living local · whole foods

Tips for Buying Locally Sourced Produce, Meat, and Dairy::Living Whole(ish) on a Budget

So when I introduced this series, I really didn’t anticipate the response!  Thanks to all who are commenting and sharing.  Blogging is a lot more fun when there’s community. If you haven’t already, hop over here and like my facebook page.  I’ll try to post regularly there and start up conversations where we can all share our favorite strategies. You can also follow me on twitter or instagram, and while you’re doing that, may I recommend you follow the inspiration of today’s post as well? We belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with Red Dust Ranch and you can find them tweeting, photographing, and planting cucumbers in rows that aren’t straight right here.
Red Dust is run by my friends Chris and Heidi Hook and a few years ago Chris and I were subjected to school lunches and sassy seventh graders together when we taught at the same middle school.  Since then he’s gone off to literal greener pastures and now works the farm as his family’s sole source of income. I tell you this because that’s my number one best tip for anyone looking to change or improve their family’s grocery budget: 

Make friends with a local farmer (and join a CSA).

Seriously.  Chat with them at the farmer’s markets, stop at the roadside stand, research the local farms in your area and attend one of their functions. Because if you really want to get a great deal on produce, meat, or dairy products, losing the middle man is the first step. At $20 a week (2014 pricing), our CSA is competitive with other farmers but still less than buying the same quantity of organic produce at the grocery store. Also, it’s a set price. This helps me budget because I always know just how many dollars are coming out of that cash envelope. But the real beauty of this is, if Chris has an abundance of a crop, I get extra at no extra cost. You’re charged by the share, not by the pound or the package like at a store. Plus, supporting a local farmer means your money is directly going back to him to support his family or business. It’s a win-win for your budget and the local economy.
For information on joining the CSA with Red Dust Ranch, you can email me:
Shop around the block. 

We all get used to shopping our one store because we like it, it’s familiar, we know where everything is located, there’s a Starbucks inside…I know. Me too. I purposely patronize our local Ingles because I like the clerks, and it’s a small town so there’s lots of familiar faces. (FYI, when you teach someone how to diagram a sentence they will remember that when bagging your groceries.) Plus, the more you shop one store, the better you can get at anticipating their sales and markdowns. So it’s a good thing.
BUT if you make it a habit to notice another store that might have better pricing on something you buy all the time, maybe it’s worth the extra stop to go there too? On my way home from Ingles, I pass a little produce market that’s locally owned and does carry some locally sourced produce, meat, and dairy products. A while back a friend let me in on a secret: it’s the cheapest place around to buy eggs.  A flat of two and a half dozen eggs was $3.99 until last week.  Now it’s $4.49 which the owner tells me is because their supplier (a local chicken farmer) went up on his price. But, she also assures me it will come back down after Easter. I hope so, but even if it doesn’t, once supermarket eggs return to their normal pricing after the Easter sales, it’s still cheaper for me to pick up my eggs here. (Just so you know, I’m not buying free range eggs.  I would like to, but that’s not in our budget. I’m just happy they’re local.)
When the CSA is not in season, I pick up a lot of produce at this little market as well. My kids love carrots. They get them out of the fridge and start gnawing like horses, eating the peeling and all.  They’ve eaten a 5 pound bag of carrots in a week before, so now I buy my carrots here. It’s $3.39 for a 5lb bag. That same bag is $4.99 at Ingles. They and another farmer’s market a few more miles from us were my primary sources for apples all fall and winter as well.  Not only were their prices half of the grocery store, the apples they were selling were from local orchards. 
Don’t be so picky about availability.

We all know that living in America means you can have what you want, when you want it. But if you change your mindset and concentrate on what’s in season, you can save money and learn to withstand some of the entitlement complex we all have. It’s April, right now.  That means you’re seeing lots of greens, salad mixes, broccoli, cabbages, and other cold hardy plants coming into harvest. If you focus your grocery budget on buying what’s available a good price, instead of just what you want, you will save money with very little effort. For instance, I haven’t bought grapes since fall. They’re a summer fruit and I’m not paying $2.98/lb for something that will be $1.68/lb in the prime of its season.
If you shop farmer’s markets, you can go early in the day for the best pick, or you can go late in the day for the best deals. Farmers don’t want to pack up and carry back home what they brought to sell. So if you don’t mind the less popular vegetables, you can often get some great deals.

Looking for the recipe to go with this picture I posted yesterday?
It’s super easy and lends itself to whatever’s in season.
Roasted vegetables and sausage.
Dice up whatever’s in season or on sale (this is sweet potatoes, carrots, and brussel sprouts) and spread in an even layer on a roasting pan drizzled with olive oil. Top with diced sausage. I like smoked turkey links. Salt and pepper to taste. Roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until vegetables are done.
Get your own cow or pig. For the freezer, that is. 

If you have the freezer space and the upfront cash, you can buy meat in bulk from local farmers for a set price per pound.  We did this a couple of years ago and bought a quarter of a cow from a farmer in Clayton (about 30 minutes north of us). It came butchered and packaged and we received a variety of cuts: roasts, steaks, ground beef, and stew bones. It came out to about $2.75/lb which is more than I like to pay for the cheaper cuts but way less than I’ve ever paid for a steak. Plus, it stocked my freezer for six months which made meal planning so much easier. 
If you can’t do this, I would suggest doing what I do now. Figure out the store with the best deals on meat and buy it there even if it’s not your favorite place to buy your other groceries.  I like to get meat and dairy products at Quality Foods, which is not the nicest looking grocery store in our area simply because it’s not shiny and new. But their prices are great, and Morning Fresh, their store brand of dairy products, is actually produced just a few miles away from us in North Carolina, which is way more local than Great Value. I’m not positive, but I believe some of their meat is fairly local as well.
Finally, know this. You can’t change all at once. Choose one thing that you really want to focus on and start there. For us, it’s been locally sourced items, specifically produce. I chose this because I knew I wasn’t feeding my kids nearly as many fruits and vegetables as I wanted to and I was blaming the high prices on fresh produce for that. But when I read Simply In Season (World Community Cookbook), it changed my outlook on availability and local sources and made me really want to see this as our lifestyle change. It helps, too, that Joshua loves to garden and he’s on this bandwagon with me. After all, you can’t get more local or frugal than the tomatoes grown on your own back porch.

Living Whole(ish) on a a Budget Series
April 9:: Tips for Buying Locally Sourced Produce, Meat, and Dairy
April 16:: Monthly Meal Planning (Week by Week)
April 23:: Ten Things I’m Making Instead of Buying
April 30:: What WIC Taught Me about Groceries 

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that support my blogging and locally sourced habits. 

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