Thursday, April 22, 2010

Locavore Basics

I joined a food club recently where people collectively buy food from suppliers in order to get quality food cheaper. I went to my first meeting yesterday and discovered that a lot of people in the club preserve food through canning. I also had dinner at a friend's house this week (venison, carrots, potatoes, collards, and a salad- heavenly) and he showed me his canning stores from last summer. I am thinking I am going to have to get in on this canning. My mom used to can a lot and it was a way to make use of produce when it was at its cheapest and most abundant. My mom saved a lot of money by canning and we always had healthy food to eat. I took it for granted as a kid but I don't anymore. I am also thinking that for my food club, I am going to try to build relationships with local farmers to see if we can do some wholesale buying of produce in season when they have extras.

The Culinate website has a nice little writeup of eight locavore basics: eight budget tips for going local.
  1. Grow or forage your own grub. Gardening is the ultimate local-foods diet, matched only by foraging for wild edible plants. There are delicious wild fruits and vegetables as well as gourmet mushrooms growing right at your feet, even if you live in the city. Usually overlooked as “weeds,” these free foods are yours once you learn some simple but essential identification skills. Sign up for one of the wild-edibles classes offered nationwide, and you’ll soon be safely harvesting the free food growing all around you.
  2. No room, time, or interest in gardening? Get involved with a CSA. If you can volunteer a few hours a week for a few weeks each year, you may be able to get a community-supported agriculture (CSA) share totally free. CSAs depend on a core group of volunteers who are responsible for tasks that range from bookkeeping to website maintenance to communicating with the farmer. In exchange, most CSAs offer core members discounted or free vegetable shares, depending on how much time they put in. (I volunteer five hours a week as site coordinator for my CSA for eight weeks, in exchange for which I get my vegetable share for free. If I put in more weeks than that, I also get my fruit share for free.) Many CSAs also offer discounted shares to low-income families, and most CSAs accept EBT payments at a discounted membership rate. Ask if discounted shares are available at your local CSA, and be prepared to show some proof of your income status to qualify.
  3. Even with a CSA, you might need extras. Be a savvy shopper at the farmers’ market. Walk through the entire farmers’ market before you buy anything, checking to see what looks the best and which stalls have the lowest prices. Often there’s a huge difference in price for the same vegetable between one farm’s stall and the next.
  4. Pay attention to peak seasonality. Each crop has a season and a peak season. “Peak season” is when the produce is both tastiest and cheapest. For example, tomatoes appear at my farmers’ markets in June, but aren’t really at their tastiest or most affordable until August.
  5. Put up your harvest (or bulk purchases) for the cold months. By freezing, canning, pickling, or otherwise preserving summer's bounty, my locavore meals in wintertime are varied and delicious, and they balance the budget of what I spend during the warm months. The strawberries I froze when they were at their most luscious (and cheapest) become breakfast smoothies in January; the ratatouille I made with summer squash and eggplant becomes a quick pasta sauce long after squash and eggplant season is over. So pick up a few food-preservation skills, not only to add interest and nutrition to your winter diet but also to keep costs down.
  6. Waste not, want not. Instead of throwing apple cores and peels into the compost, I stockpile them in the freezer to make homemade apple vinegar and to use as pectin for jellies and jams. I also use my freezer to save vegetable trimmings and poultry, meat, and fish bones, which I turn into delicious stocks that later become soups and sauces. Carrot leaves, onion skins, parsley stems, and the tough green parts of leeks are among the usually thrown-out parts of vegetables that are great in stock.
  7. Eat fewer animal foods. Even sustainably, humanely raised animals and animal products require a heftier input of resources and labor than plants do. That’s why they’re the most expensive items at the farmers’ market. By eating vegetarian meals several times a week, even if you enjoy your dairy, eggs, or meat on the other days, you’ll significantly reduce your food costs.
  8. Eat at home. And no, takeout doesn’t count. If your lifestyle till now has included more than one restaurant, takeout, or delivery meal a week, then cooking at home will definitely save you money.

I am trying to do more home cooking. It's easier the more I do it. I am saving quite a lot of money! I am really looking forward to cooking more this growing season and sharing more pictures. I have rhubarb in my yard that looks ready to harvest, so it looks like I'll be using home-grown products tonight for the first time this season- for dessert! Picture from Culinate.


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