Friday, March 2, 2012

Inside scoop on the produce co-op

Yesterday's bounty - have you ever seen such enormous carrots?!
I am a produce co-op newbie. A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law mentioned that there was a group of families looking for a few more families to join their produce co-op. I was intrigued, loved my trial week, and now I'm in!

We are a group of 12 women/families. Each of us is assigned to a partner. Every other Thursday, one partnership drives downtown to the Produce Terminal to buy $300 in fresh produce, bring it home, sort it into 12 boxes, and wait for everyone to pick up. Because there are 6 teams, we only have to take a turn shopping once every 12 weeks. Our typical pick up time is 11:30 am. We pay $25 cash in advance for the box.

Yesterday, it was my turn to go downtown and shop. It was really interesting. I brought my 2 year old and homeschooling 1st grader along - it was a great field trip!

The Produce Terminal is a huge parking lot surrrounded by loading docks and full of semi trucks. There were multiple produce companies there, but we always go to the same one.

Inside, there was an office, where we asked for a price list and then went outside to our mini vans to decide what we wanted. We filled out an order sheet, double-checked that we wouldn't go over our $300 spending limit, and then turned it back in to the office. Our total was $299.50.

Once the order was turned in, we had a few minutes to wait. The kids amused themselves by climbing on the rails and jumping down the ramp.

I backed up my mini-van to one of the loading docks. I think it was only about 10 minutes before the dock opened up and a team of 5 produce specialists loaded up the van with our order and gave us an invoice.

Once back at my partner's home, we had to divide all the produce into 12. It was easy with 12 heads of kale, 12 cantaloupe, 12 butternut squashes, 24 heads of red leaf lettuce, and 48 grapefruit. It was more tricky with 5 lbs of cucumber, 100 fuji apples, 18 lbs of grapes, 28 lbs of asparagus, 50 lbs of carrots (and they were enormous carrots!).... Next time, I will bring my food scale along.

I did a price breakdown for the group. Most things were a very good deal, but a few items were more expensive than what I would be normally willing to pay. Namely, the cucumbers this time - $.93/each. However, the convenience of driving up to someone's home, leaving the kids buckled in, and picking up a huge box of produce for $25 makes it all completely worth it. I usually only need to buy a few produce items at the store, and we all know that the fewer grocery store trips we make, the less we spend.

Have you ever been in a produce co-op? What tricks do you have for saving money on groceries?

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