November 8, 2008

How do you afford to eat this way?

I get asked this question a lot. I have become more and more disenchanted with traditional grocery stores. So much of the food that they offer I don't want in my home, let alone my body. I have really started to look for alternative ways to buy food. I thought I would share a little of what I have found. I am sure some of you have some great tips as well, and I hope you will share them in the comments.

A garden is the best way to get fresh fruits and vegetables economically. Plus it allows you to know exactly how they were produced and the level of chemicals used. I recently discovered a great book called Four Seasons Harvest. The author, Eliot Coleman, lives in main so I know his tips should work in my cold climate. I hope to get someone to help me build some of the cold frames.... However, in all honesty I am not a very good Gardner. I am working on it and get a little better every year. This year I actually got at least one of everything that I planted (with the exception of Butternut squash, I just couldn't save them from the silly snails).

What is the alternative for those of us that aren't great gardners? A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which provides a mutually beneficial arrangement between farmers and consumers. People join by purchasing a "share" of produce pre-season, then pick up their weekly produce from a central drop point in their area during the harvest season.
CSA Benefits for the farmer? When signing up, you dedicate yourself to being a customer for the season, providing the farmer a secure market. CSAs enable farms to share the risk and abundance of producing food with the consumer, resulting in a more direct and rewarding link between farmer and community. (Payment in the Spring also provides cash to the farmer when it is needed most. )
CSA Benefits for the shareholder? No more guessing where your food comes from! Members receive a weekly supply of diverse produce with "the farmer’s face on it." You can talk with the farmer, and many offer opportunities to visit the farms. Your produce is harvested and delivered directly to you, generally via a drop–off point, ensuring the freshest produce with a high nutritional value. You also get the satisfaction of knowing you are supporting a local farm. I found the ones in my area by going to then clicking on my state and following the links. I found out about these too late to be able to join last year, but I am already working on which I will join for next year. The cost was a little daunting to me to start with, so I broke it down and started setting aside some money so this year I will have enough saved to be able to pay for my share up front. Then I can save what I would have spent on produce to be able to pay for next years share. Where I am, the CSA's generally go from June-October, some areas may be longer or shorter depending on the growing season.

Farmers Markets are another great alternative. I followed the same links to find out about the farmers markets in my area. However, the early bird gets the worm at most Farmers Markets. I am not an early bird so I didn't fare very well. Hopefully I will improve at that as well.

Food Co-ops are another great way to get your food. I have friends that have found amazing food co-ops in their areas, Here we only have one and it isn't as nice as the others I have heard about, but still better than nothings. Food co-ops work like this, a group of people get together to order in bulk and share the work and the benefits of bulk buying. You can find local co-ops through the same link above.

What if there aren't any co-ops in your area? See if you can start your own. Start talking to everyone you know. See if they would be interested in splitting large orders of things. You can buy a 50 pound bag of flax seed for much cheaper than buying it in single pound bags. Then divide it up. I have ordered from a few different companies locally, but I think my new favorite is Azure Standard. They have an amazing selection and really reasonable shipping if you are willing to meet the truck at their drop point. In my area, if our order is over $200 then shipping is only $5. I have had no problem finding $200 worth of food that I want, and it is even easier if you have a group that wants to split a few items. I am ordering bulk grains and beans, as well as seasonings this month. I hope to start ordering from them every other month or so. They have specials every month as well. Ordering is very simple, you can do it by phone or online. I personally hate using the phone so I use the online method. It was very simple and they also allow you to change your order up until a few days before it ships. They ship on a rotating schedule so that each delivery area gets one delivery a month. They deliver to the following states Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. I think they will ship UPS to areas they don't drive to.

There are several other companies you can order through. If you start asking around, you will be surprised how many people might be interested in sharing bulk items. As you start to ask around you will find others who are interested in the same type of orders. They will let you know about deals they have found and it will start to snowball. I started asking around in August, and I have already started to find a network of people who are interested in sharing bulk buys. We have bought Honey, Almonds, Agave nectar and several different grains and legumes to share this way.

Buying in bulk may be intimidating at first, but once you start it is a wonderful way to always have a wide variety of grains and other items on hand at a more affordable price. Sharing with others allows you to try new things and find out what your family loves, and what they don't love so much... Sharing also increases your resources for new recipes and tips from the people you share with.

I hope this helps someone. If you have any questions, be sure to ask and I will answer as best I can!


Heidi said...

One thing I forgot to mention is that my food bill has actually gone down since I started changing the way we eat. I really think it will keep going down as I implement all of the changes I want to make.

Courtney said...

We have found that our food bill has also gone down by eating so much fresh produce- we don't buy any junk anymore. i ordered unrefined coconut oil in bulk from Azure standard and it is great. I didn't realize they have grains. What exactly have you ordered? Is it any different than what you can order from the Church cannery. Also- please post some recipes. We are always looking for new healthy food to try.
Have you heard of the "Feel Good Cookbook" by Janell West Francis (she is from Provo) she has a pretty good cookbook that I get a ton of recipes from.

Heidi said...

Sorry I am slow to reply. Azure has a ton of different grains. I ordered Mung beans, Adzuki Beans, Lentils, whole peas, frozen berries, seasonings, whole wheat tortillas. They had so much that I wanted, I think I will be ordering monthly and skip most of my grocery shopping. I will try to post more recipes. I don't have one cookbook to recommend, as I keep checking new ones out from the library. There are so many things I would like to try I am really far behind in my experimenting. New goal for all to see, one new recipe a week, posted here with for others to try.

Courtney said...

One more site is This is a site to help you locate local farms as well as a ton of helpful hints, like how to can anything.