Farmer’s Market Challenge, Weeks #1 and #2

I feel so fortunate to live in a community where there is an abundance of local, small farmers and numerous farmers’ markets to choose from throughout the week. This season, I won’t be able to frequent my favorite market on Thursdays as much due to my work schedule, but that could prove fruitful in a way because it forces me to patronize farms directly and to visit other markets in different locations and at other times.

We participate in a points-based CSA that we use primarily for meat “purchases,” and we try to make it a habit to frequent farms and markets for fruit and vegetable needs. However, one of the things we struggle with is keeping purchases in check–if we go into a market hungry and lacking a budget, we end up buying produce we often don’t use which goes to waste and hurts our wallet.

There’s also a perception that buying local is expensive–and I admit that it is in some communities. However, I’m not convinced that this is the case in most towns. I truly think that finding food from trustworthy sources can be doable even on a tight budget (and ours is definitely tight since my husband lost his full-time job in April).

I decided that our family would set a $15 cash budget each week that can be utilized at either farmers’ markets or at actual farm stands within our community, and that we would document our results. If anyone else is game, I’d love to see what you can find with the same budget in your own area. I’m hoping that our “challenge” will help motivate others to look locally when shopping for food, while helping us to curb waste and control our finances.

Last week, in the first week of our challenge, I found a quart of strawberries at a beloved local farm for $4.25. I also discovered that a smaller market exists “on the bricks” outside of the railway station where I work, and there I found a head of lettuce for $3.00, a bundle of green onions for $2.00, and two handmade soaps (sweet citrus and one that is a coffee scrub) for $6.00, bringing our total to $15.75. That’s a hair over our $15 budget for the week, but I was comfortable with it.

(Ignore the grainy cell phone camera quality of the picture…this is a photo of the haul from the market where I work.)

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This week, for the second week of our challenge, I’ve gone under budget. I purchased a jar of homemade salsa at the market on Tuesdays at our local shopping mall. The salsa was $5. Then, a friend shared information with me about another local farm that I had yet to visit that is near the regional hospital–there we found another head of lettuce for $2.00 (it was HUGE), and I snagged another quart of strawberries for $4.00, bringing the week’s total to $11. I might put back the extra $4 for next week.

Pictures of some of the goodies from the last two weeks:

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Anyone else with me for this “challenge?” 🙂

Organic Co-op/Buying Club Order #2

Admittedly, this post is a couple weeks overdue, and some of the items I purchased have already been, um, consumed, but…..

I wanted to document the latest order from our local organic co-op/buying club.

My initial order was:

-6 almond/coconut milk beverages

-1 package chlorine free feminine care products

-3 1.5 lb. bags of wild rice

-3 packages of organic Hollandaise mix

-6 cans of organic white kidney beans

However, I found out upon pickup that the almond/coconut milk drinks were no longer available (they would have been the best deal of any of the products), and only one of my bags of wild rice made it to the delivery.

In the ongoing “inventory” they have on hand, I did snag two small blocks of organic raw milk cheddar cheeses and a jar of organic salsa.

So, I ended up walking out with the two cheeses, six cans of organic white kidney beans, three packages of Hollandaise mix, the feminine care products, 1 bag of wild rice, and a jar of organic salsa for $36. I’m still not convinced that this is the best deal–honestly, I was gunning for the almond/coconut milk at $1.56 a pop, but backordered and discontinued stock is one of the negative aspects of a buying club.

I do have an order in this upcoming week for 8 lbs. of 100% grass fed, organic beef ($34) and 20 lbs. of organic sweet potatoes ($15), and I feel like both of these will end up proving to be worthwhile expenditures. I’ll document my progress for each of these this week, and whether or not the items arrive as indicated.

 

Participating in an Organic Foods Buying Club and Co-Op: Learning the Ropes

I was recently introduced to a local organic/natural foods co-op and buying club in a neighboring town. I was surprised to know that it existed, as I have been in the area for seven years, and no one that I knew personally participated in it. Due to a desire to save money while eating a healthier and more sustainable diet (a work very, very much in progress), my interest was piqued.

Our local buying club works through several wholesale suppliers of organic and natural foods. Volunteers work with participants and suppliers to coordinate orders on a regular basis. Many products are significantly cheaper to buy in bulk, so members will split cases of a product whenever possible. There is a $15 membership fee (a one-time only charge) after a two month trial period, and members can volunteer to help with administrative duties, deliveries, sorting orders, etc. in order to have purchasing power without the small service fee per order (something around 5-10%, depending upon the supplier).

