I am well aware of the accusations against we “locavores” as being elitist food snobs. All chevre and belgian endive aside, let’s talk about some practical ways to stretch your food budget and maximize nutrition while embracing the ideals of local and organic.
1) If you have the space, consider keeping 3-4 laying hens in your backyard. They’re the pet that gives back. Free-range, organic eggs, as I go into depth about here, are far superior to supermarket eggs. However, the price tag will break any large family’s budget. For the cost of feed, you can have fresh eggs daily! Check out Backyard Chickens‘ website for more resources and info!
2) Grow your own produce. If you don’t have the space, perhaps you can ask a neighbor, a local church, or park and rec department for a community plot to garden. Square Foot Gardening is a simple, no-nonsense approach for the beginning gardener! If the cost of starting a garden is prohibitive, there are several local non-profits, such as Growing Gardens, here in Portland, that offer free gardening services for income qualified individuals. Consider your options for extending the season if you live in the right climate.
3) Glean nearlyexpired produce from local farms or farmstands. Recently, I found a local, roadside produce market that is open from about May through October. There are several such markets scattered throughout the metro area. My local market always has a box of produce that is almost ready for the compost heap, but usable enough to preserve. The prices are rock-bottom, such as $0.10 for past-prime peppers or fresh tomatoes. I take advantage of these by buying out the inventory and going home and preserving them immediately in some appropriate way. With the peppers, I roast them and pickle them. Old tomatoes make great lacto-fermented salsa. If your local farm stand, farm store, or organic food market does not have such a “markdown bin”, ask. It’s likely that they are in the back awaiting the compost bin. If you offer to pay them a little to take them away, you’ll both win!
4) Cut out the junk food. You may thinkthat 20 packs of ramen noodles for $1.00 is a steal, but it’s nutritionally bankrupt; you might as well spend the dollar on a pack of frozen veggies. The veggies will be more filling, nutrient-packed, and have less calories and carbohydrates than the ramen. You can’t go wrong, nutritionally, if you stick with lots of healthy vegetables (and frozen is fine when fresh is not available!), good fats (butter, beef tallow, which is very cheap if you can locate a farmer), and good quality meats and eggs. Forget the processed cereals, fast food, foofy coffee drinks, and convenience foods.
5) Use meat as a condiment. Plan your meals with about 75% vegetables and 25% good quality meats. Cook the veggies in good quality fats such as butter, ghee, coconut oil, or lard. If you keep these general principles in mind, you may notice that you are spending more on high quality items, but by cutting out all the impulsive junk foods and fast food stops, you will save.
6) Buy in bulk. When something local is in season, purchase as much as you can afford and find creative ways to use and preserve it. For example, this year in Oregon we are having an amazing cherry season. There seems to be no end in sight. Therefore, the prices of cherries are great around the metro area (even better if you go to a u-pick orchard!). What can you do with several pounds of cherries? Freeze them for smoothies and desserts for the upcoming year. Dehydrate them for snacks or to make my “Better than Lara Bars“. Make cherry salsa or chutney, or jam. Use these things the way you’d use any other fruit during the coming year. A little sweat equity can be worth it!
7)Although we don’t feel like eating soup in the heat of summer, we can take advantage of the current harvest of the cheap, abundant crops like summer squash, zucchini, and green beans by making cream of [said veggie] soup. Cook or roast your veggies, puree with herbs and chicken broth and freeze in convenient portions for easy, nourishing meals during the winter months.
8) Eat more fat. Good fat, such as grassfed butter (Trader Joe’s Organic Butter is 100% grassfed), virgin coconut oil, and beef tallow. The latter is by far the most frugal option. I get unrendered beef suet for $0.50/lb from a local farmer and can use it to make gallons of tallow. Tallow from grass-fed beef is high in cancer-fighting CLA and Omega-3′s, which have been shown to be key players in preventing heart disease and many types of cancers. Another great plus about eating fat is that it allows you to absorb more of the nutrients in your food, particularly the fat-soluble vitamins in veggies. Did you know that many of the nutrients in veggies aren’t even available to us unless with eat them with fat? Fat not only satiates, but helps you maximize nutrition, meaning ultimately that you need less food (and less $$$) to be nourished.
9) Forage. Take up fishing, clamming, crabbing, or mussel-collecting. For a minimal cost, you can obtain an appropriate license and pass the time by collecting your own food. In Portland, we have Wild Food Adventures, a program through which you can take classes on foraging and finding wholesome, edible wild foods. From making treats from acorn flour to cooking with cattails, it never hurts to know how to use what grows locally!
10) Practice intermittent fasting. So often we eat out of habit, but if we really take the time to listen to our bodies, sometimes we notice that we really aren’t hungry. Take advantage of these times and give your body’s digestion a chance to rest and rebuild. One way to fast is to simply have broth for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Or perhaps if you have access to a juicer, you can do a juice fast. Or simply a meatless fast. Anytime we eat less, we are saving money and resources.