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!