Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer Veg Out Part II: LOCAL

Many of you already mentioned this important money-saving tip in the comments section of Part I, but I felt it was such an important point it deserved its very own post: eat foods that grow near you.

1. Eat what's in season.

What food grows where you are, and when is it at its peak? Produce is generally cheaper when it's in season in your area, even if you buy it at the local supermarket. It usually tastes better, too! For example, our own grocery stores are flooded with the most delicious local melons at the end of summer; it's almost a crime to eat them any other time of year. And I'll never forget the amazing artichokes we could get when we lived in California; I haven't seen a single fresh baby artichoke since I moved here.

2. Visit Farmers' Markets.

This is a no-brainer, really, and if there is a farmers' market in your area I bet you’re already going there. But did you know that you can sometimes score a really good deal right before the market closes? Workers usually don’t want to pack up and haul home all that unsold produce, and they might make you a deal if you stop by a few minutes before close.

For example, my mom stopped by our local market last week when the sellers were packing to leave and bought two bunches of organic baby beets with greens for $1.00 each, and someone I met at a party told me he always shows up at the market at 12:15 and picks up produce for a steal. In fact he had just bought over 10 pounds of Rainier cherries for $9.00 (they are normally $4.00 or more a pound).

Heck, it’s no sure thing, but it's certainly worth a try!

3. Join a CSA.

A lot of my friends are trying out Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where they pay a fee and become "shareholders" in a local CSA farm. They then receive a box of fresh produce every week all through the growing season. It's an adventurous way to eat, as you never really know what's coming week to week; you may end up discovering foods you never thought to try before, like Jerusalem Artichokes, say, or green tomatoes.

If you have the money to pay upfront for a CSA share, it can be a great time and money saver. For example, my cousin's CSA cost $480 for 15 weeks. That sounds like a lot of money, but it comes to $32 per week for as much fresh food as he can possibly eat, without having to go to the grocery store or market.

For more information on CSAs or to search for one in your area visit Local Harvest. (Thanks, Zach!)

4. Roadside Stands.

Keep your eye out for small fruit and vegetable stands along the roadside or in front of local farms and orchards. If you don't see any, you might try checking the classified ads in your local paper for "Produce".

5. Pick Your Own.

In addition to farm stands, check the classified ads for "U-Pick" farms and orchards. It's usually less expensive and it's a wonderful way to spend the afternoon with the kids. I'll never forget the fun of picking fruit with my family at local orchards, sitting on the tailgate with friends eating Red Delicious apples as big as our heads, or making ourselves sick on cherries.

6. Grow Your Own.

Do you have a yard, patio, porch, or sunny windowsill? If so, you can probably save some money by growing some of your own vegetables or herbs.

Here's a picture of our own work-in-progress. We have a very large yard and are continually ripping up lawn and putting in more garden beds. This year, with the rising cost of food and fuel, we got serious about fruits and vegetables and planted five large beds. So far we have 15 tomato plants, a pumpkin patch, cantaloupe, strawberries, basil, zucchini, peas, garlic, grapes, sweet corn (in the foreground, hopefully "knee high by the Fourth of July"), a raspberry/blackberry patch, an apricot tree, rhubarb, herbs, and flowers (I never want to run out of space for the flowers.)

How about you? Do you have more tips on saving money, exploring your own region, and becoming not just vegans but localvores as well?


Unknown said...

i admit it. we "steal" food from a local park/neighbors. there are all kinds of fruits (a mulberry tree in the local park) and veggies (garlic growing on a local college campus). i put the kids in the stroller and we pick until we can no longer carry.

Unknown said...

$4/pound for Rainier cherries? You couldn't even get them here on the East Coast until recently. And if you can, they're over $10/pound and not as good as they are out there.

I'd eat them all the time if I could get them fresh for $4/pound.

Unknown said...

wow! u do have a lot of goodies in your garden. i'd be really interested in reading some of your gardening tips! :)

Unknown said...

oops... forgot the rest of my comment.

check out freecycle.org for a cool way to recycle, live local & cheap.

Megan said...

