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Eat Organic & Local on a Budget: HOW?

Know_thy_food_peaches
I mentioned the other day that our lemonade stand featured homemade product made with organic lemons and organic agave sweetener.  I did not mention that we do not normally stock these products.  My husband bought the lemons when they went out for a walk, and they were considered a "treat" for the kids.  The agave sweetener was on sale at the market and - with a Chinook Book coupon - was cheaper per unit than sugar.  

A couple of years ago, we talked about how to balance our food buying: how can we buy healthful foods on a budget?  Where are you shopping now?  How have you changed what you buy?  Are there items you buy only organic, but others you buy conventional due to price?  Do you take advantage of local fruit and veggies, canning, preserving, and freezing for later in the year?  Buying clubs are also on the rise locally.  I myself am a new member of the North Portland Buying Club, and another urbanMama (Sarah) is a member of Know Thy Food.  Perhaps you are a member of a group purchasing club in your neighborhood?

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I organize a buying club in NE Portland and without it, we could not afford to eat as much local, organic food as we do. For me, it starts with meat--switching to eating meat from animals raised on pasture by on local farms is the single most beneficial change a omnivore can make, in terms of personal health, animal welfare, and the environment. There's no way we could afford to by such meat by the cut, but working with a group, we can share the meat from a whole cow for $5.50/lb or get a good price on 100 chickens.

I guess the next most important change I've made over the years is preserving food at home. Buying in bulk with a group makes home food preservation not an expensive hobby, but a way to eat foods we love out of season for less than we would pay for them at the store.

For those items I can't get farm-direct or process/preserve myself (for example, olive oil, maple syrup, coffee), buying in bulk with a group saves me so much money *and* time. Buying food at the grocery store is not only more expensive, but it takes a lot more time. And it doesn't build community like being part of buying club.

I now buy my meat from Thunderinghooves.net, you dont have to be a member, you just go online, place your order by a certain date (changes depending on drop off location) and then pick up your meat at a particular time and place. For me its from a house not far from mine in North Portland....I just choose that as my pick up location on the website.
Here is a blurb from their website...

"We raise and finish 100% grass-fed beef, lamb, goat, and pastured poultry on the certified organic pastures of our fourth-generation farm. We also offer delicious pork from hogs that are raised locally using humane and sustainable practices. Our livestock – and the livestock grown for us by a few other local, like-minded families - receive no hormones or grains EVER and are allowed to forage as they please for their entire lives. This is sustainable agriculture at its best, resulting in contented animals and healthy meats"

I know they have other drop off points and so far all the meat I have received has been delicious and affordable. There is no minimum order or you can buy a whole cow.

We grow as much of our own as possible. We have a flock of chickens to keep us in fresh eggs. We go to u-picks as much as possible. We do lots of canning and preserving by many methods. We watch the weekly ads very closely. We pretty much avoid pre-packaged, processed foods. We have a pretty slim food budget - these tough economic times have been wicked to us - I became very ill last year and now have about $1.5 m in medical bills that my insurance is fighting me on. The only way we can do it is through investing the time and effort that is necessary. BUT - we've got multiple food allergies and specific dietary needs - so it's completely worth both the time and effort! For us - totally the right thing to do!

I'm able to feed my family local and sustainable for so little thanks to, in part, the buying club (20+ pounds of organic peaches for $24 is the best price going :), a general rule not to buy out-of-season, and a pretty over-the-top commitment to eliminating processed food and take out food from our diet. (n.b.: when I'm in stress *and* in possession of more than normal amounts of income, as now with my husband gone in Kuwait, I cheat frequently :)

things that really cut costs are buying in bulk -- for instance, we buy butter by the case, and it's local and super-great quality and only a little more than $2 a pound -- and being really choosy about where I splurge. I splurge on good meats, although we don't eat much meat; I probably spend less than $100 a month on meat, but it's all really great quality, so there's not much of it. I also spend a lot on milk, because sometimes that's the best thing one or more of the boys are "eat"ing, so I want to make sure it's high-quality. I splurge on honey and maple syrup, because we don't buy (many) packaged goodies. I splurge on really good dried beans (ok, even really good dried beans tend to be pretty cheap), but use them as a big part of my family's diet.