Within a day or two of joining the club, I managed to catch the end of a “split order” that was being submitted to a supplier–meaning that certain items had been requested by members who wanted to pay the more inexpensive price extended to those who ordered items by the case, but who did not want to purchase said full case themselves, so you could purchase the remaining items in it to be able to order the case at the bulk discounted price.

For example, someone wanted to purchase two packets of organic taco seasoning at the discounted case price. However, they only wanted two packets, and a case had ten of them within it. So, since we use taco seasoning on a very regular basis (and since we prefer spicy, flavorful varieties), I decided to buy the other eight packets. Both of us then were able to receive the discounted case price.

Here was my first order, which came to $21.03, including a small service charge:

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In my order, I purchased two pounds of organic California white jasmine rice, two 10 ounce bags of butternut squash, and eight packets of organic taco seasoning.

I’m not entirely convinced I received a monumental price break. Per item, I did receive a discount as opposed to buying them at retail online (plus shipping). And compared to “conventional” foods, well, let’s be honest, the “conventional” items will almost always be significantly cheaper compared to organic foods and produce. It’s just the way it is. However, when compared to the organic items I sometimes find at discount stores or the local scratch-and-dent grocery store, the items purchased via the co-op/buying club were still higher in price.

However, several points in favor of the buying club…. For starters, I did not make much of an effort to track the items that were on sale or heavily discounted, or discontinued, etc. I am still learning how to navigate the suppliers’ catalogs and lists. Most of us, like myself, are used to making purchases with catalogs full of glossy pages and photographs. A wholesale catalog seems to be mere item numbers, names, and lots of price listings with abbreviations I am still learning, so I don’t feel as confident making wise choices as to what to buy and what to avoid just yet. Also, the food options and choices available are countless compared to any of the grocery stores in our area–if I want something, I am pretty much certain to find it in a supplier’s catalog somewhere, be it essential oils or spices or meats or cheeses, anything. Anything that I can think of is available somewhere. And, ultimately, in the end, the club will still be cheaper, and more than likely a provider of higher quality foods, than the mainstream grocery store. I am also thrilled to be participating in a community of people who are interested in the same dietary and environmental goals that I possess (even if I’m not very far at all in achieving them).

It will be a fun challenge to see what is on sale next time, and whether I have figured out any tricks to obtaining a better deal on my purchases the second time around. I’m also interested in possibly joining a co-op in my former hometown, and it has an actual storefront that has been in operation for decades.

Do you participate in a co-op or a buying club?

Trading “American Girl” for American Farm

I’m one of those mothers who unfortunately has the fault of chronically comparing herself to other mothers. And in our quest to get out of debt and to live a simpler life, I find myself questioning my decisions involving my children even more.

We cut the cable cord over a year ago–we do have a few channels still, due to a digital tuner–but avoiding the bombardment of incessant commercials telling me what we supposedly need and apparently lack is totally worth it. I don’t have children who ask for the latest and greatest toys, gadgets, processed foods, or whatever else is being sold and packaged in bright, neon colors and advertised with flashy commercials and ever-present advertising.

However, I am on Facebook. I do utilize social media. So, it’s easy to see the green grass on the other side. At Christmas, I see children with smartphones, and American Girl dolls, and tablets, and piles of clothing, and expensive shoes, and shiny presents with gigantic bows that fill entire rooms. I know that my Kindergarten-aged son’s friends have video game consoles, the latest toys, their own electronic gadgets. I know this, and it worries me. For now, my son seems oblivious, but sooner or later, he will start asking why we don’t buy presents on the level of So-and-So’s family, or why he can’t have a smartphone when he’s eight years old. I feel it is inevitable. Someday, his little sister will want Barbies, and even more expensive dolls, and more toys, and what her friends have.

And, sometimes, I question my decisions–is it wrong to deny them a grandiose Christmas? Should I make presents more of a priority? Don’t I care whether or not they will be made fun of in school? Is our goal of a self-reliant life going to set them up for bullying later on?

Today, our family attended a Maple Tree Tapping class at a local farm. And as I watched my children marvel at baby goats, as they chased chickens while trying to feed them organically grown soybeans harvested from the farm, as my son learned that maple syrup doesn’t come from a cute glass jar at the grocery store…during those moments, and on this rare occasion, I feel like I’m doing something right…..

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A Month of Gratitude, #29-30

I cannot believe that the month of November is nearly over already. I feel like I just started this goal of 30 gratitude postings only a couple days ago. On the one hand, you’re probably breathing a sigh of relief that they are over, and I’m a bit happy to go back to more normal postings, as well. But, this was a worthy goal, as it forced me, even during some rather crabby times, to reflect upon my blessings.

