Is it Less Expensive to Purchase Local?

There’s a belief out there that purchasing from a farmers’ market, a co-op or CSA is cost prohibitive to the average consumer. It’s for those hipsters that are only cooking for their quaint little dinner parties, with their unique off the wall dishes and unpronounceable sauces. Not for the Average Joe who needs to feed their crazy little naked yard apes and their hangry spouse on a budget. I have to admit, I thought the same up until recently.

My husband and I love going to the farmers’ market and it always feels very indulgent. You’re in an amazing atmosphere of vibrant foods, smells, and tastes. If neither him or I came with a game plan (aka, grocery list), we would go a little over the edge. Soon we would end up with not only bags full of amazing produce but wines, sauces, cheeses, desserts, and a blown budget. This always equated that farmers’ markets were only for special occasions.

Recently we had an in-class discussion of “why to buy to local” and my assignment on this topic was the cost analysis of purchasing local verses purchasing from the grocery store. I immediately hopped on Professor Google to find what research had been done. I expected there to be a ton. To my surprise I only found 3*. (But then again… where is the money in these researches? Certainly the farmers can’t afford to sponsor the research and Nestle or Coke-Cola certainly are not sponsoring it. Which is probably why of the 3 found, 2 were done by students.) These researches did have a consistent theme. When purchasing organic produce, the farmers’ market and CSAs are less expensive than purchasing the same items at a main stream grocery store. When purchasing conventionally grown items, you could save on 60% of items at the grocery store. The conventionally grown items being less expensive at the grocery store was not surprising, though I thought with the expanding organic departments in the mainstream grocery stores organic produce would start being less expensive with the quantities they purchase.

A lot has changed in the last 5 years since the last study was done and I thought I would do a little experimenting of my own to see if this still holds true. So I packed my grocery bags and excitedly set off to the Boulder’s Farmers’ Market, wisely with my grocery list in hand. I first strolled the market a few times to ensure I was getting the best prices and quality available. After 45 minutes, I left the farmers’ market feeling revived by the beautiful weather, amazing atmosphere and 3 very heavy bags of groceries. In my bags were the following: 4lb napa cabbage, 5lb bag of onions, red scallions (comparing to regular scallions), tatsoi (comparing to bok choy), 2 pints cherry tomatoes, rainbow carrots, beets, winter radishes, leek, and 4 green bell peppers. I also purchased local happy, healthy raised meats but for t

his experiment I left them out.**

Now for the comparison: I compared what I purchased with similarly found items at Whole Foods and King Soopers (our area’s Kroger). This is what I found:

  • When purchasing organic, the farmers’ market is significantly cheaper. A savings of 33% compared to Whole Foods’ organic. 26% savings compared to King Soopers’ organic. The farmers’ market also had items I wanted where the grocery stores did not such as tatsoi and red scallions. I imagine this easily can happen when you are not mass producing for hundreds of grocery stores.
  •  When comparing conventionally grown produce, I’m having to compare the farmers’ market organic to the conventionally grown of the grocery store. This late in the season I only saw organic farms at the farmers’ market. I’m not saying they are not typically there; they were just not there on this day. Of the items I shopped for that I could find at the grocery store, the conventional items were less expensive. A total savings of 20% by shopping conventional.
  • It’s hard to compare what I purchased to a co-op or CSA. Typically, you don’t have the opportunity to choose the produce you receive weekly or monthly so there are times you will need to supplement your weekly produce by going to the grocery store. (Coincidentally: A newsletter I received from a local CSA showed that their delivery this week was pretty close to the items I purchased from the farmers’ market.) The quantity a CSA provides is considerably more than I purchased and could easily be split between two families. If I chose to use all their produce and not supplement it, the savings would be 20%.

To recap my mini adventure, the farmers’ market saved me nearly $10 dollars on my organic produce. If I had decided to purchase conventionally grown items at the grocery store, that savings would have been $7.60. A CSA would have saved me approximately $12.

Where I gladly pay the extra $7.60 for organic items, that’s not always possible for people of limited incomes. So here are a few ways to save money purchasing locally:

  • Purchase in the peak of season. Prices will be competitive since there is an abundance. To find that in your area go to: http://www.sustainabletable.org/seasonalfoodguide/
  • As I did, walk the whole market to ensure you are getting the best prices.
  • Bring  a grocery list. Just like at a grocery store, you want to avoid distractions and have a game plan. No wine and cheese for you, unless it’s plan.
  • Join a CSA and split the basket between two families. I often did this in their peak season when we had a CSA membership a year ago. A local CSA’s basket for a family of 4 is $35 a week. So split in two is quite a savings and still plenty of vegetables.
  • Purchase in bulk. Many vendors offer bulk rate. Farmers’ market items tend to last much longer than grocery store items. Or you can split the cost with another family.
  • Go later in the day closer to closing time. Where the selection of items might be less, vendors are not wanting to repack these items. There might be savings to be found.
  •  Also, ask if they offer discounts for less than perfect produce they are willing to sell at a discount. Often they put away produce that might be less than perfect and will gladly give you a discount vs. putting the items into the compost.

