A Week in the Life… Part 3

Well here it is… the rest of a typical week on our beloved CSA: Monroe Organic Farms. Thanks again to Jacquie for letting me share this with you all, and to my buddy Rachel for the great pictures!

We are now on Friday and Saturday of our general daily work week description. We plant extra produce, more than what the CSA needs, just in case there is a weather related or insect problem. We attend four farmers markets over the weekend. If there is a production problem, produce would be taken away from the farmers markets. We are hoping the CSA will not feel it. Think of it as an insurance policy for your CSA. This is also how you get your extras to pick for freezing & canning. We have also found that if we do not pick produce just about every day, your zucchinis would be enormous, your tomatoes would be overripe, etc.! In general, your produce would not look as nice! Whatever produce the membership is not using, we take to the farmers markets.

crates full of veggies by Rachel Carlson PhotographyThe employees start picking Thursday and will continue until noon on Friday for the markets. After lunch, they will wash any produce with excessive amounts of dirt on it and bunch crops such as carrots & beets. Once this is completed, Jerry gets out the worksheet for loading the trucks. We keep track of what has been placed on each truck. The truck will also need tables, tents, table clothes, plastic bags, pens, paper, signs with prices & baskets for display.

On Friday, Jerry again, begins his day with changing his water. If he can get into fields, he likes to mow the weeds. This cannot be done in fields with vining crops, such as, pumpkins, watermelon and muskmelon, or with tall crops such as tomatoes & corn. But he likes to keep them down around his irrigations ditches and in as many fields as he can. I can tell you this doesn’t happen every week and we are lucky if he can get to it once a month! The animal pens need to be checked at least every other week. Fencing never seems to stay where you want it because of wind, predators and weeds. We spend quite a bit of time checking fencing and fixing it. It is amazing how quickly the animals figure out the electric fence is down!

Friday is “technically” my day off. This is the day I try to get my house cleaned, start the laundry, grocery shopping, shopping for Alaina and Kyle (if needed), Dr. appointments, weed my flower beds and water the trees in the yard. If farmers markets tents need repairing, I do this on Friday too. Other than this, I can lay around watching soapies and eating bon-bons! (I can tell you this happens frequently! Ha-ha!)

kids feeding the pigs by Rachel CarlsonEveryone leaves Saturday morning somewhere between 4:30 and 5:30 in the morning for their destination. We attend the Cherry Creek Farmers Market, the Boulder Farmers Market and the Longmont Farmers Market on Saturday. It will take about one hour to get to a farmers market and about 1 ½ to 2 hours to set up. We will sell for 6 hours then load up anything that did not sell or give it to the Food Bank. This takes approximately one hour. When the trucks come back from Saturday farmers markets, we unload all the returning produce. This is noted on the worksheet. The produce is sorted and reloaded onto one truck. Anything that is determined to not be “good enough” for market is fed to the animals. Employees have picked just a little produce on Saturday to fill in what was sold on Sat. They have also changed Jerry’s water for him while he is at market. Half the employees have Sat. off; the other half has Sun. off. The day ends at 5 pm. for me and Jerry will be done as soon as he has checked his water.

Kyle goes to the Ft. Collins Farmers Market on Sunday. He leaves at 9 am. and returns about 5 pm. And once again, we will give excess produce to the Food Bank at the end of the day & bring back what will be fed to the animals. Crops such as potatoes can be kept until the next weekend.

Our biggest money makers are the potatoes and onions. The reason; we have these crops from the very beginning until the very end of the season. The customer favorites, however, are the strawberries, melons, tomatoes and beans.

This concludes our general daily work week. Of course there are so many other things we do during the week; so many they cannot be listed. But it gives you a good idea of what happens on a regular basis. Jerry and I work 7 days a week, March through November, then we slow down to 5 days a week during the winter. We try to take a week or two off during Christmas. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t!