I find I really spend the most money from frequent small trips to the store. so, I try to eliminate these by making do with what I have in the fridge/freezer/pantry/garden, especially when funds are tight. if I always have a lot of flour and butter and honey on hand, I can always come up with a treat for the kids or a good breakfast.

the other place that I think really saves me money is that I never buy breakfast food (save bacon, which arguably is an any-time food). we don't do cold cereal or bakery treats or any of those options. our choices are toast and something I make (oatmeal, biscuits, pancakes, french toast, scrambled eggs, etc.) -- if I'm especially busy or tired or in a rush, we do toast, otherwise, I make something from scratch that's typically a lot cheaper than storebought breakfast food.

I also, rarely, buy coffee out any more, and almost never buy drinks out. it's amazing how expensive those things seem when you've been scrimping and saving!

I'd like to mention, in addition, that my food budget really fluctuates throughout the year. in July and August and September, I might spend $800 or $900 a month (and I'm being conservative); but then, in the winter, I'll spend $500 or so as we eat all the tomatoes and peaches and applesauce and relish and (hopefully this year) canned tuna and frozen goodies we bought in the summer. I'll also use a lot more garden produce in the winter rather than buying out-of-season produce. the kale grows wild and crazy around my neighborhood, so I subsist on that and the occasional cabbage or bag of onions from the farmer's market.

I could go on for hours about this topic :)

Only have a sec to post but I buy 25 lb. bags of steel cut oats at the Bob's Red Mill factory for $25. I figured it out and my entire family can have steel cut oatmeal for breakfast every day for $100 per year. Love it (even though we get a little sick of it now and then...)

This is an issue I struggle with all the time. I mostly shop at New Seasons because I get fresh, high quality food that is often local. I usually shop at the farmer's market in the summer for some produce. People complain about NS prices, but many things cost the same or more at the farmer's market/Trader Joes etc if you are looking for organic products. I haven't found a great alternative.

I've read about the buying clubs in the past on Urban Mamas. Can someone enlighten me on how these work and how you join? I haven't found much on the web in past research on the topic.

Like Sarah, I also spend lots of money on small trips to the store. My husband and I came up with a perfect solution. We budget $100 a week for food (for 3 of us), take out $400 in cash for the month in $50s, and have 8 envelopes that we put them in. (2 envelopes a week.) So twice a week we shop and spend around $50. We tried so many other things to make and stick to a budget, but this has been perfect. We do not go overboard because we know we will shop again in a few days, and we limit ourselves when we do shop to that $50.

This topic is hot on my mind right now, as I look at our $200/week grocery bill (for 2 adults and 2 kids under 3yrs) and wonder how we could possibly be spending that much on food.

Now that I read the above comments, I see some changes we can make. Cereal? Out. Buying club? In.

I have two questions, though. If you don't buy a lot of processed foods, what do you do for kids snacks? It seems like I buy about 4-5 boxes of crackers/week.

Also, when I looked at knowthyfood, it looked to me like it wasn't actually going to be much less expensive. Can someone post some dos/don'ts for really saving with a buying club?

I don't have time to address all the great questions right this minute, but I will try and make a post about best utilizing a buying club for saving money in the next few days. and SJ, w/r/t the snack question; it's a slow elimination of old snack ideas and in with the new. when all we have is: tillamook cheese, leftover meat from dinner, carrot sticks, peaches, and watermelon, that's what the boys eat for snacks. Truman and Monroe love nut butters, so I make them nut butter + honey + a little coconut oil (it's supposed to be super good for you and makes it creamy). we eat a lot of toast. did I mention toast? ;) I also make a snack-type food a few times a week; honey shortbread or graham crackers or something like that; and let them eat as much as they like. it's whole grain and made in my kitchen so I feel better about it; and when it's gone, it's gone, until I have time to make more. if they beg hunger, I offer something else in the fridge. usually leftovers :)

I also would love to hear more about how to join a buying club and specific tips on how to save $ with such a club.

Check out this fruit and veggie guide from the environmental working group. I downloaded their iPhone app and refer to it when I'm grocery shopping. Some fruits and veggies are ok to buy conventional. http://www.foodnews.org/

Also, it's expensive for farmers to have the organic label. Some farmers are organic, but can't advertise it. Ask at your local farmers market if they use sprays.

