How to Switch Over to Locally Grown Food (Without Going Broke)
This post may contain affiliate links.
The Switch to Locally Grown Food
My biggest goal for this year is to make a shift in my eating to more locally raised and locally grown food. Over the past several years, my beliefs have been greatly impacted by documentaries and books, most recently The Omnivore’s Dilemna – which has since changed my life. I realized that in order to eat as far in alignment with my beliefs as possible, much of my diet needs to become more localized. I am making strides to become more reliant on my local neighbors and farmers as opposed to “the man” – and have put together some tips below for you if you would like to do the same.
As always, I am trying to be as thrifty as possible through this transition. Locally grown and raised food is likely to be a little bit more expensive than your typical grocery store. However, you may consider your investment in food an investment in your health – this is how I see it.
This links/resources in this post are typically intended for USA residents, as this is what I’m most familiar with. Let me know if you’d like a little help finding something for your home country if you are not from the USA – I consider myself a near expert with Google!
I’m not a dietitian or a farmer. Everyone is accountable for how educated they are on food. Be smart and try to read empirical, peer-reviewed articles as opposed to opinion pieces on questionable websites. Make sure that you know who is funding these studies so you know if there is the possibility of bias.
In this post, I’m not going to tell you if certain meat/vegetables are healthier than others. This post is only directed at helping you make the switch to locally bought food, if that is something you would like to do. It is absolutely a huge goal of mine to rely less on the behemoth companies and rely more on my local farmers, whose practices I agree with more.
Find your Local Farms & Butchers
Local Harvest and Eat Wild are two fantastic sources for finding your local farms and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). From your local farms, you should be able to buy locally raised meats and locally grown fruits and vegetables. Some farms will only provide beef, and some will only provide eggs, for example. This part will really take a little bit of research on your part.
Find Your Local Farmer’s Markets and try them out. Find out which one gets you the best selection of goods, which is the most convenient, etc. You may need to try a few farmer’s markets before you really get set on one that suits your needs that you like. My ideal farmer’s market is one that provides meats, vegetables, and processed goods (such as syrup, etc.).
If your local farmer’s markets and farms focus heavily on produce, it’s worth checking in with your local butcher to get your meats. Many butchers will provide you with high-quality meats sometimes for less money than the grocery store. My local butcher has a fantastic selection of grass-fed (and similar) beef, and also sells meat from local farms! He charges significantly less as well.
Decide if You’re Interested in Joining a CSA
Joining a CSA is a little bit like investing in the stock market. Farms will charge a fee and in exchange, will provide the members with a selection of goods. My local farms typically provide vegetables, although some will also throw in eggs and poultry when things are going particularly well. Joining a CSA can definitely pay off if the climate is ideal and the farm runs smoothly. It is possible, however, that the farm does not do well and therefore you do not get tons of goodies.
As I said, it’s a risk. But joining a CSA is a fantastic way to support your local agriculture and pay into your neighbor’s pockets instead of a multi-million dollar corporation.
Find a Food Cooperative
There are very few food cooperatives near me (one is an hour drive away and the other is not opening for quite some time) – so I have limited experience in this. However, if you have a local Coop – this might be one of your best tools to save money in this entire list. You can search by using Google or search the Coop Directory for your nearest store.
Food Coop’s are like grocery stores that will provide you with a selection of food from local farms for a membership fee. These fees can range in prices, but for the ones near me I’m looking at between $60 – $100 for a membership. Some of them will be renewed annually, some are valid for a lifetime. My closest Coop provides discounts on foods depending on the month, and you also save 20% if you volunteer for 4 hours per week. This is a pretty fantastic discount and helps you learn about your food. If your local Coop doesn’t have an option like this, ask them if it’s something they’d like to try!
Learn What’s In Season
Obviously, produce is seasonal and not all produce grows in all climates. I absolutely love this interactive map from FreshEverydayProduce.com. It shows you which states are growing what, and what produce is in season during which month. You can re-pin all the charts on seasonality you want, but this map is where it’s at.
This map will also help to show you when the high-season for your local farmer’s markets are. When I check for Massachusetts, I see that we really only start producing vegetables in June (later than most of the country). This explains why most of the markets are in hiatus for the wintertime.
I also love this produce seasonality chart, although it doesn’t have the added dimension of location.
There are plenty of farms where you can pick your own produce. Use PickYourOwn.org to find your state and county. You’ll see a list of farms, what types of produce you will be able to pick, contact information and when you’ll be able to pick your own produce.
I think that it is important to understand and be educated about your food. What better way to do this than by going to the farm and doing some work yourself.
Okay, so you know where to start. How can you save money during this lifestyle change?
If this is a lifestyle that you want to adopt, there is one unfortunate truth you need to accept. Switching to locally grown and raised food is not going to be cheaper than how you eat now. You will most likely be paying the same or more money on food. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re going to go broke. There are some ways to cut costs.
Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan.
Repeat after me: meal plan, meal plan, meal plan. This might be the single greatest tip to save you money grocery shopping. I know that if I go to the farmer’s market without a plan, I just buy everything I can carry and some goes to waste. Go in with a meal plan in mind – and don’t forget substitutions! It’s likely that the market won’t carry everything you want for your meal plan, so be sure to have backups just in case.
Or Don’t Meal Plan!
If you’re a savvy cook and can get creative with your recipes, then you don’t need to listen to my suggestion to meal plan. You don’t even have to be the next Gordon Ramsey! There are websites out there that can help you decide what to cook based on what ingredients you have at home: try Supercook or My Fridge Food. Chances are, even if you don’t think you have enough food for a nice meal, you probably do.
Ask About Seconds
Some farmers will sell you food that is slightly damaged (such as bruised), but is still perfectly fine to eat. You will get a deeply discounted price on the vegetables that really only have cosmetic issues. Just call up your local farms and ask – it won’t hurt.
This is risky, but may payoff if you’re really looking to cut costs. If you shop at the final bell of a farmer’s market, you might get a bit of a discount. I wouldn’t haggle with them. Just because the market is almost over doesn’t mean they need to offload the produce.
These tips, along with shopping for in-season produce and joining a CSA will help you save money through this lifestyle change.
What do you think? What is your greatest challenge in making this switch? How thoroughly do you want to adopt this lifestyle? Let me know in the comments below!