I hope you have enjoyed the farm posts!  Rach shared so many great pictures and I didn’t get to include them all… but keep an eye out, with her permission, I might just attach them to other farm posts in the future!

Categories: CSA, Food, Urban Homesteading | Leave a comment

A Week in the Life – Part 2

*Note that I wanted to post some pictures of us working on the farm, but I forgot my camera two weeks in a row! Luckily, Rachel came along this week and got some photos… Thank you to her for sharing!!!

This week, Jacquie Monroe shared with us what Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays look like on Monroe Organic Farms.

Last week I started to tell you about a week on the farm finishing only Sunday and Monday. Today I will talk about the next three days.

crates by Rachel CarlsonAs I mentioned before, I have worksheets I use to tell not only the employees what to pick each day, but also to tell the working members on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday what to put into each bag. This worksheet breaks down each Distribution Center into Single, Half and Full Shares; adding the totals of each category so that I know how many total Shares. Cucumbers, for example, are calculated to give the Single Share one, the Half Share two and the Full Share three. These numbers are multiplied to the total number of each category and I get a total number of how much to pick. The working members know how many cucumbers to give each share and I have a total number to be picked..all in one swoop of the pen!

I do this Sunday evening for picking on Monday for Tuesday Distribution; again on Monday night for Tuesday picking for Distribution on Wednesday and again on Tuesday night for Wednesday picking for Thursday Distribution. This is why it is so important for you to call me at least two days in advanced if there is a change to your share. If you wait until the day of or the day before Distribution to make a change, it is too late, we have already picked the produce!

Red (single), Purple (half), and White (full) shares for the members.Working Members arrive no later than 7:00. They will help unload produce into the barn, count the number of red, white and purple bags, count small and large bean bags, get the containers out to measure beans and potatoes, unload delivery trucks if needed, fill egg orders into coolers, count produce not bagged into boxes or baskets for delivery, fill bean bags; basically get everything ready for Distribution.

Team leaders give instructions to the Working Members on how many of each crop goes into a particular colored bag. There is one person stationed at each crop. The rest line up at the “potato bar” and get a bag filled with potatoes. From there they go down the line of crops each being added to the bag. They then go outside the barn and line them up in rows of 10, by bag color. When all is done, the bags are counted one more time before loading them onto the trucks, just in case we are one short! 

There is a Team Leader stationed at each vehicle. They call out the number of white, purple and red bags needed; egg coolers are loaded; fruit & honey too if available; corn, tomatoes & melons (depending on the time of year) for each Distribution Center until the entire truck is filled. During melon season, we have to pull a trailer because it cannot all fit on the truck!

Rachel helps load!After the working members get the produce on the trucks, empty bags that are put into the coolers by Distribution Centers are removed, sorted & stacked. The coolers are cleaned and stacked. The barn is raked, any produce not good enough for members is fed to the chickens (except onions and garlic). And everyone heads to the fields to work. Working Members spend early spring/early summer planting and hoeing, but by the end of summer, the Working Members spend quite a bit of time harvesting.

At 6 am, the employees have finished the animal chores and are now pulling out all the produce picked the day before; lining it up in order listed on the worksheets. Once all the produce is lined up, the employees get their instructions on what to pick for the day, all heading in different directions!  Jerry, in the mean time, has gotten up at 4:30 and has changed his water. He has given instructions to the employees and is checking in with the team leaders on what their day will consist of. Then he is off to ditch rows of crops for irrigation.

hoeing the corn by Rachel CarlsonThis will need to be done every time we have either hand hoed or used the Weeder to remove weeds from the fields. It tears down the humps of dirt needed to keep the water in each row. If each row is not intact, something will not get watered!

After greeting the Working Members and answering any questions that may arise, I am in the office writing a letter to each Distribution Center. I tell them how many bags they are getting for each share size & the color of that bag. If there is anything extra, such as corn, this number is also reflected so that when the Non-working Members arrive, the Distribution Center knows what to give each member. Newsletters are added to this letter for each Center.

