Life, Faith and Urban Farming

The life and happenings of an unconventional pastor and urban farmer living in the city with a family of five.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Letter from Alyssa on Food

Below is a letter that my wife Alyssa wrote to a close friend wanting to know how she feeds our family on our tight budget. These are great tips on eating better!

1. Eat local as often as possible. Anything grown close to you will usually cost less. I say usually because farmer's markets, etc. are oftenmuch cheaper when things are in season and bought close to the source. You're not paying for the transportation. However, if you buy something not technically in season locally you're no going to save much. Because of the work involved to grow it or produce it. Leads to the second point....

2. Eat in season. This is hard for me. I WANT strawberries in February, darn it! But realistically? it's not great! They don't have flavor because they've been shipped so far and picked before they are ripe in order to ship. It's cyclical and leads back to eating locally. I really believe that is key - eating locally and in season. The combo is what makes things doable.

3. Plan for the future. (all year!) You know this from your brother - and they know more than I do! can, freeze, do anything you can to put away that local and in-season stuff. Then you can have it all year! Make jam, can applesauce (easy, easy to do with NO sweetener and my kids love it all winter long), can apple butter, tomatoes, sauce, salsa. Don't take on too much your first year or so because it's easy to get overhwhelmed. I'm not a huge fan of pickled stuff, but John loves it. He and his mom pickle beets, cauliflower, cucumbers, etc. and can those too. Buy good root vegetables in the fall and store them in your basement. You'll be surprised how long they last!!

4. Invest in a chest freezer. You're thinking - how does this save money? it doesn't initially. But it does in the long run. When you're sick of canning or just don't have time you freeze. We go berry picking every year, get a TON of berries (all types... starts with strawberries in May/June!) and freeze them. I can give you tips of easy ways to freeze them so you don't just have lump of strawberries in a bag too. I use them all year in healthy smoothies, baking, etc. I love to freeze broccoli, spinach and green beans (all blanched first then shocked in ice water). I use those all winter too. You can get all these things to freeze and can from your own backyard and from farmer's around you. Sometimes you can get tomatoes for sauce and just canning plain tomatoes SUPER cheap if you're willing to deal with bruises and bad spots. And really, who cares about that? you're going to can it!

5. Going off of the chest freezer - buy your meat by the animal. I'm serious. It will cost a bit up front and you may have to pick what meat you're willing to eat. For example, a whole chicken? totally affordable. Even organic/free-range. A whole pig? expensive! We just got ours this weekend - for $300. Initially it stinks (money-wise) But my freezer is now full of different cuts of meat, bacon, sausage, loins, ribs. I have a whole fridge full of lard! (for soap making and cooking with). I probably won't buy anymore meat until next year. I may get some cuts of beef, but only for special treats. You save so much over the long haul doing this. And you get the benefit of the whole animal (chicken stock!). You're also, again, supporting your local farmers. You can usually get a 1/2 pig, 1/4 cow, etc. too. Just look into what's around you.

6. Buy in bulk. Find stores that will sell things in bulk. Or have a bulk foods section. I buy dry beans in bulk, cook them up in large batches (with chicken stock from our chickens!) and freeze them. Then I pull them out a few days ahead for meals. Oatmeal, flour, beans, coffee, tea, grains, quinoa, lentils... they are all great for you and totally affordable in bulk. By the package? they add up quickly!

7. Do the work! I'm reading a book called Radical Homemakers. It's not a Christian book - but it really speaks to the our need for "quick" meals and always rushing around and how it has taken so much away from the family and our health and our food. If you're willing to cook your beans from dry opposed to buying cans of beans you're going to save money in the long run. If you're willing to cook down your chicken carcass - you're going to save money instead of buying chicken stock from the store. Canning your own sauce in the summer saves tons of money over buying jarred sauce at the store. (Boy it tastes better too!) Make a couple loaves of bread at the beginning of the week - stick one in the freezer for later that week or next week and use one immediately. You know every ingredient in your bread then and it is so much more affordable.

There's my spiel! I hope it helps some. I love talking about this stuff - feel free to ask more or question some things too!

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