DAY 46 The cost of eating locally comes up a lot. Theres an assumption that going local is only for people with time and money to spare. Somehow weve forgotten that cooking your own meals and putting away food for winter used to be considered thrifty things to do - and the fact is, they still are. Local eating does have its costs, but it has its savings, too.
Below is my all-time list of ways to deal with those costs and look for those savings:
First: Are local foods really so expensive?
1. Do a fair comparison. Farmers market foods often have a higher sticker price. But wait - that head of lettuce is much larger than the one at the supermarket, and its organic. Compared pound-for-pound with supermarket foods of similar quality, farmers market foods may actually cost less. Also, some so-called luxury foods (often foods that dont keep or transport well, such as basil and artichokes) can be far cheaper at the farmers market than the supermarket.
2. Consider a box program. Weekly local-food box deliveries, especially community-supported agriculture programs (or CSAs, in which you become a subscriber to a particular farm or set of farms), often offer excellent value.
Second: Shop wisely
3. Arrive at the market early, or late. The best-priced foods can sell out quickly. On the other hand, vendors will often sell end-of-day food (especially in bulk) for less, rather than ship it back to the farm.
4. Do a walk-around. Quickly check the farmers market stalls for the best deals. Earlier this year I saw the first salad greens for $11/lbs. I gave those a pass, and instead bought a huge bag of wild miners lettuce - a succulent seasonal treat - for just $2.
5. Buy in bulk, buy in season. Local foods are cheapest in the peak of their season. Thats the time to invest in your food and freeze, can, or dry some for later. The outlay of cash can be a big bite, but in winter your grocery bill will be close to zero. Some real-life examples from Alisa and my experience: nearly 50 peaches for $3 (thats total, not by weight); organic tomatoes for $1/lbs; wild salmon for $4/lbs (in stores Ive seen it topping $20/lbs).
6. Buy cheaper cuts and ugly food. It costs money to raise animals in humane conditions. Expect to pay more, but expect better-tasting meat, too; keep costs down by eating less expensive cuts, such as stewing meats, more often. With vegetables and fruit, its often cheaper to buy "uglies" - products with small blemishes or funny shapes - that taste just fine but can be hard for farmers to market.
7. Look into farmers market coupon programs. Many markets now offer specific discount programs for lower-income earners. Ask at your markets info stand, or check the market websites.
Third: Do not waste food
8. Do not waste food. When new research indicates we throw out http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/ one-third of the edible food we buy, its hard to take seriously claims that food "costs too much." Make plans to use the food in the fridge or freezer, including leftovers.
9. Use everything edible. You eat radishes. But do you also eat their greens, flowers, and seed pods - all delicious? Carrot tops are tasty, and so are cauliflower and broccoli stalks and leaves. In Africa, Ive eaten whole dishes made entirely of bean or squash leaves. Ask your farmer or food producer for ideas on how to use every edible part of what you buy, or troll the internet for ideas.
10. Remember the stock pot: Much of what we throw away - bones, fish heads, vegetable trimmings - can be saved to make healthful soup stock. Many older people remember keeping stock pots (or still do); ask your elders about what works well in stock and what should go in the compost instead.
Fourth: Cook smart
11. Use fewer ingredients. Fresh foods have bolder flavors than bland supermarket foods. Use fewer ingredients and let their simple flavors shine.
12. Prepare smaller portions of meat, eggs, cheese etc. Everyone knows that most of us eat too much of these expensive foods, but its hard to replace them with bland supermarket fruit and veg. Fresh, local vegetables, on the other hand, earn their place at the center of the plate.
13. Eat smaller meals. Many locavores report that, over time, their meal sizes shrink and they also do less snacking. Thats certainly been my experience. We cant say for certain why this happens, but my guess is that local eaters are getting better nutrition through their fresh, whole foods. What I can say for sure is that its saving us money.
Fifth: Community comes with savings
14. Buy together, cook together. Making big bulk purchases, with even deeper savings, is easiest in groups. Having food friends allows you to share different kitchen tools and appliances - not everyone needs a dehydrator or a storage freezer. Carpooling or splitting the labor of seasonal buying saves gas. Weve even watched groups come together and cooperate with farmers to decide the following years crops and explore the costs together.
15. Get to know your food producers. The bakers dozen is alive and well on the rural backroads! We still frequently see honor boxes - unattended roadside stands with a coin box where you pay what you feel is fair for the food that you take. Alisa and I rarely make a farmgate purchase without receiving a little something extra, like a newly ripe melon or a few onions. This year, Alisa was invited to pick our canning strawberries for free, just because the berries were otherwise going to rot on the vine.
16. Barter, trade, and work for your food. Some u-pick operations and other growers will pay you to pick for them as well as give you a good price on food you harvest for yourself. Some farmers appreciate offers to work for food (I used to do this weekly while in my mid-twenties). At farmers markets, some vendors will give free fruit or veg if you help set up or take down their stall. And dont forget to barter and trade with other locavores with the extras of what you grow or preserve.
Sixth: Be a little more self-sufficient
17. Plant a garden. Even a small container garden can save you money on herbs, which are expensive at the shops. We focus on planting foods that are costly but easy to grow, like garlic, basil, herbs, and, this year, tomatilloes. We also also plant a winter garden, for fresh food when supermarket prices are at their highest.
18. Forage. Wild foods are free. And foraging doesnt only happen in the wilderness - ask your neighbours about all that tree fruit theyre letting drop and rot on the ground.
19. Consider some livestock. Even in the city, rules and regulations increasingly permit people to keep bees, chickens, and - more rarely - goats or larger animals. Bantam chickens, for example, are small and can keep a family in eggs much of the year.
20. Ask yourself - and your local politicians - why bad food is so often cheap and good food is so often expensive. Why does our system subsidize the producers who use tons of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, ship food huge distances, pay farmworkers the bare minimum, and treat animals as if they were machines rather than living creatures? Why not invest instead in a food system that is first and foremost local, organic, humane, and a decent place to work? Remember: If the foods too cheap, its because someone else is paying.
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