At the beginning of the season, the Distribution Centers are given a list of all the Members picking up at their homes, phone numbers and information about eggs, fruit and honey. They turn this list into a check off sheet to use during Distribution. This is how they know who gets what and how much of it! If we are delivering any produce to restaurants, an invoice is typed out and added to the pile of newsletters with Distribution letters.

truck is loaded by Rachel CarlsonBetween 10 and 11 am, the trucks are ready to leave for Distribution Centers. Two trucks leave on Tuesday, one heading toward the South Denver Metro area and one heading to the West Denver Metro area. On Wednesday, two trucks leave heading toward Central Denver Metro area and the Ft. Collins area. Thursday, only one truck leaves the farm and follows the Turnpike towards the Boulder area. It will take most of the rest of the day to complete these routes, getting us home around 4pm. Where upon arrival back at the farm, Jerry will check his water and I start dinner! Wednesday I will do Distribution for the Greeley area, starting at 5:30 and I will work until dark.

The drip irrigation system is a wonderful tool we have fallen in love with. Not only does it keep down the weeds in each row/bed, it really conserves water. But at the same time, it is very labor intensive! Everything has to be hand planted into the plastic, each row has to be hand weeded, (no hoes allowed!) and the procedure for watering is extensive!

Every day that Jerry waters through the drip tape, he first has to fill the pond with water by turning on the pump at the bottom of the field where the irrigation canal is located. This canal carries the water from the reservoir throughout the entire irrigation basin. Once Jerry has chosen a field to water, there is at least one turnkey at the top of each bed. There can be as many as four rows and two drip tapes per bed with turnkeys. After turning on the water to several beds, he walks down each bed to check for leaks or breaks. He also has to walk the entire main line to check for leaks or breaks. A small leak can turn into a big problem because there is a lot of pressure in a drip irrigation system! It can wash out the crop, but more importantly, it will release the pressure and all the water will go to that spot and nothing else will get watered.

In the fall, all the drip tape and plastic has to be removed and discarded. However, when we do keep the drip tape for more than a year or two, the mice get into it and chew it up!

This really sums up the work I do as a working member. There is lots of counting! Last week after all the share bags were filled and loaded onto the trucks, we sorted garlic by sizes into crates. Some will get distributed, some stored for the winter shares, and some stored for planting in the fall. We also do things later in the season like spreading hundreds of onions on black tarps to dry in the sun for the winter shares.

This week Rachel worked really hard, and to thank her for her work, she got to take home a share of produce! She really earned it!!  Thank you again, Rach, for sharing your rockin’ photos!  p.s. – Rachel is amazing, and she can be hired to photograph you!  😉

Categories: CSA, Food, Urban Homesteading | 2 Comments

A Week In The Life [of an organic CSA farmer]…

Full Farm ShareTake a look at the beautiful bounty in this week’s CSA share, waiting to be washed on my kitchen counter!  From left to right there are walla walla onions, carrots, q-ball squash, cauliflower, cabbage, purple bell pepper, pickle cucumbers and red potatoes; and in the bowl: three kinds of squash (zucchini, crookneck and yellow), cucumbers, and a green bell pepper.

This was my first week back up at the farm, and I had Henry and Emmett in tow. Everyone was excited to see Emmett!  And Henry had a great time catching toads and playing with the other kids, while Emmett rode in the Moby wrap as I distributed squash and sorted garlic. 

This week, in our newsletter from Monroe Organic Farms, Jacquie Monroe wrote up a piece on what farm life is like.  They work hard and are quite busy… she only got through two days worth! 