A great way to do a CSA is to share it with another family.

We are splitting a huge CSA with another family and it makes it a lot more cost effective. Many CSA take sign ups in early spring which is when we get our tax refund. So we pay in advance and our summers' food budget is a lot lower.

Today we just got two flats of strawberries, 2 heads of chinese cabbage, and 2 bundles of swiss chard. This is considered a small shipment, not considering the berries, because we've had such a cool spring/summer so far.

Another part of the CSA is salsa week in which we get to come out and pick 50 lbs of tomatos and enough peppers, cilantro, garlic, and onions to make salsa.

Its completely worth the $500 for all organic and local food ($250 is what our family paid).

Unknown said...

Wow, looking at your garden makes me miss gardening with my mom when I was a kid! I live in an apartment now in San Francisco - no option for gardening beyond maybe a few herbs on the kitchen table. I sure wish I could still run out to the backyard and pick tomatoes, bell peppers, radishes, carrots, and apples! BUT, we do have a lot of great farmer's markets here, so I suppose it's a trade-off I can live with :)

moni said...

A CSA is an amazing way to save money and do something great for the environment all at the same time! I have been doing CSA's for years and this year I am keeping track to see if it saves money. Well so far I am completely blown away. I am chronicling this on my blog http://vegetarianonthecheap.blogspot.com/. In four weeks I have picked up $233 worth of top quality, fresh produce! CSA's rock!

Unknown said...

Maybe I'm on the slow train, but I just had that same thought about the farmer's market myself. I'm going to try going at the end to see how my cheapskate self makes out!

Zachary said...

I am totally going to try that latecomer's farmer's market trick! That sounds like a great idea!

Anonymous said...

A good u-pick finder is http://www.pickyourown.org/index.htm :)

I found one CSA in my area that you pay by the week, and can opt-in each week so you never have too much. I live alone so waste was a concern of mine. I get a half share there for $8 a week :)

moni said...

Hey! Not trying to spoil the party here - but the whole waiting until the farmers have no choice but to sell their produce cheap or pack it up to take it home - there is something wrong with that. You wouldn't expect the big supermarket chains to give you a break like that - and they often don't. They would rather throw the food out! The farmer often has to take out a loan to buy seeds and equipment, then pray that the weather holds and then they still have to compete for their slot at the farmers market. I used to work at street art fairs and when it rained and we had to pack up or sell things at a loss to us - it really hurt. So I don't know but it somehow does not seem right to do this systematically!

petra said...

I grow pak choi, snowpeas, rainbow mangold, cherry tomatoes and cape gooseberries on my balcony, and it's not even big! It's my first summer of balcony farming and though the harvest isn't huge it's something!

MommaSchell said...

In regards to the post on the lowered priced produce at the end of Farmer's Markets, a lot of farmers want to get whatever they can get for their crop because most of the time, they can't take it back with them. I vend at a local Farmer's Market here in San Diego and have a couple friends who come from the Central Valley with their peaches and plums and can't take the fruit back with them because it will overripen and go bad on the way back to the farm. They rather offer a "bag deal" and get rid of it rather than take a loss. At least they are getting something for it. They have been doing this for years and is hardly a financial burden to them.

Karen said...

I love this blog but I need to also comment on the waiting till the end of market "trick". We have a small organic farm and sell at the local farmers market weekly. It is our one chance to get "market price". When we sell to the local stores and restaurants they pay us about 1/2 the market price and mark up to 125% to sell to the consumer. No one gets rich farming (unless you are a huge conglomerate like earthbound) and if you want to keep your money local and want small farms to exist you need to help support your local small farms! We really rely on the money we make at markets to get us through the year. At the end of market if we have a lot left over we'd rather give away our food to the food bank. We definatley give deals all the time at market, but often feel offended when people come running in last minute to try to get our produce cheaper.

Classic cook said...

Agreed, agreed, agreed. I posted something similar about a return to victory gardens: www.classiccookery.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

For those of us who have very little sunny yard space, the square foot gardening method is a great way to squeeze in a whole lot of produce in a small area.