So……to finish out the month–

29) I am grateful that my little family does not cater to Black Friday, as we ended up having a wonderful time together relaxing as a family.

30) I am also grateful that we DO support Small Business Saturday. We were able to send our well-wishes to our local toy store (who is closing their doors after 11 years), who also supplied us with $35+ dollars of merchandise for $7.91, and we also went to our favorite, local, European inspired cafe for some dessert. Yum!

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The Hunger of Greed

I was watching a little television after our Thanksgiving dinner this afternoon, and I noticed a public service announcement about hunger in America. The PSA was a spot for a charity called Feeding America, and Dr. Phil McGraw was the celebrity spokesperson sharing facts about hunger in America with the viewers. He stated, via the non-profit’s studies, that 1 in 6 people in America, the richest country in the world, go hungry. He also stated that 1 in 5 children are going hungry in America as well. If you look on the Feeding America website, they claim that “in 2012, 49.0 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children.” These are statistics that an average citizen expects to hear elsewhere–we’re used to thinking that malnutrition and hunger exists in underdeveloped, third world countries, and not in the United States. What is really frightening is the fact that there are also many children who are both clinically obese and malnourished at the same time due to the diet given to them at home–whatever the reasons may be, be it financial, parenting skills, location, lack of education, etc.

Immediately after the PSA alerting the American public of the growing hunger epidemic on our soil, I saw a commercial from Toys ‘R’ Us for Black Friday, advertising toys and game consoles for hundreds of dollars–big, bold, bright, eye catching fonts to attract the attention of both children and parents. You must have this toy NOW! Everyone else will have this toy! This specific item will make or break your children’s holiday! Buy! Buy! Buy!

To be fair to Toys ‘R’ Us, they were not the only Black Friday advertisement I saw–JCPenney had an ad with a family being encouraged by carolers to hurry, hurry, hurry, and clear those Thanksgiving dinner plates because it is time to shop, shop, shop (no exaggeration). I also saw advertisements for Kohl’s, a mattress store, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and my email inbox was glutted throughout the day with images and banners trying to convince me to go out and spend money I don’t have. Don’t have it to spend this year? No worries, friend, we have CREDIT for you! Pittsburgh’s NBC affiliate shared a story on their website where they show their audience that Black Friday sales aren’t really the best deals around, and parents and grandparents disregarded this, and made comments like, “I will not make my kids or grandkids wait (for the hot presents this year.)”

I saw these two ads juxtaposed, one discussing rampant hunger in America, and the other epitomizing the gluttony that has consumed our holidays and many of our citizens, who, might I add, trample each other in big box stores to get a cheap flat screen television, and I just felt nauseous.

Where are our priorities? When did our nation become so greedy, so gluttonous? When did we stick our heads in the sand, willing to ignore those suffering around us? When did we start putting “things” and plastic Chinese toys and kitchen electrics over providing for our families, our neighbors, our loved ones?

The system is broken, folks.

Stop glorifying Black Friday, stop buying on credit, stop purchasing in excess. Stop stampeding into stores on Black Friday, with complete and utter disregard for those around you, just to fill a cart full of “stuff.” Just plain stop.

No one is saying not to buy Christmas gifts, but do it in cash. Support your local businesses. Make more gifts, give more time, and less trinkets. And instead of focusing so much time and attention on scoring the best deal at midnight tonight, consider volunteering your time at a food pantry instead tomorrow, or donating a meal, or spend more time paying attention to those who might be in need around you. Learn to garden, to put food by, to cook from scratch, to mend, to do without sometimes.

The fact that 1 in 6 Americans in this nation are going hungry should be the priority tonight–not camping outside of the shopping mall.

Food for thought.

Teaser Photos From Our Grain Milling Course

I want to say thank you to everyone who participated in today’s self-sufficiency/frugal living class, sponsored by This Path Less Traveled, and cosponsored by Goodness Grows in Bedford, Pennsylvania. We had a wonderful time learning from Dawn Custer, owner of Goodness Grows, testing various types and models of grain mils, and playing with grains and styles of flour and cereals. Plus, Dawn treated us to homemade bread, tea, and coffee from her traditional farm kitchen. I can’t thank everyone enough for supporting both of us today.

If you were not able to attend, an online course will be posted within the next week. The online version of the class will be more technical–I will include write-ups on each of the mills we tried, what they can and cannot do, the group’s thoughts on each, a buyer’s guide (I will attempt to find the best price online for each mill), guide to various grains and uses for them, and a few other items.

Until then, here are some teaser photos from our event today. Again, thank you to everyone involved!

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