When comparing cost, it is important to compare quality as well. Comparing what was purchased at the farmers’ market and what was available at the grocery store, whether organic or not, was like comparing a bright beautiful apple to, well, a sock. Items at the farmers’ market were vibrant, beautiful and tasted amazing. You could see the pride in the farmers’ eyes as they displayed their products. The produce at the grocery stores were not quite ripe, dull in color, and the flavor and texture were dry, tart, and unappealing. There was also no visible relationship between the produce and the farmer. Farmers’ market produce is picked a day or two of the market. Grocery store produce is picked unripe from around the world, transported from warehouse to warehouse, often times artificially ripened when time to go to the store.  

Surprising information! According to the USDA report in 2012, US residents on average spent about 6.4% of their annual income on food. This is less than 83 other countries that the USDA tracks. You may think it’s because food is cheaper here in the US. But that’s not so. USDA found that the average cost of food is higher in the US than all countries tracked. The country that spends the highest percentage of their annual income on food is Pakistan, where they spend approximately half their income in food and their food costs are a quarter of that of the US. India spend 25% of their annual income on food. Italy spends 14.4%, Germany spends 11.4%, and Canada spends 9.1% of their annual income on food. With the US percentage being so low and our healthy issues so high, it really makes me wonder where our priorities are. We are will to spend exorbitant amount of money on large home and material items but do not spend money for the home we live in, our body.

Additional notes about how your purchases impact farmers. For every dollar spent in the grocery store, only 16¢ goes back to the farmer. The rest goes to middlemen, warehousing, shipping, processing, stores and their margins, and so on. Cost of a farmer to sell at a farmers’ market is their time, transportation to the location, location costs, and miscellaneous cost of supplies. Large portion of their proceeds can go back into growing of their farm verses sustaining. Not only do I save money buying local but my dollars make an impact on our local economy.

Maybe those hipsters have something going on. They are saving money, giving back to the local economy, and eating foods at their nutritional peak. So maybe at my next party I’ll create an off the wall dish and smother it with an unpronounceable sauce… it’s what the cool kids do.

 

*http://nofavt.org/sites/default/files/NOFA%20Price%20Study.pdf, http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20070604&slug=farmers04, http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/sites/default/files/ll/LeopoldLetter2010Winter.pdf

**The meat ended up being approximately the same price or cheaper at the farmers’ market vs. the Wholefoods, but I’ll be honest, I will not compare well raised animal meat to what is found at mainstream grocery store which are typically from CAFOs. There really is no comparison.

 

Make Grocery Shopping Easier and Meal Planning for the Coming Week

The weekend is here  and if you’re like me, grocery shopping for the coming week is probably on the dreaded list of “to-do’s”. I’ve loathed grocery shopping for many reasons, like:

  • Ending up with way more than I intended,
  • Not really knowing if that’s what I need or even want this week,  
  • It’s never just one store I need to go to,
  • Grabbing every veggie in site because I swear this week I will bring a salads for lunch,
  • And the list continues.

I’ve discovered a few tips and tricks that helped me with the shopping as well as make my week of meal-making so much easier!

Step 1: Plan today’s evening meal first. It’s unlikely you’ll want to cook after a day of grocery shopping and after looking at food all day you will be hungry. Save yourself some money and make a stew or chili of some sort. Throw a roast, chicken, or ground meat into a crock pot with your leftover veggies from the week (see, clearing out refrigerator space here) with some spices, broth or diced tomatoes, and let it go. By the time you’re done for the day, dinner will be ready. (This is also where an Instant Pot comes in handy. See a future “love-post” about this gem.)

Step 2: Plan the coming week’s meals, up until Wednesday or Thursday night. This really saves us time and money when we know exactly what we plan on making through the week. If it’s going to be crazy with kids’ and adults’ activities you can plan for those days and pick meals that can be crockpotted (or Instant Potted, it’s a thing), a recipe that needs little prep time, or can be prepped during morning. You can write this list on an average piece of paper and post it to your fridge or you can be like me and need a cool tablet to write it out on. 

I got this at a fun store, and for the life of me I can’t remember where, but I know you can order them from www.knockknockstuff.com (and many other clever organizational items.)

It is important to remember, when you write down what you are having for meals through the week, if you are pulling them from a cookbook, a website, or Pinterest be sure to note where to find it. Too many times I’ve made that mistake and couldn’t find the “correct” masala recipe.

