Sustainable Food Budget Challenge

susbudgetHow many times have you thought about eating organic and locally grown food, only to convince yourself it’s too expensive?  Or maybe you do eat locally and organically grown food, and try to convert your friends, but you can’t seem to get them to believe it’s something they can afford. 

For the month of April, The Crunchy Chicken is issuing the Sustainable Food Budget Challenge

I hear so many times, from many friends that “they just can’t afford to eat natural/organic.”  This way of thinking really discourages me.  Rick and I have a very tight grocery budget.  We do not spend our whole paycheck at Whole Foods, nor do we think anyone should.  Yes, our grocery shopping is supplemented with our garden and hunting, but those things aren’t free either, and take lots of work.  Not counting the garden, the CSA, and hunting, we spend between $60-100/week on groceries during the winter, and only $30-60/week during the summer.  I will calculate out the cost of meat, as well as garden & CSA veggies to add into that later, to give you an accurate reflection of what we truly spend per month to eat locally, organic, sustainable food. 

But first, the details on the challenge:  The idea here is to feed yourself and your family on sustainable food sources while staying within a set, tight budget (more on this below).   So what is “sustainable food?”   To me, it is food that has the least impact on the environment, while having the most impact on your health.  Locally grown organic veggies are at the very tip top of this list.  For example, a tomato from your garden, grown without fertilizers or pesticides, using grey water or a drip system, has a very low impact on the environment (no fossil fuels were used to get it to you!) and you get all the health benefits of an organic tomato.

So besides a garden, where do you find this stuff?  Start at the farmer’s market, food co-op, U-pick farm stands and local food stores.  Then move  on to the grocery chains and big-box last.  Local food store will often carry more locally grown food then the bigger chains and big-box stores.  And, usually at cheaper prices.  You will need to weigh the benefits of buying locally (but maybe not organic) versus buying organic produce flown half-way around the world to your local Wal-Mart.   Crunchy Chicken has a follow up post here about what sustainable means as well.  This is a helpful clarification since many of us live in areas where the farmer’s markets aren’t yet open. 

Crunchy Chicken raises the question: “is it possible…?” as well as lays out the rules for the challenge:

So, the question remains… is it possible to eat an organic or sustainably grown diet on a budget? A few years ago, there was the argument that those individuals who received food assistance from the government didn’t receive enough money to be able to afford healthy food. Some took it further and argued that poor Americans really were excluded from being able to eat sustainably strictly because of the higher costs. There are a number of factors at play here, the majority of which have to do with food availability such as the fact that not many supermarkets remain in some inner city areas and it’s difficult to travel out to the suburbs to shop at stores that sell the kinds of foods we are talking about here.

But, for the rest of us, can it be done? For those of us who live in areas where ample farmers markets, farms and grocery stores selling sustainably grown food exist, is it affordable?

I’d like to challenge us all to see if we can eat sustainably using the Food Stamp Allotment Program guidelines. It will take a lot of careful planning, but the end result is that we can save a lot of money on our food budget by trying to spend within this framework for a month.

Challenge Guidelines
So, here’s the skinny. Based on the following allotment chart, you are to stick to the corresponding amount for food for the month of April. The challenge is that you must buy according to the following guidelines (from Locavores). Do not include non-food items or home grown items into your budget, but do include seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat. Make sure you include all the food costs from eating out, trips to coffee shops, etc.


These are fairly loose rules, but the goal is to buy sustainably grown food:

1. If not LOCALLY PRODUCED, then Organic.
2. If not ORGANIC, then Family farm.
3. If not FAMILY FARM, then Local business.
4. If not a LOCAL BUSINESS, then Terroir: purchase foods famous for the region they are grown in.
5. Hit the farmers market before the supermarket.


Household Maximum Monthly Allotment Chart:
1 person – $176
2 people – $323
3 people – $463
4 people – $588
5 people – $698
6 people – $838
7 people – $926
8 people – $1,058
Each additional person – $132

Here is the break down of where Rick and I are starting from, as well as a receipt info from today’s shopping trip on April 1st. 

Today I spent $84.51 at Sunflower Farmers Market (a local grocery chain) for food items for the week.  We plan on having Buttermilk Baked Chicken, Mediterranean Salad, Homemade pizzas, Elk chili, Chicken Satay, Mediterranean Chicken Packets, and Broccoli Tomato Stromboli’s this week.  The chicken I bought at the store was not organic or local (normally I buy organic chicken only once a month from Costco, where it is cheaper), but I refuse to pay $16.00 for one Rosie chicken (read the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Pollan and you will too!).  I bought salami from who-knows-where, and I’m certain it’s not organic either, but it was the only kind they had.  Nearly all the produce I bought, as well as the beans and flour were organic, though not local.  But the eggs and milk were Colorado proud, and hormone free.  The bread was both local and organic. 

The pizzas will have pork sausage, the cost of which is approx. $1.97.  We bought a whole local 4-H hog last fall for less than two bucks a pound.  The elk meat for the chili was given to us by a relative, harvested in Kremmling, CO.  Rick has not gotten an elk yet, but he’s applied for many a license, so the cost of that, to be fair would have been… well, whatever the heck $39 for a license plus the fuel cost to get to Kremmling, and the cost of one .306 bullet; divided by how ever many hundred pounds of meat an elk gives us… for one pound.  I’ll be extra  generous and say it was a $1.00.  Rick’s family processes their own meat, so that would have been free (just costs time, anyway).  We will also be using some frozen tomatoes left over from the farm last summer.  I am not going to figure out the cost of two or three tomatoes, but if we weren’t using those I would have bought a big can of Muier Glen Organic tomatoes for about $2.29, those in the freezer probably didn’t cost half that, but to be generous and fair again, we’ll say they were half: $1.15.

So, for this week:
-Grocery Store – mixed: $84.51
-Pork – local and sustainable: $1.97
-Elk – local and sustainable: $1.00
-Tomatoes – local and sustainable: $1.15
Total: $88.63

If we keep on track with this amount for the month, we’ll spend about $356 on groceries.  This is below the amount allotted for a family of three, and WAY below the amount allotted for a family of four (which we qualify as, since I’m pregnant) for Food Stamps.  Not too bad. Let’s see if we can pull it off! 

This month will bring a couple of exciting opportunities for us though as well.  Like the pick your own asparagus at the farm in a couple of weeks.  I can’t wait.  Look for more info on CSA’s in tomorrow’s Thrifty Thursday tip.  A lot of the produce we use (though, none planned for this week, besides those tomatoes) comes from there, and I will have cost breakdowns for that.

My goal for the challenge is to see just HOW sustainbly we can eat, for the least amount possible.  I have a feeling Rick will like this challenge.  He’s always complaining about the grocery bill! 

What about you?  Do you think you can do the challenge?  And if you’re already eating well on a budget, do you think you can stretch it further?  Will you join us???  Leave me a comment below with thoughts, questions, ideas, etc.!

Categories: CSA, Food, Garden, Recommended Reading, Sustainability, Thrift, Urban Homesteading | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Sustainable Food Budget Challenge

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