The LocalHarvest Blog

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Local and Organic for $37/week

Last week I was part of a panel at local farm conference, where my assignment was to talk about the "home economics" of eating locally. I spoke about what my family eats and why, and the time and money our diet requires.

I was especially curious about the money part. It should be said that my husband and I put a high value on eating well. We also grow a lot of our own food. It’s our sustenance, both physical and spiritual. Turns out, the garden saves us a lot of money, too.

I went through a year's worth of credit card statements, the check book register, and my memory of how much cash I spent at the farmers market and found that on average, our family spent $412 a month on food last year. This is for two adults and one voracious toddler -- a 2.5 eater household. Do the math and it comes out to $37/person per week. If you're broke, or have a big family, $37/person per week is a lot. But if you're lucky enough to have a good job, it might seem like a reasonable number. Did I mention this includes our eating-out budget? It does. We live in a small town with not too many restaurant choices, so that keeps the eating-out impulse in check. So does liking to cook.

After figuring the cash, I made a list of what we're getting for that much money. By intent, and by dint of the bounty of rural Minnesota, all our meat, milk, cheese and eggs is local and organic. We eat a moderate amount of meat (1-2 chickens a month and a pound or two of beef), but go through a fair amount of eggs and dairy products.

Most of the rest of food, besides the produce, is not local. Grains, beans, tofu, corn chips, condiments, chocolate -- not local, but often organic.

In the summer and fall, 100% of our veggies and fruits are either grown in our gardens or bought at the farmers market. In the winter and spring, about 2/3 of our fruit and 3/4 of our veggies are local because we freeze and can so much food in the summer. Here's a list of the garden produce we are eating this winter.

  • Frozen: kale, chard, sweet corn, pesto, red bell peppers, tomato sauce, winter squash, strawberries, plums
  • Fresh food, stored in the basement: potatoes, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, parsnips (also had beets, but they are gone)
  • Canned: various tomato products, pickles, salsa, jam, applesauce. 

Except the strawberries and apples, which we picked at organic farms near here, all this came out of our large garden.

Another thing that makes our food dollars go farther is that we make a few things we could buy, like bread, yogurt, granola. We do these things because we like the process, the results, and the lack of packaging. Moreover, the food is OURS because we made it. Being so intimately involved with our food brings a lot of soulfulness to our lives, and we love it.

Here is one last thing I have recently realized is key to our family making good use of all this food. Planning ahead. Last month I started spending about an hour a month planning the supper menus for the whole coming month. I can not tell you what a difference it makes. At our house, if we do not have a plan, the "what's for supper?" question sucks up an unbelievable amount of time and energy. Having it written down makes the the actual cooking a snap. It makes trips to the grocery store more efficient, and ensures that we don't waste any food because we have a plan for it.

To good food, and happy cooks!

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It is a good reminder to freeze and can. Being in Western NC, we get a huge amount of local produce for about 6 months, which is a real treat. During the last winter, though, I gave up an tried my best to eat in season, even if it was not a local as possible. Throwing some berries in the freezer, canning tomatoes, and drying apples sound like very worthy efforts this coming summer.

Posted by Meg Lyman on February 24, 2009 at 06:09 PM CST #

buy in bulk (you know, in season a bushel of ripe peaches is $24!), can, freeze (a stand-alone freezer is indeed worth the investment), dry... and eat otherwise in season. In the mid-Atlantic area, that still leaves us a lot of possibilities. See a post about that here:

Your palate, your health and your finances will all be thankful.

Posted by sylvie, rappahannock cook & kitchen gardener on February 24, 2009 at 06:38 PM CST #

Thanks so much for this article! (I was directed here from the monthly newsletter.) I'm trying to become more of a locavore. Need to learn canning and other techniques. Also need a freezer but have neither the space nor the money for one at present. All in time, though. :-)

Posted by Cheryl White on February 25, 2009 at 08:09 AM CST #

Great tips. Anyway you could share your monthly recipe planning?

Posted by Connie on February 25, 2009 at 08:15 AM CST #

Ditto on the sharing of monthly meal planning. I so some planning, but live in the concrete jungle of Southern California, so I'm not able to grow my own produce. I usually just go to the farmer's market to see what's in season and take it from there. I'd love to see how you plan an entire month's menu!

Posted by ConsciouslyFrugal on March 03, 2009 at 01:07 AM CST #

Great article. As a garden communicator, (Grove City, PA Allied News gardening columnist) I'm often reminding my readers of all you wrote about.

(" a lot, pick a little more." I bet Jerry Jeff Walker is a gardener.)

Posted by TC on March 05, 2009 at 05:39 AM CST #

I've tried planning menus before but have not been successful because I never know what I'm going to be getting at the farmers market from week to week. But what does help me not waste food is using the recipe sites online and having a man in the house that eats all the left overs ;) My favorite is You just type in the search bar what your main ingredients are and a whole bunch of recipes pop up with helpful comments by other people who have tried the recipe.

Posted by Krista on March 10, 2009 at 05:06 PM CDT #

I will be learning this spring how to can and freeze the vegetables that I grow, because I cannot afford to pay what is out there and I would rather grow my own and know that it's good stuff I am eating.

Posted by Suzie OConnor on March 12, 2009 at 11:15 AM CDT #

Since receiving the newsletter for Local Harvest I have started to make the change to local produce and meats. What a difference in taste. The small additional cost is worth it. Further it irks me to support the middleman by buying in the grocery store. The person who grows the food sees the least profit and scratche out a living.

Thank you for this great resource for food and related home grown/produced items

Posted by Deb on March 13, 2009 at 09:29 PM CDT #

For those beginning to learn to preserve...try to find this book at a local library: The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving 2nd edition.
It has information about equipment, etc...and chapters on jams, jellys, pickles, relishes, flavored oils and more. ALL recipes are processed in a water bath (or frozen) so no need for a pressure canner. The process is fully explained in the introduction and the batches do use smaller amounts of items. Using resources such as this can go a long way towards reducing food expenses as a person eats more local foods...a great combination!

Posted by Rose on March 29, 2009 at 01:03 PM CDT #

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