Every other Saturday, a group of Rim Country residents gather in Pine just after sunrise, baskets, boxes and bags in hand.
Splayed out before them are baskets and baskets of seasonal fresh fruit and produce, just unloaded off a truck that morning. Everything is at its peak, from the asparagus to the pears, squash and even the persimmon.
Toting a clipboard, site coordinator Ruth Newton, checks everyone’s name off as they enter to collect their individually marked basket.
After being founded more than two years ago, Newton knows most everyone at the Pine area food co-op.
This past Saturday, 43 people shuffled in at 8 a.m. at the Pine Senior Center to collect their fruits and vegetables. In the summertime, Newton said that number easily rises to 70 to 80 people. At 96, the co-op maxes out.
But on this Saturday, there is more than enough food to go around. For $15, everyone receives at least $50 worth of produce,
including six fruits and six vegetables. For $25, they get all organic products and for an optional $7.50, they get a “Mexican Pack” that includes garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, onion, avocado and tomatillos.
There is also the tortilla pack for $10 (84 tortillas) and five loaves of nine-grain bread for $10.
While co-ops are not a new invention, for many Rim Country residents they are an unknown resource.
Most everyone who attends the Pine co-op heard about it through a friend.
Raylene Phillips said she heard about it at work and subsequently told her mother Toni Parker. Now both women pick up baskets.
“For $15 I get all this,” Phillips said holding up two, full bags, “and it is generally better quality and we get it before it sits in the stock room.”
The Pine food co-op started in conjunction with www.BountifulBaskets.org. Newton explained after driving to Camp Verde every other weekend to pick up baskets for family and friends in Pine, she decided to approach the organizers of the Bountiful Baskets Web site and have Pine added to their queue of more than 56 Arizona cities that receive food deliveries every other weekend.
Now residents have access to food that might not otherwise be available and at a reasonable price, Newton said.
“My husband and I grow a garden and people wonder why we do it, but I say we still benefit from it because I can’t grow a pineapple, tangelos or a mineola up here,” she said.
“This is a great service to the community,” said volunteer Gary Morris, who has picked up a basket since the co-op started.
How it works
Bountiful Baskets is a collection of co-op sites throughout seven states. Every week organizers order food at a discount and distribute that food to hundreds of sites.
“We balance variety with seasonality in order to get the most appealing and cost-effective basket possible. We also choose to use local produce first when available, then regional produce,” according to the Bountiful Baskets Web site.
In Pine, a semi rolls into town just before 7 a.m., dropping enough produce to cover orders for the week. Registered users can only place orders online on Tuesday. Participants have one day to sign up for a basket that way buyers know how much food to reserve.
“For produce baskets, we purchase from a warehouse that supplies produce to many local restaurants and grocery stores. You would get this same produce from a restaurant or store,” according to the Bountiful Baskets Web site.
Volunteer Michelle Keegan said food is always of good quality and variety. Sometimes unusual items are in baskets, including persimmons, guava or Asian pears.
Phillips said this mix forces her to think outside the box when she cooks for her family.
“Sometimes you get stuck in a rut cooking the same thing,” but this gets you out, she said.
On distribution day, volunteers unload all of the boxes and load each basket with an equal amount of produce, typically six fruits and six vegetables. Buyers then have 20 minutes to pick up their basket. If they forget, all of their food is donated to the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department.
On Saturday, the organic food box came with pears, oranges, kiwi, apples, grapefruit, potatoes, onions, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, avocado, tomato and zucchini.
About Bountiful Baskets
Sally Stevens and Tanya Jolly started Bountiful Baskets in the Valley in May of 2006.
Both women had run smaller co-ops, but wanted a way to reach more families. Using the Web, they started a co-op site with just two pickup locations.
Since then, they have added hundreds of sites with 70,000 families participating.
Each site is entirely volunteer run and operated and Bountiful Baskets makes no profit.
According to the Web site, “this is a grass roots, all volunteer, no contracts, no catch co-operative. Without volunteers, this co-op wouldn’t happen, so you will need to help as you are able.”
For Newton, participating with Bountiful Baskets is a family affair. Her daughter runs two sites in Idaho.
“In a remote community, this is a great way to get food that might not be available otherwise,” Newton said. “We are always looking for others that want to benefit from reasonably priced fruits and vegetable.”
To participate, visit www.BountifulBaskets.org. Call Newton with questions regarding the Pine co-op at (928) 476-2526.