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November 12, 2008

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CSAs are definitely worth it! My CSA (Middlebranch Farm in New Boston, NH) offered a winter stock-up order. I bought 20 lbs of mixed squash and pumpkin, 10 lbs of potatoes, 5 lbs of onions and 3.5 lbs of carrots for $38.00. This will get me through the holidays and probably into February (I live alone except when my college kid is home).
I started purchasing local meats at the downtown farmers market. I'm willing to pay more and eat less meat. Of course, it's different when you are feeding a family!
My latest find is Kate's Homemade Butter. Hannaford has it (I don't know if you have those in MA) and Market Basket also carries it for $3.79/lb. It's from Old Orchard, ME. Stonyfield Farms is local to me as well, so in the dairy department I am blessed!
I'm definitely doing the challenge next October - thanks for the inspiration!

Yes, ethically done, things costs more. And I happily pay more for everything, from food to clothes to toys... knowing that my money is going towards supporting good/healthy things for me and for everyone else.

When something is cheap, I have to look at it and ask "why?". Usually, the answer involves exploitation of people, animals or the planet. For that, I say, lets go over budget. It's definitely worth it.

I'm still perplexed at how if I lived on packaged foods, it would be cheaper than cooking from scratch. Considering there's the extra cost of packaging, preservatives... how the hell can it cost less? I'm pretty sure the answer is scary... and I don't want to know.

We buy our pork from a butcher shop in Pennsylvania, Dietrich's. I don't really know how to label their meat, but there is a 2 page article on them in the book, Slow Food. Pork and beef are either raised on a family farm or Menonite/Amish raised. A whole loin sells for $2.59/lb. The price includes cutting it up however you like but no packaging, other than a plastic bag or two. Two loins are cheaper and three cheaper still.

http://blog.charcuteire.com/2008/04/14/meet-the-meat.aspx

Those pigs look so blissfully happy, its impossible to even put a price on knowing that your meat came from somewhere where it is humanely raised.

Co-workers through the years have asked me about CSA membership and whether you save money. Here's the thing: a lot of people don't consume 4,000 tons of veggies a week. I always say this, out of scrupulous honesty: if you bought the equivalent organic produce (forget local - you'd never find that much local in the store) at the store, you'd spend way more than the CSA. But most people would never, ever buy that much at the store. If you want to eat a huge amount of veggies and do a lot of cooking, it makes sense. But for many people, if they have access to a local farmer's market, it's the best option, because you don't end up with the 8 foot long turnip greens and kelp-forest sized heads of kale and chard.

For some reason, a lot of people just aren't interested in so much of that stuff.

The whole wanting to protect the land, treat the world fairly, etc., really is a key piece in all of this, because it does cost more. It can't be danced around. Thanks for attempting a public accounting. We tried to budget once and most of the way through just started drinking instead.

Chester, the butchered pig in my freezer and Louise the butchered lamb in my freezer were both raised like those happy pigs in the photo. And we didn't pay more than $1500 for an entire freezer full of meat. The secret is to go find your local county fair where the children participate in 4H. So my pig and lamb were raised like members of these little kids familys and they sure do taste good. Seriously we got the grand champion pig too. It's something to look into anyway.
If only we had a CSA out here in the middle of nowhere I'd be all set.

We paid a little more for our local meat as Tammy said. But I have never tasted supermarket bacon, ribs, or chops that were as juicy and delicious. You get what you pay for. I'd rather spend a little more, support local businesses, and get a lot more enjoyment in return.

Another side benefit: Our kids often go with us to the farms where we get this stuff. They learn about where their food comes from and get some fresh air and sunshine. And chase a few chickens for exercise. It's all good!

It just so happens that I have the Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, August 2008 in front of me (I got paid to find it, how cool is that!).

According to the wise folks at the USDA (snort) to feed a family of four, a couple and 2 children ages 2-3 and 4-5, it costs:
Thrifty Plan: $524.60
Low-Cost Plan: $663.40
Moderate Cost Plan: $815.60
Liberal Plan: $1009.40

I suspect the USDA did not factor in booze or takeout, so your budget looks pretty good compared to the national average (as determined by the USDA).

