Makeshift orchards are sprouting up all over the Inland Northwest.
Each Saturday, residents gather in Liberty Lake, Spokane Valley, the South Hill and other area locations to harvest fruits and vegetables for a bargain price. It may be the suburbs, but the produce featured through a nonprofit program called Bountiful Baskets Food Co-op can transform an average parking lot into the sort of festive farm that rivals anything in the rural heartland.
Launched in May 2006 by Arizona residents Sally Stevens and Tanya Jolly, Bountiful Baskets began as a way to help families save money on healthy food. From two locations and 120 clients in its first year, the program has grown to over 70,000 customers in seven states.
Mike Godek and his wife Marjorie serve as volunteer site coordinators at the Bountiful Baskets distribution location in Spokane Valley. Photo by Craig Howard.
The first Bountiful Baskets set up shop in Spokane this spring. There are now five distributions sites in the area, including one in Spokane Valley at McDonald Elementary School. Two couples from the Evergreen Ward in the Spokane East Stake – Mike and Marjorie Godek and Todd and Ellie Folsom – volunteer as site coordinators. Their duties involve showing up early to sort the fruits and vegetables that arrive courtesy of a Charlie’s Produce truck.
By 7 a.m., clients begin to filter in, many helping to organize the remaining produce. Baskets are loaded into vehicles – up to three baskets per family – and by 7:20, the improvised fruit stand has been disassembled. Any remaining baskets are donated to worthy causes. Site coordinators earn a free basket for their efforts.
Baskets contain a variety of seasonal items – the early autumn roll call has included apples, pears, onions, peaches, broccoli and more – all for a reasonable fee of $15, plus a $1.50 transaction charge. Clients sign up for the Saturday distribution beginning on the Tuesday of the same week at 9 a.m. through Wednesday at 10 p.m. The Bountiful Baskets Web site claims that a typical basket “is generally worth about $50 retail.”
“It’s a great deal,” said Mike Godek. “It’s helping people out there get quality food at a good price.”
Mike, who works as the executive director of a local in-home care company called Senior Helpers, said Bountiful Baskets provides a chance for seniors and others on fixed incomes to eat healthier and still stay within their budgets.
“You could even split the cost and share a basket,” he said.
The Godeks say the addition of Bountiful Baskets to their weekly shopping routine has meant a beneficial boost at the meal table. From nutrient-rich kale in morning smoothie drinks to eggplant parmesan – a new family favorite – Marjorie said the program has encouraged her to try new recipes that incorporate the contents of that week’s basket.
“I’ll go grocery shopping after we get our basket on Saturday and see what we can get for the rest of the week that would compliment it,” she said. “As a family, we’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle and this helps. We feel better when we eat healthier.”
Marjorie said the approach means parents patterning good nutritional habits at home.
“Kids will watch what you eat,” she said.
Tori Orndorff of the Painted Hills Ward in the Spokane East Stake heard about Bountiful Baskets this spring and began driving to the South Hill location until the Spokane Valley site opened. She said the program has reinforced the family policy of having plenty of fruits and vegetables around instead of sugary snacks and processed food high in fat and artificial ingredients.
Tori Orndorff of the Painted Hills Ward in the Spokane East Stake said the weekly supply of fruits and vegetables from Bountiful Baskets helps remind her family to eat healthy. Photo by Craig Howard.
“When you have fresh produce in the house, you’re working it into your daily meals,” Tori said.
Patti Howard of the Belle Terre Ward in the Spokane East Stake said her husband and teenage kids have enjoyed meals such as vegetable stir fry and roasted vegetables as well as fruit for snacking. Patti added that her husband’s two bouts with cancer have reaffirmed the importance of including fresh fruits and vegetables as part of the regular routine.
“The benefit of this program is definitely there,” Patti said. “We’re more aware of what we eat.”
Bountiful Baskets requires no contract, other than a $3 first-time basket fee. Clients can order up to three baskets per family each week. Some customers drop by on a weekly basis; others show up every other week or even once a month.
Since the spring, local baskets have included everything from mangos to avocados to blackberries. In addition to the affordability, Tori said the quality of the produce has been on par with anything at the local grocery store.
“This is something that improves nutrition if you’re not already eating produce, and if you are, it helps your budget because the prices are better,” she said. “I think it’s a really good value.”
Want to find out more?
To learn more about Bountiful Baskets and to find a distribution site near you, visit www.bountifulbaskets.org. To learn more about the benefits of nutritious food, go to www.healthyeating.net and www.cancure.org.