When you begin transitioning toward eating as a locavore (a person who eats only locally grown food as much as possible), you may experience sticker shock. Local food, especially organic, can be more expensive than its imported grocery store counterparts. There are ways, though, to stay within a food budget and still eat mostly local. Here are some ideas I've found helpful.
1. Keep it simple. Local organic food, harvested at the peak of ripeness, generally has a lot more flavor than food that has been shipped long distances. (In the U.S., food has traveled an average of 1,500 miles before it is purchased by the consumer.) Deeper, richer flavors need much less seasoning. Using fewer spices and fewer ingredients can help reduce your food expenses substantially without compromising taste.
2. Buy foods in season. A food is plentiful when it's being actively harvested, so prices are usually lower than the scarcer early- and late-season varieties.
3. Plan ahead. Buy extra produce when it is plentiful and the price is low, then preserve it for later use. Canning, pickling, freezing, drying, smoking, salting, fermenting, root cellaring and other food preserving techniques are easy and inexpensive to do at home. Almost anything can be preserved. If these techniques sound difficult, find a friend willing to teach you, or take a class. The Community Food Co-op, for example, offers a variety of food preservation classes at reasonable prices.
4. Use what you buy. In the U.S., people throw away an average of 25 percent of the food they purchase because it spoils before it is eaten. Buying only what you can use before it spoils can bring huge savings.
5. Avoid impulse buying. Plan menus, make a shopping list and stick to it, or substitute equivalent foods. For example, if you have spinach on your list but all you see at the farmers market is chard and kale, swap out for one or the other. If it's not on your list, don't buy it.
6. Use what you have on hand. Without a planned menu, most of us think about what we want for dinner before we go to the refrigerator. Instead, try going to the refrigerator first to scan and see what needs to be used up so it won't wilt and spoil. Plan your menu based around those ingredients.
7. Prepare what you know you'll eat. While unusual produce varieties can be fun to experiment with in your kitchen, they are often more expensive than commonly eaten varieties. Focus on foods you know you and your family like and will eat. Don't hesitate to try a new veggie if you have a little money left over, of course.
8. Use more of what you buy. Experiment with using parts of a plant you don't normally prepare. For example, some people eat fennel bulbs and discard the lacy-leaved tops, when in fact the tops make a wonderful herb to add to soups, pasta and much more. For another example, see my blog article about "20 Ways to Enjoy Broccoli Stalks" - at whatcomlocavore.com/20-ways-to-enjoy-broccoli-stalks - and try a few. I think you'll be astonished.
9. Grow some of your own herbs. Herbs and spices can cost a fortune, and that's even for the dried versions. Fresh herbs can sometimes cost even more. For less than $2 you can buy an herb seedling and plant it in your yard (rosemary or oregano, for example), in pots outside (basil, sage, mint, etc.), or in smaller pots in your kitchen or a sunny window (thyme). With just a little care, that single plant can provide your kitchen with tantalizing fragrances and rich pungent flavors for years to come.
10. Enjoy smaller portions. I've found that as my consumption of local foods increases, the portion size I need to feel full and satisfied has grown smaller. Perhaps it's the higher level of nutrients in just-picked foods (foods start losing nutritional values as soon as they are harvested), or perhaps it's the richer flavors, but I seem to have gradually and naturally become happier with less food overall, without even trying.
I hope you won't let the seemingly higher cost of local food stop you from beginning to add it to your family's table. With a little planning and strategy, you may find that your budget doesn't have to change.
6 tablespoons butter (Breckenridge Farm, Everson)
1/3 cup honey (Guilmette's Busy Bees, Bellingham)
11/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour (Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill, Bellingham)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 cups fresh strawberries (Spring Frog Organic Farm at Holistic Homestead, Everson)
1/2 cup honey (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale)
1-2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Lynden)
Optional: 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped (Twin Brook Creamery, Lynden)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Melt butter and honey together. Sift dry ingredients together in a separate bowl. Blend dry ingredients into creamed mixture till very thick and smooth. Press in 9-inch pie plate. Be sure edges go to the upper edge of the pan. Flute edges, if desired.
Bake for 20 minutes until just browned.
Wash the strawberries and remove the stems.
With half of the strawberries, finely chop them or chop in a food processor. Cut the other strawberries in half only.
Place the chopped berries into a saucepan and warm over medium heat (about 5 minutes).
Mix in the honey and vinegar and continue warming until heated well (another couple of minutes). Blend with a stick blender, or mash with a potato masher, until thick and slightly lumpy.
Add 1 tablespoon cornstarch, and cook another 2-3 minutes until mixture thickens and falls off a spoon slowly. Remove from heat.
Gently stir in the remaining strawberry halves, and scoop into pie crust. Let cool in refrigerator for a couple of hours.
Slice and serve, topping with whipped cream, if desired.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996; appel-farms.com
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959; artisanwineclub.com
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060; bellinghamfarmers.org
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699; boxxberryfarm.com
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859; cloudmountainfarm.com
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158; communityfood.coop
Everybody's Store, 5465 Potter Road, Deming; 360-592-2297; everybodys.com
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747; ferndalepublicmarket.org
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151; graceharborfarms.com
Green Barn, 8858 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-354-1008
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
Lynden Farmers Market, 514 Liberty St., Lynden, fiveloavesfarm.blogspot.com
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398; facebook.com/pages/Pleasant-Valley-Dairy/161872142667
Red Barn Lavender Farm (egg CSA), 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190; islandergrocery.com
The Markets LLC, 3125 Old Fairhaven Parkway and 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797; themarketsllc.com
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020; terra-organica.com