Ali in Maine

ps, see the report for yourselves at:
http://www.cnpp.usda.gov

No need to thank me for saving you precious hours of time trying to find this data on the USDA website.

I can see I'm not the only one who finds this kind of stuff interesting. Posts/articles like this spark a lot of discussions about why bad food is cheaper... it's a subject fraught with a lot of emotion at times. I don't know why we can't have standards across the board. I mean, if everyone were forced to raise their animals humanely, and hormone-free, and vegetables were grown universally without chemicals... wouldn't the price eventually be cheaper overall? I'm not sure I'm even conveying that right, and I am no economics wiz.

I guess I just wish the good things were affordable for everyone. As it is, I am the only person I know that actually buys organic, grass fed, etc., and in 90% of my family/friends' cases, it's due to lack of money, not knowledge or desire to do the right thing.

...and again, I do really need to find a CSA.

Thanks for the accounting. Yes, the details ARE interesting, as are many of the notes you and your readers provide about how to find the best prices on local food.

Family Nutritionist: Okay, so you wanted details? Here you go:

Drumlin CSA (vegetables): $85
Russo’s (dairy, bread, honey, cider, eggs): $180.96
Shaw’s (dairy, jam, peanut butter): $139.06
Farmer’s Market (maple syrup, maple sugar, vegetables, fruit): $80
Autumn Hill fruit share + Tougas Farms apples: $40
Codman Farm (meat): $60.84 (2 bacon $12, stew meat $8.53, goat $10, pork ribs $13.35, ham steak $7.60, ground beef $9.36)
Steamers Fish Market: $54 (clams, haddock, bluefish, flounder)
Mail order (including shipping): $48.80 (mustards $17.95, flour/oats $30.85)
In Season Delivery Service (chicken, garlic): $30
Liquor store: $75
Restaurants: $200

I never knew how much money we spent on dairy. I always assumed meat was the biggest expenditure.

Melissa: The argument against those standards is that there wouldn't be enough food to feed everyone--and, as you said, enough affordable food. But why does the richest nation have the cheapest food and spend the least percentage of their income on it? Something doesn't add up.

Ali: That's so interesting. I WILL thank you for saving me precious hours. I should attempt to cook some meals on the thrifty plan and see how that all works out.

Husband: Well said.

Mary: Grand champion pork! Wow. Not everyone can say that. I need to get myself back into a meat CSA for the winter.

Michael: I completely agree with you. I should say CSAs are good if you like to cook a lot and if you like most vegetables. If either of those two things aren't true, you'll end up wasting too much food to see the savings. And I know for me, on the CSA off-season, I always buy fewer vegetables when I'm left to my own devices. (P.S. Drinking is far more fun than budgeting.)

jennywenny: Agreed. Those are some supremely happy pigs.

ntsc: Wow, that meat supply is amazing! And talk about a great price. I think it's clear that I'll need to invest in a hacksaw someday. (BTW, I love that your cat's name is Escoffier!)

Sis: The answer seems to lie in paying a fair price for things and just buying less stuff. Ah, but that's not the American ideal, is it?

Melissa (Yarnslinger): Wow, that CSA stock-up order is great! Lucky you. We have Kate's butter here, too, but I only recently realized it was local. A friend mentioned it was her favorite, so I'll have to give it a try.

Oh, the poor organic dairy farmers. We've just been going through the livestock section in my ag science and policy class, and I'm just amazed any organic New England dairies stay afloat at all.

I really think that buying the meat by the side makes the most sense. I spend about $5.50/# for meat (beef/pork/lamb, not chicken), and that works out pretty well. Given the quality, I don't mind paying a bit, and when you average out the flet mignon with the ground chuck, it's really not much more than supermarket beef. Buying in bulk makes local meat affordable for me.

I suppose it's a good thing that local vegetables are cheap and local sweeteners are expensive, in terms of health considerations. But, yeah, I like sugar, too.

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