I thought you all would also be interested to see what life looks like on our CSA farm:

A week in the life…  by Jacquie Monroe

A member once asked what a week on the farm looked like? What was our routine? Well…let’s start with just a couple of days! Our week starts on Sunday at 4:30 or 5 am with Jerry setting his water on those parts of the field that need a little drink. This takes approximately 3 hours. Setting water isn’t like turning on your garden hose. The ditch fluctuates up and down according to users up stream. Once the water is set, he goes back a half hour to an hour later and checks it again. He may have to irrigate fewer rows or start additional rows depending on how much water there is at that time; then checks it one more time before he starts his next project. In the mean time, our employees get going about 6 am. They have gathered eggs, watered and fed the chickens, steers, pigs and sheep. At 8 o’clock, everyone meets at the barn. They take what produce has returned from the Saturday farmers markets and reload a truck. Kyle takes off at 9 am for the Ft. Collins farmers market. He will be there for 5 1/2 hours.

Once Kyle is set and has left, Jerry turns to the four wheeler and checks the field for mature crops. It is at this time when he decides what you will be getting each week. He come to me and gives me a list of crops and how much he believes we have. I take those numbers and apply them to the membership. Sometimes we are limited to what we have, so you will only get one, or he tells me to calculate three different numbers.

Jerry has now moved to either his cultivating tractor or the planter. If he chooses to cultivate, he will do this all day, taking out as many weeds as he can so that the hand hoeing won’t take as long. Planting is a timing thing. If Mother Nature cooperates, Jerry is pretty good at getting you crops on a pretty regular basis. To give you an idea, corn and green beans need to be planted every week; cucumbers & summer squash every three weeks; peppers, and potatoes one time; watermelons & muskmelon every four weeks; carrots, tomatoes and beets three times a summer and broccoli and cauliflower are planted five times a summer. This job requires he get on and off the tractor several times to check to see if the seed is planted at the right depth; making adjustments to the planter as needed.

Meanwhile the guys are digging up potatoes for Distribution on Tuesday. They are stored in a strawbale building. The strawbale building is approximately 20 degrees cooler than the outside temperature! They will set up sprinkler pipe to sprinkle up the seed Jerry has just planted; moving the pipe every three or four hours. This will need to be done every three days until we see a crop. Then it will be switched to row irrigation thereafter. Some of the crew will be hoeing, stacking the newly cut & baled hay and gathering eggs (which will be done at least once more before the end of the day). If there is time, three people will use the tractor and a machine called a Weeder to cultivate.

We take an hour for lunch (Jerry doesn’t come in for breakfast, too much to do & he wants to do it while it is cool!). But before he quits, he checks his water again. If it needs changing, he will do this, checking it again after lunch. Jerry wants a hot lunch so I normally fix him leftovers from the night before; afterward going back to the planter or cultivator.

I get up in the morning and check messages. (I don’t get up nearly as early as Jerry!) Get a bite to eat & read a favorite magazine for an hour. I then sit down to my computer and start writing. Sometimes these newsletters come easily to me and I will be finished by noon and sometimes they will take me all day to write. When I’m done, I count our earnings from the Saturday farmers markets and partially start a deposit, finishing it on Monday after adding Sunday farmers’ market earnings.

While I’m busy making the deposit, I start to make the copies I need of the newsletter. I will answer the messages and if I have time, (between Sunday and Monday), I look at email. It is very low priority for me, especially since I love the computer so much! I can usually find more “important” things to do! Things like laundry. It’s funny how having clean clothes really make you feel good…ha, ha!

Dinner is served somewhere between 5 and 6 pm. Jerry needs to eat early because it will take him another three hours to change his water to new locations. We end our day watching the 9 o’clock news (the weather) and going to bed.

Monday morning at 4:30, Jerry begins with setting his water. This is a daily occurrence. If he isn’t row irrigating, he is irrigating using drip. To conserve water, we use plastic tubing to move water from one place to another. This prevents water from evaporating or soaking into the dirt below the ditch. All of it stored water from reservoirs holding the spring melt off of winter snow or spring rains. We have settling ponds to remove as much of the silt (fine dirt) from the water. Before sending it into our drip irrigation system, there is a filter system that takes out quite a bit more. These filters need to be checked frequently. Anything goes wrong and it will shut down not sending water to plants in need of water!

