Looking for ways to eat local without blowing your budget? This is the resource you need!
I’m sharing my tried-and-true tips for transitioning to a locavore mindset without breaking the bank, as well as advice straight from the farmer for getting the best deals and maximizing your purchases.
Locavore. It’s such a buzzword these days for everything from food to fashion, and for the first (and last) time in my life, I’m probably ahead of a trend. If you’re interesting in transitioning your family to a more locally sourced mindset, this is the resource for you!
What’s a Locavore?
A locavore is simply a person who prioritizes purchases from locally sourced makers of all varieties, from farmers and growers to small shop owners and independent retailers. In general, eating “local” means within 150 miles of where you live. Today we’re talking in detail about now to source, cook, and maximize locally sourced produce, dairy, and protein.
Cameron and I have been advocates of the eat local movement for years, and for a variety of reasons:
- Budget. Shopping locally and in season can yield incredible savings, especially when it comes to pricier produce like fresh berries, peaches, and bell peppers.
- Health. Pastured animals and seasonal produce are more nutrient dense than their conventional counterparts.
- Taste. Local food at it’s peak just tastes better. It hasn’t travelled 1,000 miles and ripened during transit. Sourcing local has also allowed us to experiment with produce varietals we could never source from a conventional grocery store.
- Sustainability. Buying from local farmers reduces our overall carbon footprint, and many small diversified farmers are trailblazers when it comes to sustainable growing practices.
- Local Economy. As small business owners, it just makes good sense to support other local small businesses and entrepreneurs. We love knowing that our purchases will directly benefit the farmers and families we purchase from.
Simply “eating local” was a daunting task when we started, and we blew the budget more than once. But we picked ourselves up by our (broke) bootstraps and forged ahead to find the right balance between local, sustainable, and affordable. Today I’m sharing our top tips to help you get started on your eat local journey without making the same mistakes!
I also had a chat with one of our favorite farmers, MK of Open Book Farm, and she was kind enough to share her best advice from a grower’s perspective. Just like there’s no better source for pastured eggs than directly from the farmer’s coop, there’s no better resource for local eating tips than directly from the farmer herself!
How to Eat Local on a Budget: 5 Tips from a Farmer
1. Focus on the Cut
MK says: Start with the cut, not with the recipe. Find out what cuts your farmers have in abundance and work from there (they might give you a discount to helping them move that out the door).
2. Employ Crockpots and Pressure Cookers
MK says: In general, cuts of meat that require a long braise tend to be less expensive (pork shoulder, beef shank, ribs) than the “high end” fast cuts (chicken breasts, pork chops, steak). While they aren’t great for those “what am I going to feed the kids in 20 minutes or less?” nights, if you can plan ahead they will amply reward you in flavor.
3. Buy in Bulk
MK says: By buy in bulk I do not necessarily mean that you should get a chest freezer (though if you have the space I think that they are awesome). Certainly, buying a share of a cow or a pig can be an excellent way to save money, but many farms offer flexible CSA shares where you can start a tab, receive a discount for paying upfront, and then spend your tab flexibly over the course of the season.
OSK says: Personally, we choose the latter method. We’d love to eventually invest in a chest freezer, but it’s not a priority at the moment, and our CSA share is an easy, economical option that gives us the added benefit of consistent face-time with the farmers who feed us.
4. Shop at the Farm
MK says: I love farmers markets. When we go on vacation, I always drag our family along to whatever local farmers market is happening, just to see what other people are growing and charging, and how they have set up their stands. But, that being said, farmers markets are generally the most expensive place that you can buy local food. This is NOT because farmers are trying to rip anyone off! It is because there is a great deal of “overhead” built into a farmer attending a market.
At a minimum, farmers market prices have to cover gas to and from the market, the labor of staffing the market, the labor of packing for, driving to and from, and unpacking from that market, and any fees that the market charges for attendance (some markets charge as much as 7% of sales). In addition there can be regulatory costs, licensing, and credit card processing fees.
Bottom line, markets are great! Go and enjoy them! But know that you are paying for the convenience.
5. Timing is Everything
MK says: This is particularly true for veggies and fruit, though it can also apply to meat or eggs. When farmers have an abundance of something, they want to sell it. So if you want a deal on tomatoes for canning, ask in August, when tomatoes are raining from the sky, rather than in June, when farmers have limited supply and infinite demand.
This also applies to time of day – farmers are often happy to cut a deal at the end of a market when future sales are unlikely, rather than cart unsold produce all the way home (Note: this is not true for meat! It stayed frozen solid. It is still good. You are unlikely to get a discount!). Haggling at the beginning of market is not polite, but a respectful request for a deal right before a farmer packs up to go home is a fair request.
