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Local Foods On a Budget

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Category : Whatcom Locavore Basics

Food BudgetWhen you first begin transitioning toward eating as a locavore (a person who eats only locally grown food as much as possible), you may experience sticker shock. Local food, especially organic, can be more expensive than its imported grocery store counterparts. There are ways, though, to stay within a food budget and still eat mostly local. Here are some ideas I’ve found helpful.
1. Keep it simple. Local organic food, harvested at the peak of ripeness, generally has a lot more flavor than food that has been shipped long distances. (In the US, food has traveled an average of 1500 miles before it is purchased by the consumer.) Deeper, richer flavors need much less seasoning. Using fewer spices and fewer ingredients can help reduce your food expenses substantially without compromising taste.

2. Buy foods in season. A food is plentiful when it’s being actively harvested, so prices are usually lower than the scarcer early and late season varieties.

3. Plan ahead. Buy extra produce when it is plentiful and the price is low, then preserve it for later use. Canning, pickling, freezing, drying, smoking, salting, fermenting, root cellaring, and other food preserving techniques are easy and inexpensive to do at home. Almost anything can be preserved. If these techniques sound difficult, find a friend willing to teach you, or take a class. The Community Food Co-op, for example, offers a variety of food preservation classes at very reasonable prices.

4. Use what you buy. In the U.S., people throw away an average of 25% of the food they purchase because it spoils before it is eaten. Buying only what you can use before it spoils can make a huge savings.

5. Avoid impulse buying. Plan menus, make a shopping list, and stick to it, or substitute equivalent foods. For example, if you have spinach on your list but all you see at the Farmers Market is chard and kale, swap out for one or the other. If it’s not on your list, don’t buy it.

6. Here’s another way to avoid food spoilage. Without a planned menu, most of us think about what we want for dinner before we go to the refrigerator. Instead, try going to the refrigerator first to scan and see what needs to be used up so it won’t wilt and spoil. Plan your menu based around those ingredients.

7. While unusual produce varieties can be fun to experiment with in your kitchen, they are often more expensive than commonly eaten varieties. Focus on foods you know you and your family like and will eat. Don’t hesitate to try a new veggie if you have a little money left over, of course!

8. Experiment with using parts of a plant you don’t normally prepare. For example, some people eat fennel bulbs and discard the lacy-leaved tops, when in fact the tops make a wonderful herb to add to soups, pasta, and much more. For another example, see my blog article about “20 Ways to Enjoy Broccoli Stalks” ( www.whatcomlocavore.com/20-ways-to-enjoy-broccoli-stalks ) and try a few. I think you’ll be astonished.

9. Grow some of your own herbs. Herbs and spices can cost a fortune–and that’s even for the dried versions. Fresh herbs can sometimes cost even more. For less than $2 you can purchase an herb seedling and plant it in your yard (rosemary or oregano, for example), in pots outside (basil, sage, mint, etc.), or in smaller pots in your kitchen or a sunny window (thyme).  With just a little care, that single plant can provide your kitchen with tantalizing fragrances and rich pungent flavors for years to come.

10. Finally, I’ve found that as my consumption of local foods increases, the portion size I need to feel full and satisfied has gotten smaller. Perhaps its the higher level of nutrients in just picked foods (foods start losing nutritional values as soon as they are harvested), or perhaps its the richer flavors, but I seem to have gradually and naturally become happier with less food overall–without even trying.

I hope you won’t let the seemingly higher cost of local food stop you from beginning to add it to your family’s table. With just a little bit of planning and strategy, you may find your budget doesn’t have to change.

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