UPDATED – I Don’t Find $5 That Much of a Challenge – You Won’t Either

September 13, 2011 at 8:11 am

Rob Gardner

[Note, no sooner did I post this, did I start thinking of other money saving ideas, and then I joined my wife for coffee and she had her own set of good ideas.  See new ideas below.]

“I’d love to shop at the farmer’s market, but who can afford that.”

Man, the Local Beet would be rolling in dough if we had a dime for every time we’ve heard that.  And believe me, that’s about the nicest way it’s been put.  Surely, we here, as a movement, get tagged all the times with claims of elitism, snobbery, disconnected-ness, and such.  The polite will just say, “love to do it if we could.”  Thing is, they can.  I have.  The Local Family has.  In September of 2011,  Slow Food USA draws attention to the notion that good food can be served at $5.  That’s a challenge the Local Family long ago accepted.  I’ve re-printed (and added to) below, some of the ways we don’t spend too much money eating local, so you too can accept and accede the $5 Challenge.  Fully prepared, join Slow Food Chicago this Saturday, September 17, at Green City Market to proclaim your ability.

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.  Yet, 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 I’ve ever given: 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’.
  • 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.  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 environmental 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.  Make dinner from beans or soy.  Quality, artisan, NON-GMO, tofu can be found at Chicago area farmer’s markets.  This way, when you do eat meat, it can be something like a Dietzler Farm steak, right?  Really!!
  • On a related note, when you eat meat, does it have to be the fanciest steak?  There’s a lot of cow that’s not steak.  Buy it.  Use it.  Start with the nose and end with the tail; remember, it’s not just gross it’s cheap.  Still, if you’ve been to any of the more decent restaurants in Chicago these days, you’ve learned that it’s not such a challenge to have tasty offal too.  Dig into those lesser cuts.
  • On the other hand, still seeking a steak, ask yourself, what kind of steak.  You can take a tough (but cheap) round steak, pound it out thin, set it to high, high heat and call it minute steak.  Even a flank steak can be had within your $5 per person budget.
  • 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.
  • This might not help you tomorrow, but 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.
  • 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.
  • My final piece of advice, and second most important (for now): develop relationships with farmers.  It does not even require a strong gift of gab.  Find out, for instance, if they have a listserv or newsletter.  Want to save money, be in the know.  Indiana hog farmer Crystal Nellis just emailed her customers on some great deals for hams and other items.  A tomato farmer recently emailed me on a surplus of canning tomatoes he was selling for way below market rates.  I cannot tell you how many things we get extra because of our market relations.
  • NEW! – From the Other Cookbook Addict: save your grease.  She notes that after frying up some good local bacon, save the grease for lots of other good foods.  As my wife learned during her time apprenticing at the late Mado Restaurant, the secret ingredient to many vegetable dishes, bacon (or goose) fat.
  • NEW! – Eat local fish.  We always favor local fish, especially in this time of Locavore Challenge.  Not only is local fish pretty much always the freshest fish in the market, it is usually the cheapest.  For instance, I usually find whole whitefish for less than $5/lb.  Find halibut, cod or salmon for that?
  • NEW! – I’m always telling you go double duty with your vegetable purchases.  When you buy certain vegetables, you are really buying two vegetables.  I mean when you buy kohlrabi, you buy a serving of greens and a serving of bulbous stem.  When you buy beets, you buy three meals: root, stems and leaves.  Don’t forget when you buy winter squash and pumpkins you are also buying very usable and very enjoyable seeds, just roast ‘em.
  • NEW! – Eat the whole vegetable or as Wendy sez, eat vegetable offal.  As we covered a few weeks ago, don’t give up on your scraps.   Make stock from peels.  As my wife notes, on broccoli, the lesser used stems actually taste better than their prettier tops.
  • NEW! – Get some good recipes.  If you can make it yourself, chances are, you can make it cheaper.  Starting from a Gale Gand recipe, my wife has learned to make the best granola ever.  I mean there’s some great local granola options out there, from Milk and Honey or River Valley Kitchens.  My wife’s is better, and we now spend less on granola too.  Figure out where you can substitute commercial foods for homemade.  Chances are from bread to catsup, you’ll make it for less.

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.  Accede to the $5 Challenge.