Eat Local on a Budget: 6 Tips from a Consumer
6. Join a CSA
Like MK, I too love my farmer’s markets. I also adore my local co-op, and was a Whole Food’s and MOM’s Organic Market weekly shopper before we moved and finally had access to a high-quality coop.
But nothing beats shopping directly from a farmer via their on-farm stand or CSA. The food is the freshest it will ever be, and you can’t beat the price. My CSA share runs 20-25% cheaper than the same haul from my local co-op, and about 30% less than our local Mom’s Organic Market. Fresh and cheap(er)? That’s an eat local win!
7. Use a Minimalist Mindset
I love gourmet food, and I’m a dedicated “eat the rainbow” omnivore. But delicious and nutritious doesn’t need to be complicated. The vast majority of recipes that I share with you here and that my family regularly consumes are based on simple foods, simply prepared. The more complicated a recipe gets, the more it drives up the price (and the time investment).
Approach your eat local menu planning with a minimalist mindset to reap the most benefit economically and nutritionally. A simple roasted chicken with seasonal sides is an easy, nutritious meal that feeds my family for dinner with leftovers to spare.
Here are some of my favorite simple, nutritious recipes featuring locally sourced ingredients that I turn to again and again when planning our weekly meals:
- Mushroom and Kale Pasta
- Carrot and Apple Soup, served with a simple tossed salad and sourdough bread
- Crockpot Bolognese over spaghetti squashed or whole grain pasta
- Ricotta Toast
- Crockpot Apple Cider Pulled Pork, served with Simple Autumn Slaw
- Potato Onion Soup, served with a roasted vegetable or simple salad
- Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad, served with grilled steak or leftover roasted chicken
- Creamy Rosemary Garlic Chicken, served with rice and steamed broccoli
8. Start Small
You don’t need to transition your family to a completely locally sourced menu overnight – trust me, I tried! And I completely failed. Similarly, don’t box yourself into an all or nothing approach unless you know that strategy can be successful for you. A little flexibility will go a long way on your eat local journey.
When we began prioritizing locally sourced products, I focused on pastured eggs and chicken. Once I was able to comfortably integrate those purchases into our grocery budget for several months, I found a source for milk and butter. And then for beef. And then for vegetables.
It took us several years to move from a conventional to locavore budget, simplifying bit by bit along the way. Employing many of the other strategies in hand with a staggered approach helped us keep our budget in check and our priorities in order.
9. Go Meatless
We are not vegetarians and never will be, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy Meatless Monday on a regular basis. Close to a third of our meals are vegetarian, and our budget thanks us.
In the summer we enjoy colorful salads stuffed with fresh produce, and in the winter we chow down on hearty soups and bitter green salads. I even went vegan for a number of meals during my January Whole30.
10. Prioritize Purchases
Spoiler: we don’t eat local and organic everything. Not. Even. Close. We’re on a budget and we stick to it pretty firmly, which means we need to be picky.
In general, I prioritize pastured chicken, eggs, and pork; grass fed beef and dairy; and wild seafood. When it comes to produce, my first choice is usually a seasonal option available directly from the farm or through a CSA, but I absolutely fill in the gaps at my local grocery store.
I’ll go for organic when it comes to the dirty dozen, but everything else is fair game. When it comes to pantry staples, I buy the highest quality our budget can afford, but only rarely organic versions.
11. Grow (Some of) Your Own
There’s nothing more local than your own backyard, and you don’t need to have access to a half acre or invest in raised beds to get the job done.
If you’re really small on space, try your hand at a potted garden with a few herbs, bell peppers and tomatoes. If you have a little bit more space, experiment with square foot gardening. If you’re an apartment dweller, see if your city has community garden plots. There are so many ways to dig in and get dirty, plus gardening is known to have a myriad of positive psychological, not to mention physical, benefits.
Eat Local on a Budget: Finding Farmers, Makers, and Resources
Farmers Markets. Yep, even though it’s not the most economical option, start with your farmer’s market. Talk to the farmers and ask if they have a CSA or farm stand. You’ll be shocked at how generous they are with their time and knowledge!
Eat Wild. Search the directory on Eat Wild. and browse their index of sources or pastured poultry, eggs, and pork, and grassfed beef and dairy. You’re bound to find an option (or ten!) within a reasonable distance.
Local Harvest. Similar to Eat Wild, Local Harvest is a directory site with listings for local farms, CSA’s, farmer’s markets, farm stands, pick-your-own-produce, coops, and much more. I particularly love this resource for finding pick-your-own farms!