Saving Money by Eating Locally

This post is part of Pennywise Platter hosted weekly by Kimi

When I started this journey last year I was emotionally committed and luckily had the resources to back that commitment up. I had decided that even though it costs more to eat this way we would give up other things and hopefully finances would even out. A month into it I was shocked at our food bill. But rather than give up I dug into other areas and cut out frivolous spending instead of caving. Once you start a blog proclaiming your steadfastness it’s hard to tuck tail and hide!

I had seen some significant savings immediately by grinding grains and baking myself and doing things like buying end of season boxes of apples and saucing them myself but the meat, cheese, fish and egg prices at the market were staggering!

The flavor was amazing compared to what we had been use to and I felt really good about supporting local farmers and eating that fresh, genuine food. So I stuck with it.

Finding Azure Standard was a boon for me because they grow many of their own beans and grains, grind them and make their own pasta. Finally, a semi-local source for corn, popcorn, and beans! Also finding BlueBird Grain and Lentz Spelt Farm gave me a ready source for truly local grains that I could grind as needed.

I taught myself how to make cheese but without a free source of milk I realized very quickly why cheesemongers command such a high price for their wares. The only cheese you save money making is soft cheese where you get a high cheese to milk ratio with a short waiting period. Mozzarella, feta and chevre are three such cheeses and they are very gratifying to make.

So how to get my costs down on eggs, meat, fish and cheeses?

Backyard chickensand a second freezer to house farmer direct meat were my answer.

Here is my short list for saving money with limited cooking time:

Buy a grain grinder and several 5 gallon buckets and lids to store the grains in. Buy grains and beans in bulk. The savings will floor you. If you work, consider buying a bread machine and crock pot. Peruse my category list for pancake, bread and other baked good recipes and quit buying pancake mix since you already have everything in your cupboard to make them.

Take 30 minutes once a week to plan out the week’s meals and write it down to keep you on track. Jot down reminders to take meat out of the freezer a few days before you need it. You can pre chop veggies days in advance to achieve some economies of scale.

Consider cooking several meals over the weekend so you have a few meals ready for the week, or get one day ahead on cooking so you cook tomorrow night’s dinner tonight (at your leisure) and simply reheat tonight what you cooked last night, or plan “build upon” meals successive nights.

This is when tonight you make beef pot roast in the crock pot, tomorrow night you make shredded meat tacos using that (or pasties) and start overnight beef bone broth, the third night you make shepard’s pie using that same meat and thickened roast juices, the fourth night you make beef barley soup with the final leftovers and your beef bone broth that you’ve now cooled, skimmed the fat from and seasoned.

This same progression with chicken would be roast chicken to tacos to chicken pot pie to chicken noodle soup. In this way 2 pot roasts and 2 chickens could provide you with the better part of your meat needs for a whole month so you can see how you can get your dinner costs down with some planning and supplementing with dried beans and fresh veggies.

Find a local source for 1/4 or 1/8 cow, 1/2 pig, a chicken package from a local farmer or case of fish fillets from local fisherman.

Learn to make spendy sausages by seasoning pre-ground meats, fish cakes from canned salmon, and meatballs to freeze so you have a source for quick meals at the ready. My local meat on wheels, Thundering Hooves, charges $8/# for sausage but only $4/# for ground meat. What a huge savings just for mixing some spices already in your cupboard into their ground meat!

Ask the farmers at your local farmers market if they have wholesale buying prices on large orders. Talk to them and ask if they know other local farmers who don’t participate at the market but would sell directly from the farm.

In the summer hit the Upick stands and freeze, dry or process fruits en masse. Freeze, pickle and lacto ferment veggies when they are bountiful and inexpensive.

Do what you can with the space you have. Plant an intensive orchard using fruit trees on dwarf stock that are proven to produce in your area. Plant a garden, again using crops proven to produce well with minimal disease in your climate.

Oftentimes neighbors will have productive fruit trees in their yard and let crops rot on the tree. When you see this ask if you can pick fruit and give them back preserves you’ve made with it in exchange. I did this last summer and ended up with pears, cherries and over 100 pounds of plums to dry, can and jam.

Find a canning buddy so you can divide and conquer. It’s much easier to spend a weekend canning one type of thing than to try and do several. If you spend the weekend canning peaches and peach jam perhaps your friend could spend the weekend canning tomato sauce and you can share in each other’s jars. Or host a swap with many friends and neighbors to really round out your stores in the fall. We did this last fall and I came away with jars of local honey, handmade goat’s milk soap, smoked salmon and new flavors of preserves.

Start small and build upon your success season after season as you gain confidence. Remember, produce is only one piece of the puzzle so don’t beat yourself up for not being able to devote your life to a huge organic garden. But gardening is the most emotionally empowering and visually inspiring thing you can do so definitely consider it.

How about you? What things have you found that help keep your costs and time down eating locally? I’d love to hear!

