Think Frugality, Eat Locally

I was just listening to a “trend” story on the radio the other day, about how our country’s financial crisis is making frugality the hipster’s newest way of life. The idea is that young, urban, upwardly-mobile types are changing their spending habits, even if they can afford to go to upscale retailers. The program was interviewing a young “woman on the street” in Soho, who was explaining that although she could afford to shop at an expensive grocery and get her coffee at Starbucks, she’s instead begun stopping off at an Asian market in the morning for the prices. While rolling my eyes and groaning (apparently, we’ve been a “hip” frugal family for a while now, in the hopes of not becoming downwardly-mobile), something she said about food caught my ear: “Like, it used to be about organic and local produce and stuff…but now it’s about getting the best price and not worrying about where it comes from.”

I can understand wanting to get the best price during these tough times, but alarm bells were going off in my head. Were most people really convinced that getting the best price meant going back to buying all conventionally-produced and trucked-in food? That the best deals were only to be had at Super Walmarts and “cheapo” markets? I don’t like to start arguments, but I just had to post something about this: ladies and gentlemen, don’t believe the hype. There are other ways to get the best price and get the very best produce:

1) Check out your local farmer’s market. It will connect you with the produce from nearby farms, meaning no trains, planes, or ships were hired to transport it to you (just a few miles in a truck); this translates into produce without overhead such as transportation and building leases, with some of the freshest food at the best prices that you can find. Did you also know that many small farms use organic methods, even though they are not allowed by law to state that their produce is “certified organic”? The certification process is long and expensive, and many farms are either in the process of getting certified or not bothering to become “official” because of the cost. How can you find out? Ask! There are no guarantees, of course, but you’ll be getting to know your grower, who will get to know their customer’s preferences.

2) Join a food co-op. This is ideal for busy people short on both time and money. For a regular monthly or bi-monthly fee, you receive a selection of organic, local produce (usually weekly or every 2 weeks, and substitutions are usually offered for the things you don’t want) cherry-picked from the best growers (some even offer other products like meat and tofu, or packaged groceries). There’s usually a pick-up location, although some will actually deliver to your door. The cost is contained by a requirement that all co-op members “serve” (usually one short session a month or every few months) by sorting and packing, etc. If you don’t have the time, some even accept a small fee paid in lieu of service. It’s a nice way to get to know other families, and a cost-effective way to get connected with the best food. Look for them online; one of the best-known is Purple Dragon .

3) Sign up with local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm near you. This is like similar to the co-op idea, but here you are “subscribing” to an individual farm. Buyers typically receive a weekly or monthly supply of produce which is paid for in advance. Some require you to pay for a whole growing season, but others make arrangements similar to a co-op. The savings can be substantial, especially since you are picking up directly from the grower(the only transportation costs are the ones you incur by getting there). Also, by establishing a relationship with a farmer, you can become directly involved with what food is offered and how it’s grown. Check out Local Harvest to find a participating farm near you.

-Lisa

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