5 lbs at 1.99lb = 3.00
1 head of broccoli, 1.5 lb at 1.29/lb = 1.95
1 head of spinach, 1.69 ea = 1.69
12 tangerines, on sale 3 lbs at 1/lb = 3.00
6 Fuji apples, 2lbs at 1.49lb = 3.00
3 tomatoes, 1.25lbs at 2.49/lb = 3.12
5 bananas, 1.75 lbs at 54 c/lb = 0.94
1 cantaloupe, 3ea = 3.00

Total $ 32.09

And because I volunteered, I got extra: 1 broccoli, 1 head of celery, 3 apples, 2 potatoes, 2 bananas. I didn’t even count those!

The next time I went again and this time got the organic option, which cost me $25.00. Again, with the same method, I went to the organic section of the Fry’s store in our area:

5 tomatoes 1.75lbs at 3.99/lb = 6.98
1 head of broccoli, 1lb at 2.29/lb = 2.29
1 lb green beans, no organic option 2.49/lb = 2.49
2 butternut squash, 3.5lbs at 1.59/lb = 5.56
2 6oz boxes blueberries, 3.99ea = 7.98
1 5lb bag of russet potatoes, 4.79ea = 4.79
1 5lb yellow onions, 5 lbs at 1.99/lb = 9.95
4 mini zucchini, 1 lb at 2.49/lb = 2.49
13 gala apples, 3.75lbs at 1.59/lb = 5.96
10 bananas, 4lbs at 69c/lb = 2.76

Total $ 51.25

So the numbers speak for themselves, exactly half-price for both organic and regular basket options. You can even get the organic basket for less than the regular food you’d get at the grocery store.

Here are the various excuses I’ve heard…
1. “It’s too expensive.” Wrong, ½ price is a good deal. See my little math equations earlier!
2. "It’s too much food.” Well we could break that down into two things here, first off it shouldn’t go bad because that amount should be the amount of fresh produce a family of four people should eat in a two week period.
But whatever. If you can’t eat it all, share with another family and you split the costs.
3. “It goes bad before we eat it.” Eat produce that goes bad first, plan your meals for the week, store/freeze/can what you won’t eat right away. Make soup with what is starting to wilt. Be creative, I’ve never had anything go bad.
4. “I end up getting something I don’t like.” True, sometimes you get a weird vegetable or something you don’t like. We got fennel once and I really hate the stuff. But I tried cooking it creatively. Now I know, next time there is fennel I will make someone else happy by giving it to them. Or just another person there to swap the fennel for something else!
5. “Do I have to pay for the whole season?” No, every week you chose whether or not to participate and pay.
6. “It’s too early.” Dude, come on. Once every two weeks, you wake a little earlier than normal (7 to 9 am depending on locations), get your food, and get back to bed and the sheets are still warm. You can even take turns if other people are also involved and have them pick up for the whole group.

Why is the food co-op eco-logic?
1. Cheap. Because it is a coop, prices are low and wholesale, you get a lot more bang for your buck. Again see my math!
2. Less packaging. All the produce is distributed in baskets. People come and pick up their loot in their own bags. No plastic bags!
3. Healthy diet. It “forces” you to eat your share of produce, makes you think of interesting combinations and creative recipes, and exposes you to fruits or veggies you would normally not buy.
4. Local effort. Granted the food itself is not local, but they do make an effort to stay within the US. And you can get the organic option. Furthermore, regional options are also available depending on the season.
5. Fun. Yes it is actually fun and a way to socialize and an opportunity to volunteer with your community. When you volunteer you get to meet and interact with other people from your town, share recipe ideas, swap fruit and veggies, and enjoy the morning together.

And if you are still not
convinced, on top of fruit and veggies, you can also get bread, cereal, tortillas, etc. And although they are not certified organic, they are locally-made, and have only essential natural ingredients, with no additives or preservatives.
They also offer pumpkins at Halloween, Xmas trees, fresh herbs, gingerbread kits, or even large crates of produce for large families or canning experts. I’ve made blueberry jam and it’s lasted us all year.

My kids love it, when I come in on Saturday morning they jump on me to see what they can eat first. I like that my kids get excited about that!

And the co-op has offerings in Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming!!

Look for other community supported agriculture or wholesale food options in your area!


  1. I think when people say "Organic is too expensive", they are really just saying that "vegetables and fruits are too expensive".

    It is cheaper (and easier/faster) to buy a 1 lb. box of nutrient-poor pasta for $0.99, a can of $0.99 spaghetti sauce, and feed a family of four.

    I guess it is all about slowing down and spending more time thinking about food.

    I am not sure Americans, as a group, can afford the time...what with the 600 TV channels streaming non-stop into our living rooms.

    "The Biggest Loser" is on...gotta 'run' (not literally of course).

  2. I think it's that Whole Foods and/or New Frontier's is expensive! And organic meats are unfortunately very expensive in my experience. My favorite organic fruits and veggies are home grown! Thanks for the post, I've been seriously considering joining the co-op here in Tucson, I hear it's great!! deb

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  4. Deborah,

    I think you are right. New Frontiers and Whole Foods have given people major sticker shock.

    As far as local, grass-fed beef goes here are a couple local to Tucson.

    The Double Check Ranch

    Jojoba Beef Company run by Greg Vinson. 520-400-7710.

    We knew both these folks when we lived in Oracle, Arizona. Nice folks.

  5. Hey - get this. Just read a post on facebook from a friend. She bought 40 cans of Chef Boyardee for only $3.50! Now, how do you beat that price to feed a family? They see it as economical - but, they are not reading labels. That is 40 cans of chemicals and preservatives. That is the problem. Liz

  6. I've been participating since Novemberish. Our voluteer time is 6:15 with pick up at 7:15. It's a little early but not bad. The site coordinator here isn't quite as generous as Sarah's but we do still split case ends and, because I also take the recycling, I get to choose twice. I've never really done a cost compare, I just see that I have more money in my food buget than I did before so I can buy better meat. So, doing this has gotten me better produce and meat. It's also gotten me out of the house sans kid for 2 hours every other Saturday. There is NO down side for me. Also, they've expanded up to Oro Valley every other Saturday for those of you who are in Oracle. Those pick up times are all 8:00 or later. I love having to think a little harder about what I'm gonna do with the unusual veggies.