If Jerry didn’t finish planting or didn’t plant at all, it will have to be done on Monday. If there are any equipment failures, they will be worked on either Sunday or Monday. That includes the trucks too. Trucks are cleaned out from the weekend farmers markets. Any food that is not up to snuff to resell is fed to the animals. They are like dogs, begging for treats, running after the truck!

Meanwhile the employees are doing the animal chores. From my calculations, they will start to pick what is needed for Tuesday Distribution. The harvesting will take up most of their day. Bringing everything into the barn and set up in order they will appear in your bag. Stopping only to move sprinkler pipe.

Monday, I finishing the deposits, make the worksheets out for the Tue. Working Members & finish doing my laundry. Twice a month I pay the bills and Monday is the day I usually run errands for the farm. Jerry always needs parts for equipment; I take the deposits to the bank and go to the Post Office; go to the grocery store and ending the day with a nice meal. In the evening, Jerry and I take a ride on the four wheeler and look at the farm in all its’ glory; getting excited about the next new crop we’re going to give to you!

Categories: CSA, Food, Urban Homesteading | 3 Comments

Asparagus & Independence!

Well… asparagus season is upon us!  Today I drove up to the CSA farm to pick asparagus!  Yum!  I picked two rows, not sure what that equates to in pounds of asparagus, but I will find out as I put most of it up for storage tonight (and I’ll probably report back as well).  But, oh!  The sweet green shoots just called my name as I picked!  And I happily munched as I went along filling my big bags.  Henry enjoyed munching behind me as we went too!  Thanks to the Monroe’s who can sell their spears for $8/pound at the market for letting us take all we wanted! 

I read a couple of cool blogs today and wanted to share quickly:  the first was found on Hen & Harvest, called Convenience Store(d) Food. Wendy shared some great recipes for pudding mixes.  I had done a Thrifty Thursday post about making your own mixes a couple months back, and thought this would be a great addition to it. 

Then I followed the link to Wendy’s blog,  Home Is, and saw she was doing something called the Independence Days Challenge.  This led me to another blog, where it seems the challenge (at least on the web) started.  Check it out: Sharon’s Independence Days Challenge.  I really like the idea, and I’m going to try my hand at participating.  I hope you all find this interesting, and that I do as well.  🙂

The basic idea of the challenge is to do something each day or week or weekend that gets you closer to your goals (for example #91 on my 101 in 1001 list).  Basically, that big change can come from little things.  I like how Sharon put it:

It is easy to forget how important this “little stuff” is – easy to think that your little garden doesn’t matter very much, or that your preparations won’t be enough.  But we should also remember the exponential power of saying “no” and doing for ourselves.  The corrollary of the fact that every calorie of food takes 10 of fossil fuels is that every stir fry or salad you eat from your garden saves 10 times the oil as the calories contained within it.  The fact that almost every packaged ingredient uses 7 times as much energy to create that packaging means that your choice to buy bulk oatmeal just saved 7 times as much energy as the package contains.

In 1944, American Victory Gardens grew as much produce as did every vegetable farm in the country – fully half US produce came from home gardens. And while no one was sufficient, all together were something big.  Every bite of food you grow, every bite you preserve, every bit of waste you reduce is a contribution to a larger project – keeping everyone fed.  Every bit of compost you add to your soil, every bit of organic matter, every tree you plant is a contributor to a larger project – storing some of our emissions in soil, so we can have a future.  Small things are the roots of vast and powerful ones. 

Every kid who tastes a cherry tomato or a strawberry from your garden comes away with something that they take back to their homes and forward to the future.  Every neighbor who stops to chat as grow on your lawn or water the peppers in containers on your stoop is a new connection in your community, and a potential future gardener.  Every seed you plant multiplies and produces a hundred, or a thousand more seeds for next year (not to mention the food).  Every dollar you save you save on groceries that goes to the food pantry means your plot feeds not just you, but others.  Every time you point out that you are storing food and preparing for a different future, even if people don’t get it, a seed is planted somewhere in the back of their heads, where they realize…people kind of like me think about this stuff.  The future depends on a whole lot of little things.

