Over the past few years, I have radically changed the way I shop and where I buy our food. Food is outrageously expensive! No doubt about it. The sad reality is that it’s cheaper to eat junk food than it is to eat healthily. It’s more affordable to swing through the nearest drive through and buy a cheeseburger and fries than it is to prepare a healthy meal with tons of fresh ingredients at home. Something is seriously wrong with the way food is priced and it really does need to be changed. Anyway.
When we moved onto our land about a year ago, one thing we really wanted to do was attempt to grow our own vegetables (which we eat a lot of). We dreamed of having a large vegetable garden and tons of organic produce. We got a late start and only got our seeds in the soil later in May. First mistake. But we figured better late than never and we went for it anyway.
It’s been so much fun! We have absolutely loved watching our veggies grow.
Some did well.
Others, well, were kinda interesting.
We have learned along the way and quickly discovered that there is so much more to organic vegetable farming than just tilling some soil, adding some organic fertilizer, and watching things grow. It takes hard work and, as we have learned, takes a certain amount of expertise to get it just right. This year has been such a great learning experience for us and we cannot wait to try again next year.
Having a so-so crop got me thinking about just how thankful I am for the amazing options available to families like mine who try to eat well and live on a budget. Whenever possible, we try to eat organic. It’s not always possible, but I do my best to find the best quality food at affordable prices. Yes, it is more expensive and most people abandon the thought of buying organic simply because of the cost. I understand. I used to be that way too until I really started researching and looking for ways to be able to afford organic food. What we feed our bodies matters so much. Even making small changes and adding just a few organic, non-GMO products makes a difference to our health.
I thought I would share a few of the things that work for my large family and our budget.
~~ Community Supported Agriculture: Four years ago I had no clue what a CSA was. It wasn’t until some of my little ones were having some crazy health issues and I made major changes to what we eat as a family that I stumbled on CSAs. They’re in every state and serve most towns, I believe. Community Support Agriculture is local farmers who have come together to provide local, fresh, seasonal organic produce to their communities. They’re awesome! Not only do you get incredible produce that has not been shipped for miles and miles (or even across borders and countries) or kept in cold storage for endless amounts of time, but you also get to support a local farmer in your community. I absolutely love that! I love supporting local small businesses. Produce comes to us without being sprayed with toxic chemicals and I know that my family is being fed clean food, which is really important to me.
CSAs operate differently. Some deliver to your door and others have pick up points in your area. Ours provides fresh fruit and vegetables in season, local dairy products, organic meats, tofu, eggs, honey, and even locally grown mushrooms in many different varieties (which are incredible for your health!).
Some CSAs require that you buy a “share” for the season–an amount that you pay up front (although most will work out a payment plan with you) which covers your produce for however long a season is. A “share” is a box (you determine the size based on your needs) containing any local produce in season. Some weeks may include a vegetable which we have never even heard of, but it is so much fun discovering what it is and how we can prepare it in a meal. Other CSAs allow you to order weekly and you get to specify exactly what you want in your box.
Many CSA’s even reduce the cost of their shares by allowing people to come and do a “work day” on their farm and “earn” produce. It’s a fun way to get the whole family out for a day of hard work, fresh air, and affordable organic food. CSAs have become super popular in recent years and if you look around, I’m pretty sure you’ll find one that suits your budget and your needs.
I love Community Supported Agriculture. I love that we get to support the men and women who work so very hard in our community to provide us with the best quality food available.
~~ Farmers Markets: This is another great way to buy local, fresh, affordable organic fruit and vegetables grown by local farmers. One of our neighbors built a huge greenhouse this summer. They harvested way more produce than their family needed. They blessed us with kale (our favorite right now), delicious zucchini, peppers, and squash. Still, they had an abundance of produce. So they loaded up their truck and took it to the local farmer’s market. They sold their produce way cheaper than the local grocery store charged for the same vegetables. Such a great way to support our farmers and feed our families at very affordable prices.
~~ Surplus grocery stores: Several years ago I discovered a little gem. I cannot even begin to tell you how much money we save on groceries by buying at a surplus store. We are blessed to have quite a big one in our area and even though it’s about 30 minutes from where we live, the drive is so absolutely worth it. Surplus grocery stores buy the products that are either about to expire or, when a regular grocery store has surplus products, they will take it. They mark their products at a fraction of the cost. Our local store is filled with food from the leading organic food/health stores and has every organic product we ever need. I buy my kids’ gluten-free snacks, organic meat, fresh produce, cosmetics, canned products, and anything else we need there. It saves us literally hundreds of dollars every month. The key to shopping well at these stores is to check expiry dates and make sure that you consume your products (especially the refrigerated items) before they go bad. We generally go through our food pretty quickly and I only buy enough for a week at a time, so it’s not usually a problem.
In addition to those three things, I watch for sales and specials at our regular grocery store. Sometimes I’ll find produce on sale or great deals on other organic products. I have also found good deals at Costco and do shop for some bulk items there. I also find some great deals by shopping online at places like Door-to-Door Organics (which also supports local farmers) or Thrive Market. Amazon also has some very good deals if you’re looking for a specific product. Still, about 80% of what we eat comes from either a CSA or a surplus grocery store. It takes time and effort to find the best quality food at the best prices, but it is so worth it once you do.
We’re so looking forward to next spring when we’ll get our seeds in the ground again and hopefully do even better than we did this year (carrots included!). It’s fun for us, and it’s so much fun for our kids to be a part of growing our own food. Until then, we’ll just support our local farmers and small businesses and feed our family the cleanest, most nutritious food grown in our backyard.