This isn’t necessarily a list of grocery store bargaining tips (although it might help lower your grocery bills). The ideas below are more like unconventional ways that you can eat healthy, organic and/or local foods for less.
1. Buy produce in bulk and can. Love the taste of those summer tomatoes, berries, stone fruits, pumpkin, etc? Talk to the vendors at the local farmers market and see if they will sell bulk amounts for less. I bought a bushel of broccoli for $10. I froze it, 2 cups at a time to use all winter. I ended up with 56 cups (28 bags) of peak season broccoli at $0.18/cup!!
*There are initial “start up costs” to put up food in this manner. I will review the “investments” I made and provide some tips to set yourself up without draining your bank account soon!
2. Help a farmer. If you go to a farmers market, you have the opportunity to network with countless farmers. A great way to score some free goods is to offer your own labor. Many small farmers would welcome an extra set of hands in exchange for free produce. Maybe manual labor isn’t your thing, but could you donate a few hours on Saturday morning to help them run their stand at the market?
Jon and I spent a full day (13 hours) working on cleaning up a local farmer’s barns. We worked on cleaning out 4 barns including all of the dairy barn equipment (ie. old heavy metal head-gates and piping) in exchange for a side of beef.
See the metal next to the dumpster. That is about 1/3 of what we pulled out of that barn. We hauled 1,000s of pounds of metal out, but how often to you get such a great reward for exercising!
In exchange we received a side of grass-fed pastured beef. Our half was about 200lbs of meat (take home) and included ground beef, sirloin, chuck steak, skirt steaks, eye round, loins, etc. I know what the cows were fed and was able to look at them myself. They were on the premises. I saw their pasture and their living environment and I’m completely satisfied that they were treated well. He had about 15 cows, 1 bull and 3 calves (4 steers were slaughtered). All of the cows were Belted Galloway (they look like an Oreo, black with a white band around the mid section). I actually went in and walked around with them.
(Side Note- I usually get all of my beef from my grandparent’s farm but unfortunately they had very few steers in the last two years so I needed meat to hold me over until this year’s steers are large enough for butcher)
3. Ask about seconds!! Almost every farmer has seconds. Seconds contain slightly bruised, dinged or maybe just misshapen produce. People always want the food that look “right” but that funny shaped carrot or tomato that isn’t quite round will taste just as good (maybe even better when you know you purchased it at a discount!).
4. Of course there is always the tried and true discount method of “grow your own.” Even if you have limited space you can grow some produce in pots or those upside down tomato planters (those also work great for peppers and cucumbers).
5. Do you and your neighbors each have a small yard? Maybe one could grow the bell peppers while the other grows tomatoes? Once the crop picks up you can trade produce. By doing this you don’t have to be an expert at growing all types of plants, but you can still reap the benefits of homegrown produce! You will also cut down on disease cross contamination. Powdery Mildew recently killed my summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers and pumpkins (luckily it was the end of the season and I’ve put up enough for winter!).
6. Take advantage of neighbors with fruit trees. I see so many people who have apples and pear trees here that don’t use them. They may eat a few here or there but mostly they go to waste. Many times these people are more than willing to share. One apple tree can produce bushels and bushels of fruit so when your sick of eating fresh apples you can put them up in the form of applesauce, apple butter and slices for future baked goods. Get creative!
7. Wild berries are very plentiful in NY in hiking areas. I have found many wild raspberry, blackberry and blueberry bushes in wooded areas here. Mountain hiking trails are a great place to spot blue berries. I can guarantee that any wild berries you find are going to be 100% organic and taste better than any other berry you’ve ever had! Always remember to bring a small bag on hikes to take home finds like these!
8. Backyard birds. I would highly recommend anyone to get a few backyard chickens! The maintenance for chickens is minimal and raising them is extra rewarding. Not only will you be able to enjoy the most delicious, humanely raised eggs, but you will also enjoy the entertainment that comes with chicken ownership. These birds do the funniest things.
Eating local/organic on a budget might take a little extra effort, but isn’t it worth it?