20 Responses to Saving Money by Eating Locally

  1. What a great list of suggestions. It never even occurred to me to look for local brands at Costco because in my head, of course Costco is national. But while Tillamook is still around 200 miles from me, it’s a huge improvement over what I’m doing now!

    Also, thank you for mentioning making your own cheese. I always end up with extra raw goat milk from my co-op – no way do I drink enough milk to finish even the smallest size in time – and now I might actually be brave enough to try making cheese with it!

    All said and done, now that you’ve found these ways to cut costs, how much of an increase are you seeing in your monthly grocery costs?

  2. Hi Jess,

    We actually spend way less on food now than when I was shopping at the store.

    I did this post last February: http://www.sustainableeats.com/2009/02/23/how-much-does-it-cost-to-eat-sustainably/ before I had even discovered wholesale food and Azure Standard so it would be even lower now, although I haven’t looked at it lately.

  3. I came over from Modern Victory Garden’s blog, I love the fact you are local (in Seattle!) and shared all these great resources, thank you so much! Looking forward to following your blog.

  4. Awesome! Thank you so much for all the great tips! I already do some (buying fruit in season and stocking the freezer) but I have a long way to go.

  5. I’ve actually done well on Craigslist. On the farm/garden portion I’ve found beef, pork and chickens from small farmers. The 1/4 cow we bought this summer was from a strawberry farmer who raised 3 cows in his back pasture. They were grass fed, except for some silage during the darkest days of winter. I paid less per pound than I would have for hamburger meat from the grocery store. The prime rib we had for christmas dinner was amazing from that cow.

    Mostly though, it’s word of mouth. Once you meet people doing the same things, it gets easier to find the good stuff.

  6. What a wonderful post to help sum it up for us….and the Craigslist comment just made my day!! I never thought of that and found posts for cheap fruits, possibly oats, and meat options! Can’t what to give these people a call and see what I can find out!

  7. Hi everyone! Mom – that is good advice. I actually had that in my blog post when we lost connection and then rewrote this one 6 times losing connection in the process each time too.

    The other thing you just reminded me of is to find a butcher and ask them since they know all the meat farmers. If you live in the city check with outlying butchers because inside Seattle butchers charge an arm and a leg but just outside (Silvana Meats or Kelsos) the meat is really reasonable because the supply is so much higher. And on the way to the Butchers I saw so many sandwich boards saying “spring lambs” etc and I will call and follow up with them.

    Sometimes you don’t need to get 1/8 cow to get the good price because it’s just slightly more at the butchers and you can pick and choose your cuts that way.

    Keep the suggestions coming! Let’s all save even more money next year by eating local, non-recalled food!

  8. I now buy whole fish, fresh off the boat, from a local fisherman. Whole fish is very easy to fillet or cut into steaks and costs only a fraction of what you’d pay for filleted fish (as low as $2/lb!).

    I’ll probably won’t sign up for another CSA because I can save more money by buying different products from different farmers.

    For example, with the CSA I’m paying for pork ($5.50/lb), eggs ($4/dozen) and milk ($6/gallon) whereas from other local farmers I can get eggs for $2/dozen, pork for $2.40/lb and beef for $3.25/lb.

    Use Craig List for things like duck meat/eggs, rabbit meat, and other farm products and you’ll be amazed at the variety of meats you can buy locally grown at excellent prices.

  9. OH, one more thing: even if you don’t bake much, if you make your own pizza, you can save money by making your own burger/dinner buns dividing the pizza dough into small balls and baking at 350 for 17 minutes or so. Try it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. You can use the same dough to make your own pitas just as easily.

  10. Wow Auburn, I would be happy even for your CSA prices – so envious! For some reason it’s crazy spendy in Seattle for everything. Even conventional Albertson’s food is insane! That is why I really dream of starting a true food coop here where we could buy excess from farmers or make large bulk orders available for cost plus costs to run the facilities. Someday…

  11. Brilliant!

    Thank you for the response. I was hoping that was the answer, but I know I’m going to have to have data to make my case to the hubby, and I can’t use my current grocery bills because I eat so differently when he’s gone.

  12. Annette, after I read the first post you did on buying clubs/co-ops, I did some research and found a few in this area. I tried contacting their respective coordinators and no answer so far.

    Thing is, both of these require their members to donate their time (they ask you to do bookkeeping, website maintenance, help with new members, etc.) and commit to weekly meetings. Is this what you do?

    Also, the closest buying clubs in my area are farther than 30 miles and require $350 purchases but I’m not sure how often you are required to spend that amount.

    I had imagined buying clubs/co-ops to be more like a small scale organic Costco type of thing.

    Yes, you live in a very expensive city! But oh so beautiful, diverse and open-minded. I wish we lived in WA or OR. Sigh.