I too am a NS shopper and really find that by sticking to sales and in season, I'm not spending a huge amount on local, mostly organic, and not processed foods. I have to make a point of going elsewhere for non-food items or watching sales for other things, but I feel pretty good about the balance I've struck between being mindful and not being consumed by it. I do best if I plan my meals a week at a time and make two trips over the week. Like others have said, it's those multiple trips that add up for me. I would be interested in trying a buying club at some point but don't feel like I have the energy to give it right now. They sound great.

I am mostly a non-processed food eater but I do buy cereal and crackers! I stick to the Mom's Best brand that NS sells and it's very reasonably priced for a large box and not full of corn. I also buy some crackers and such, but I only buy what's on sale and I stick to the ones that aren't full of yuck. I equate those with meat, meaning I'm not ready to fully give it up but will be happy with what's on sale and having less of it. So for snacks, SJ, we do a lot of fruit, cheese, veggies, nuts, occasional crackers/pretzels/etc but I make them go further by only offering a few and putting PB on them or having them with cheese and salami. If I just offered unlimited crackers, my kids would eat a TON of them. I really want to start making my own and that is one of my goals for this winter.

I have always loved the farmers markets but this year I have really felt like the prices are too high. I'm finding I actually spend less by sticking with New Seasons for my produce/fruits. Is this just my imagination or are others feeling this way as well? I feel bad not supporting them as I have in the past. I just don't have it this year to give.

I belong to a food club. It's called WIC. We had a teenager move in, and our grocery bill went through the roof, so I joined. Since Oregon WIC does not allow anything organic (except for produce) I usually opt for hormone free milk and local eggs and cheese. Then I donate the cereal and baby food. We have a big freezer so we split a cow or a pig with my sister each year. Huge money saver. Then I grow and pick and put away as many veggies/berries/fruits as I can in summer.
We just have to resist eating out as often as we do -- My husband rarely packs a lunch and I find myself being out and about when it's mealtime, and just stopping to get a bite.

We do one big shopping trip a month to Winco (about $250) and then do 2-3 small trips to Fred Meyer or Safeway. For a total of about $400 a month for a family of 4. We buy organic produce@FM. Dave's Killer bread, bulk honey@ Winco... soo awesome, talk about local, the hive has a tap on it... we use the peanut butter grinder and buy bulk organic beans and bulk raw nuts at FM, Winco has cheap almond milk, Nancy's yogurt in the big tub, good deals on real maple syrup, agave, Bob's Red Mill/Kashi/Cascade Farm organic products. We are currently investigating buying a share of a grass fed cow from Hoh Humm Ranch in Auburn WA for $5lb... We had our own chicken tractor but had to get rid of it due to our recent move into a house with a much smaller yard

Sarah,

Where do you get the good local dried beans?

it seems like the farmers market is more expensive than the store, or at best, it's at Whole Food's prices, which is high. i live by the hollywood one. so maybe the farmers there raise their prices because of the neighborhood.

sj,
for unprocessed snacks, we do: cheese sticks, celery/carrots/snap peas, unsweetened applesauce (it still tastes sweet), apples/pb, tuna on toast(daves killer bread), greek yogurt. occasionally i do buy packaged cereal bars from whole foods or honey pretzels from tjs,but the packaged food i buy doesn't have much crap in it and definitely nothing with hfcs. there's a start.

RE: How to join a buying club?

A few people, in August, asked how do you join a buying club. I wanted to take a moment to address this query.

Each club has its own rules/policies. So, the first thing to do is find one near you. We host a map of known Portland Buying Clubs that you can find here: http://nopofood.org/areaclubs.html. Once you find one in your area, make contact and start buying!

In regards to the North Portland Food Buying Club, we are a wait-list only club. If you are interested in joining our club, please email membership@nopofood.org as it's a first-come-first-served list.

Every club is different, so be sure to do research. Most clubs charge *something* to be a member, but it varies as overhead costs vary club to club. Find out the charges, the vendors, the requirements. Discuss the governing structure of the club: is it one person, a group? What's the decision making model? Is there one? How organized is it? Does it fit your needs?

If you can't find a club that suits your needs, maybe you could consider starting your own. If you would like to chat one-on-one about how we started our club, I'd be more than happy to see what works in our schedules!

To better buying and smarter communities!

Michelle Lasley
president | North Portland Food Buying Club
michelle@nopofood.org

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