We know that spending our dollars at local businesses has a big and positive impact, both economically, environmentally, and directly within our communities. We also know that those same benefits can be applied when we spend our food dollars with local farmers, which in turn have local cultural impacts as well.
This does not change the fact that local food can often be more expensive or at least perceived as such, and for most of us, that means making every penny count.
- Purchase in Season. Vermont has become almost famous for its season extension techniques, as evidence of the gleaming hoop houses dotting our landscape. Although this is fantastic and beneficial, if you can stand to wait until July for your basil and August for your tomatoes, then you will find that because there is more product being produced, you will find a good price almost anywhere you decide to shop for your local food. Check out the Department of Agriculture’s Harvest Calendar to get a good idea of when food is typically being harvested in Vermont throughout the seasons.
- Take advantage of direct-to-consumer sales. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), farmers’ markets, farm stands, and pick-your-own crops are fantastic ways to get fresh, local produce at a price that works for you AND the farmer. The challenge is that it isn’t as easy as one-stop shopping at the supermarket, but a great way to know your farmer and your food. Go ahead. Compare the prices of a CSA to what you would purchase in the grocery store, and you could see a savings of 10% to 25%.
- Support local cooperatives, buying clubs/bulk purchasing, and online markets. If purchasing directly from the farmer is a little too much running around for a Saturday, or you prefer to have more control over what you might get in a CSA box, explore your local co-op and buying clubs for better deals than the supermarket can get you. If you are interested in buying in quantity, either on your own or with friends, many farms are able and willing to give you a discount for a minimum purchase, even if it is just one time. More recently, online farmers’ markets make purchasing from your local farmer nothing more than a click away. Although a bit more expensive than purchasing directly at the farmers’ market, it is usually less expensive than picking it up from the local supermarket.
- Go whole hog. Or chicken. Or cow. Or carrot. Unlike the rest of the world, Americans seem adverse (okay, squeamish) to using certain parts of an animal. Lengua, or beef tongue, is delicious and easy to cook for a flavorful filling in tacos, stew, or chili. It is also just a few dollars per pound when compared to a sirloin steak. The same could be said for oxtail or shin steaks, parts of the cow that are both unfamiliar to many eaters and cooks but make the most amazing and flavorful additions to a braising pot. Buy a chicken whole, roast it and after you pick the carcass clean of its meat, pop what is left, bones and all, into a big pot with cold water, a few carrot tops, some onion skin, and herbs and make a broth that can be frozen into bags or freezer proof jars. Use the roasted meat for sandwiches, salads, pot pies, casseroles, and soup and stews. For my family of seven (of which four are active teens), I can feed several lunches and dinner at least twice a week with two 6 lb birds. At $4/lb, it comes to approximately $2.15 per person TOTAL, not including the 4 to 6 cups of broth still in the freezer for future meals. And I haven’t even mentioned carrot top pesto, or roasted broccoli stems or sauteed chard stems, or fried green tomatoes or vegetable stock.
- Plan. Plan. Plan. Let’s face it. We waste food. Whether it is because we live in a throwaway culture, have eyes bigger than our stomachs, or just let things rot in the back of the fridge, Americans waste approximately 30% to 40% of our food supply, which equates to 20 lbs of food per person per month. Twenty. Pounds. So, if you are going to spend your hard-earned dollars on local food, try to spend a half-hour or so each week, making a simple plan of how to use that food. Make menus, get comfortable cooking a few key dishes, and don’t be afraid to preserve food; turn it into stocks or create make-ahead meals for the freezer. Check the end of this post for some helpful links.
By Elena Gustavson, Rutland Area Farm & Food Link Everyday Chef