    (BTW, I should’ve made clear, in my previous comment, that the tip about making burger buns was directed to baking noobs like me.) ;)

  13. I love this post–very in depth and thoughtful, honestly helpful. I’ve always been homemade and local, from the cradle, my family always got local–whatever we could get our hands on. That said, I’m constantly invigorated by some folks dedication and ingenuity–you among them. It keeps me honest, and excited, to be more local because the price of things can be a big bummer and make you slack. Meat is probably the biggest financial hurdle. Next year a friend will have a few pigs and we will get in on that. The only thing I find is helpful is to keep an open mind to foods you don’t always eat! Oh, and get a chest freezer!

  14. Now that I am thinking this through as compared to last February – I’ve been eating home grown produce since May and just started buying veg again. Come April or May I will stop. That is probably $25 a week for veg from not much for seeds. In Seattle we typically only need to water a few months a year and I use drip irrigation to save money. I am spending about $15 – $20/month for chicken feed instead of the $40/month for eggs we were. In the summer it’s less because they have more forage to eat. The meat is way cheap now – $5.5/# is the most I would be paying, usually $3.5/#. That includes cured ham, bacon and now I’m making the sausage which was $8/#. I was buying beef jerky and now I’m making it from my $3.5/# meat.

    The grain is even less per pound, ranging from 40cents for wheat to 90 cents for spelt. I found a semi-local source for legumes so I could make a meal of veggie burgers with home canned condiments, lacto fermented veggies, home baked buns and garden salad for about $2 for all of us.

    I’m spending 1/2 what I was on sweeteners, I found a local bee keeper (sweet as can bee) and 6 of us split a 6 gallon barrel of it, I buy the organic sugar from Costco that is $8 for 10# and their maple syrup for 1/2 the price I was paying for the organic syrup. When I researched maple syrup it turned out there are no pests or diseases to maple syrup trees so organic is a matter of certification. Boy did I feel dumb!

    By buying Mt. Pleasant raw milk cheeses, Beechers cheddar at Costco and now Willipa Hills aged moldeds at wholesale price I’ve stopped making cheese. That was part of the reason I was spending so much on milk and my raw milk is $8.60 per gallon so one of our most expensive items. I could subsidize that with less expensive pasteurized dairy pool milk for the lattes or things we heat or culture but I don’t want to support that.

    I planted a tea plant and am planning to grow some chicory root (yes dandelion by design) to make my coffee beans last. By commanding dessert is only once a week that has helped us cut back on frivolous eating and spending too. I have a sweet tooth and love to make the pretty things – I could get lost in a kitchen making torts and truffles for days and be in heaven. So I try to reign that in.

    This has been a really interesting exercise to go through – I’ll have to reprice my food stocks next month and see how things have changed!

    I’ve been carefully monitoring the electric bill too – no large increase from the additional chest freezer, the extra fridge/freezer or the grow lights.

  15. Auburn – in response to your question about the wholesale buying clubs, it is just me emailing people or posting on the blog to find interest, emailing the farmer or website to find out if they have a plan and then I coordinate the order. It’s really informal. You just need someone motivated to save money like me and grab the bull by the horn.

    My dream is to put a more formal group in place, get a non-profit status and work with a community kitchen to store things until we can all meet to divide it up. I can envision local farmers selling us excess produce, a drop point for local milk, eggs and meat, a place to barter with your neighbors and others to help me organize since it takes a huge chunk of time once you get a lot of folks (and I hate bookkeeping!)

    So many places like Wilderness Family Naturals, Mountain Rose Herbs, Cheesemongers, Fishermen, Grain Farmers have existing programs. Oh, and Charlie’s Soaps (google them!) If you each coordinate one order that spreads the love around. I would love to create a Costco for the people. Someday…

  16. Great post! I used to be much better about planning out the weeks menu, but have been winging it more and more due to time constraints… the result is that the menu has gotten a little boring – repeating a lot because it is easy. I need to get back to the practice of planning simple menu ideas out ahead of time to take the thinking part out of the equation during the over filled work week when I am mental mush by the end of the day (not to mention just worn out tired).

    Good info and ideas.

  17. Annette, what an amazing post! This is the time of year when I plan and organize…. and your ideas will help out a lot, esp. the “build upon” meals! Thanks so much.

  18. Pingback: Guest Post – How I Fit Real Food Into My Busy Life and Tight Budget

  19. You mentioned using a non-raw milk for lattes or cultured items. I’ve gone to buying the Golden Glen Creamery whole milk from Bow, WA.
    It’s non-homogenized and from their own pastured cows. It’s only $3.49 gal. (plus glass bottle deposit
    of $1.85). I save the raw milk for non-heated items as it’s $9.60 gal.

  20. Hi Joyce,

    That is what I’ve been doing – using GG too. I like that it’s non-homogenized and local although I’ve been having emilkman.com deliver it for me since I don’t go to the store but once a month now. Thanks for the suggestion!

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