I Try Not to Spend Money Eating Local and You Can Too

August 27, 2010 at 9:08 am

Rob Gardner

More than a few times, when myself and my family entered the locavore realm, I justified the costs by calling it my hobby.  I told reporters that some people ski, I bought heirloom tomatoes.  Because of the tanked economy, my (business) practice has left me less flush.  I no longer feel like I do this as a pastime.  Still, I never just threw money at farmers.  When we first laid down our rules for being a Local Family, we said we’d eat everything local ‘cept the meat.  We just could not find a place in our budget for the meat on sale at the farmer’s markets (at least not as often as we wanted).  We rather solved our meat issues by buying sides of animals.  We’ve always tried to make this work by being practical and frugal when necessary.  Since the cost of eating local seems to be at the head of various frustrations represented by JoeC and others, I thought I’d cull the many ways the Local Family manages to eat local without spending too much money.  Most of these items have been on the site in the past, and a few have been featured recently in our market shopping guide.

Before telling you some of the ways I save money, let me tell you a few ways I will always spend money.  For one thing, nearly every day this summer I have not written a post, the post I would have written would have been about how good is local fruit.  No where is it more clear, the advantages of local food than with local fruit.  And no where do you, almost always, have to pay the price.  I just do.  The other thing, eggs.  Man, can the price differences between farm eggs and factory eggs stagger you.  Yet, before our latest mass egg recall occurred, I realized the various imperatives that keep me buying the right kinds of eggs.  Besides, as I’ll note below, expensive farm eggs still provide an inexpensive source of protein, all things considered.  That out of the way, here’s ways to save.

  • Let’s start with I called the important piece of advice in the market guide: Farmer’s rarely want to bring anything home.  He or she that can make that offer for the rest of this, the remaining that, will get the best deal.  In almost all cases, the more you buy, the more you save.  It’s not the Casablanca souk.  You do not bargain down a bag of lettuce from 100 dollars to 50 cents, but as soon as you start buying more than a few of anything you can start wheelin’ and dealin’.
  • And this too from the guide: Another way to get a bargain.  Take their yucky stuff off their hands.  If you plan on baking or something, do you need pristine fruit.  Many farmers already label “seconds”.  If you don’t see such, ask.
  • Now, let’s put those add those two and you get this key bit of advice: at the end of the day, farmer’s are dumping what’s left.  It may be dinged and dented from a day’s worth of showing or it may just be more than the farmer wants to keep.  Swoop in for some excellent deals.
  • We can move away from the farmer’s market for this oft neglected bit of advice: Not all local food comes from the farmer’s market.  Of course there are important reasons to buy at the farmer’s markets, but often the local food at the grocery stores is nearly as good, and can often be had at really good prices.  Here especially, it pays to buy at the seasonal peak.  At stores like Angelo Caputo’s, high quality, local produce can be had, in season for well under a $1/lb.  Once the summer is over, there are always good deals on Wisconsin potatoes, same for Michigan apples.
  • Once you find those good deals, stock up.  I mean why do not the people who direct their ire over local food prices direct their ire over the prices for out of season prices.  How much are oranges are asparagus now?  Pack up all that good local food and you will not have to spend a lot on your food the rest of the year.
  • Are you a flexitarian.  Beet Founder Michael Morowitz promises, sometime, a post on his flexitarian lifestyle.  Let’s all embrace it before then.  Being a flexitarian just means, well I’m not sure if there’s an official meaning, but I think it just means don’t eat meat every day.  It’s funny that a lot of the anti-locavore crappers will say things like, “well there’s way more enviromental damage caused by eating meat…”  Like locavores are extreme carnivores.  It’s good for the earth to eat less meat.  It’s also good for your wallet.  This way, when you do eat meat, it can be something like a Dietzler Farm steak, right?  Really!!
  • Being a flexitarian does not mean you have to be a vegan.  You can get your local proteins from eggs and cheese easily.  As I noted above, local eggs cost a lot more than factory eggs, yet making your family an egg dish can be a cheaper way to fill up your family.  You can spend a lot on certain local cheeses, but you can find high quality local cheeses for much less.  Fill your family up with dairy.
  • As I also mentioned above, you can save on meat, really save, by buying sides of meat.  You need tremendous freezer space to get a half a cow, but a half a hog or half a lamb take much less room.  You can also usually buy a quarter side of beef.  You can start looking for sides of meat from the farmers who sell at markets, and we will have a piece up soon on the Local Beet on other options for whole animal buying.
  • Consider a meat CSA.  This one reminds that all price issues are relative.  When things were a little easier last year, we enrolled in Mint Creek’s CSA.  We loved the quality (and butchering) of the stuff.  The CSA gave us a big discount over normal Mint Creek prices, yet others (like us now) could still find it out of their price range.

I’m sure I’ll come back to this post with new ideas and suggestions, and I very much want to hear your ideas for savings.  I want to end, however, with something else I have said often to justify the costs.  You still spend less, way less when you buy and prepare your own local food than when you eat out or when you spend money on packaged foods.  How much do you think it costs us for the satisfying meal we had the other night of pasta with summer squash and red peppers, a green salad on the side.  I do not think we could feed our family at Gene n’ Judes for that much.  The real costs of local food are often paid in time.  Resist convenience food, fast food.  Instead you can eat real food.



  1. Richard Sparks says:

    I love the seconds from the farmer’s market. One of the vendors will hand me a large bag, tells me to fill it from his box of seconds and then says, “That’ll be a dollar.” It’s great, especially when I am making my favorite peach cake, or a fresh tomato sauce for pasta. I typically toss only a small percentage into my compost. One guy trims his beet greens and basically gives them to me. Love them sauteed with garlic and hot peppers! I am all about eating something that requires a little prep time over foods laden with pesticides and other mysterious garbage. Bring on the local, organic, CSA products.

    • Rob Gardner says:

      Thanks Richard (and thanks too Wendy). Yes, Richard going “double duty” is a great way to make your dollar last longer. Use all the veg parts. From market beets one can sometimes get even 3 meals, as the stems can be useful too. Kohlrabi is another good one, use the leaves first and then the bulbs when you have nothing else to eat. Lee Greene, at Scrumptious Pantry reminds me that carrot greens do not have to be ignored: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Scrumptious-Pantry/66730569117?ref=ts

  2. Wendy Aeschlimann says:

    Great piece, Rob.

  3. Rob, I just learned on Chow that “Here in this country, we don’t really bargain for our produce.”


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