The reason I say plan meal up to Wednesday or Thursday night is because it will be likely a random craving comes up or you’ll have enough leftovers to last a few days. To prevent over buying, give yourself a day or two and trust you’ll have enough to carry you through.

Step 3: Examine your refrigerator and cabinets and then write out what you need to purchase from the grocery store. This might seem totally obvious but you would be surprised by how many people do not or forget to write out what they need. Some forget to check out their fridge and cabinets and end up with a year supply of rice noodles and coconut aminos (true story). My husband and I like to keep a running list of what we run out of as we cook or if something sounds tasty. We prefer to use a “grocery list” app because it updates immediately to each other’s phones and tablets. The app we currently use is AnyList, but there are a lot of list making apps out there. Check out which one work best for you and your family. Regular ole paper works, too. Another note to this step is to be as specific as possible. Your recipes through the week might total 4 peppers but you may not remember that when you are at the store so be sure to include quantities.

Step 4: Eat before you go. I think this is pretty self-explanatory. If you don’t want to end up with Costco-sized popcorn or nachos, do your budget and your waist line a favor and eating ahead.

Step 5: (Optional) Bring a cooler with ice. There always seems to be more than one grocery store to go to when you have a family larger than two (especially when you’re hunting for organic). If you prefer not to make two trips (and it’s not winter in Colorado) I recommend bringing a cooler. This will definitely add peace of mind at your next store stop and save a lot of time.

Step 6: Prep for the week. Now that you’re home and you have all your amazing healthy groceries for the week, this is the time to think about the week ahead. Remember how you wanted to bring salads for your lunches or that Wednesday was a late night of soccer practice? This is the time to prep those veggies. You may be exhausted now, but waiting will not give you the inspiration you need. More likely you’ll forget, only to rush out the door for work without the planned healthy, already purchased salad. Take the time now and the tomorrow you will say, “Thank You!” to yourself.

A tool I use to make my post-grocery-shopping-chopping easier is my Cuisinart Food Processor. I love it!! We got it at Costco but you can get it at Amazon as well. Or try out another brand. It slices and shreds among other things. It goes through the veggies so fast and wash up is a snap!

A note about the lunch salads: Now is a great time to set up 3 days worth of lunch salads. Check out Jar Salads on Pinterst  to get some amazing ideas. Again, the future you, will thank you!!

Step 7: Enjoy your dinner: Now kick up your feet, enjoy the dinner you set up this morning, and say, “Yay Me!” You are prepared for a week of healthy stay at home dinners. You planned ahead and now when the kids ask, “What’s for dinner??” (insert whatever whiny voice you want) you can point to the chart.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend with your family and celebrate that you got one less thing to worry about this week.

Happy Munching! 



The Sumo Diet

We hear this a lot. “Don’t eat too close to bed time.” But why? How soon is too soon? But I’m hungry!

As an evening snacker, as many people out there are, I cringe every time I hear that. I know it’s probably true, but why??? And if you don’t give me a good excuse I’ll sit over here, snarling at you, while I eat my cheese and salami or my popcorn. (Yes, organic, air popped.)

Recently I heard sleeping after eating dubbed as the “Sumo Wrestler” diet by Dr. Mark Hyman in his book Ultra-Metabolism. Let me tell you, that most certainly caught my attention. Eating before bed time is not the only symptom of this diet. Skipping meals is as well, especially breakfast, which unfortunately I can fall victim to from time to time. [This is where I suddenly envision myself in sumo attire. Not pretty!] But why does this make us fat?

First off, skipping meals makes you even hungrier for your next meal. Surprise, surprise. When your next meal comes around the tendency is to eat more than you would normally eat, sometimes even more than if you consciously ate two separate meals. We all know it’s hard to make a healthy decision, especially a food one, while hungry. Also, your body starts to panic and slows your metabolism because it’s unsure when the next meal will come and doesn't want to waste the energy it does have. Eating breakfast, specifically a protein rich breakfast, has been proven to keep your calorie load in check throughout the day, help with weight loss and keeping it off.

But what about the night time snacking? When we sleep we go into a healing and repair state where our body does most of its healing, detoxing and growth. This keeps our body very busy so our body will slow down metabolism during this time. If you eat within 2 to 3 hours of bed you have not finished digesting. Any leftover food will be stored away for later needs, normally stored in the form of fat.

So before leaving the house without breakfast or before gobbling on those late evening snacks, take pause. Chances are those missed morning meals are likely leading to your late night snacking, and your late night snacking could be why you’re not hungry in the morning… either way they are both leading to weight gain and likely several other GI issue we didn’t get into here.

I’ll continue to enjoy my cheese and salami… but probably more as an afternoon snack.