I’m excited about it, though I’m starting the challenge a bit late.  🙂  But here goes!   There are seven categories in the challenge, and you are supposed to do something in each one.  The categories are:

  1. Plant Something
  2. Harvest Something
  3. Preserve Something
  4. Reduce Waste
  5. Preparation and Storage
  6. Build Community Food Systems
  7. Eat the Food

Make sure to read the challenge for details on each category if you’re curious or you decide to join the challenge too.  I’ll report in weekly… Wish me luck!

Categories: CSA, Food, Garden, Independence Days, Recommended Reading, Urban Homesteading | Leave a comment

Sustainable Food Budget Challenge Wrap Up

susbudgetWow!  This challenge certainly has been an eye-opener for our family!  It has been a lot of fun for me, and good for us all. 

For the month, our total is $398.56. This includes the trip to the farmer’s market and a smoothie from Whole Foods Saturday, two trips to Chick-Fil-A (although Rick packs his lunch, he just can’t seem to keep away –it’s addicting!), and I took a friend to coffee at a local shop (but the coffee was only $2.50 for the both of us).  We count as a family of four, since I’m pregnant, but that is even under the family of 3 limit. We still have $64.44 (if we counted as three) to spend for the month, and that is good, since I know we will need milk, some greens, and some lunch stuff before the week’s over. But I don’t expect to surpass the limit. 

Crunchy Chicken didn’t have the success she expected on this challenge, and from the looks of the comments on her wrap up, neither did most of her readers, though most remained optimistic that it was possible.  One of the readers at Crunchy Chicken’s blog commented:

I admit, I find the “you can do it but we didn’t” message a little troubling in this particular challenge. Most people who have to live on food stamp budgets don’t really have the option of going over – if you hit the limits, you eat what’s in the pantry (or you don’t eat much) for the rest of the month.

I don’t mean to give you a hard time, but I guess asking people to live like they live on food stamps, to prove something to the people there, and then really disregarding the limits, while still asserting the validity of the challenge – “sure, you can do it” seems a little troubling to me.

There is so much truth there. We are not on food stamps, but our budget is such that we can NOT go over on our grocery budget each month. If we run out of money, we eat the rice in the back of the pantry.  We took the challenge quite seriously. 

I don’t know if this would actually be possible on food stamps because the majority of our savings came from food saved from the CSA last summer, the hog we bought whole last fall, things we saved our money up for so that we could have a year of sustainable eating on our tight budget. That and two years of practice at cutting the grocery bill each week a bit more, while still making fresh meals for my family.  Things like eating out, coffee shops, and convenience foods have not been in the budget for a long time (though, I’ve seen the Chick-Fil-A receipts creep in this month). 

Dollars wise, it does work.  But I don’t know that anyone raising a hog accepts food stamps for meat and processing (though they should if they don’t).

Bottom line… I enjoyed this challenge.  It got me thinking about ways that we could eat more sustainably, and even prompted discussion of not buying bananas (or at least not so many).  🙂  And it illustrated to my husband that we really do have a tight and good grocery budget.  I was even surprised that we spend less than what is alloted for food stamps. 

I was disappointed to see the results of so many unsuccessful at this challenge.  But I think to jump into this kind of lifestyle without practice or preparation is not really setting yourself up for success.  I was really pleased with the outcome our family had.  I greened up more of our purchases without going over our budget, made extra effort to get to the one farmer’s market that was open in April around here, and even crossed things off the grocery list that we’re there in the store, at a good price, but were not local. 

Can it be done?  Yes.  Does it take practice and preparation?  YES!  Should that keep you from trying it?  Please, no!  It’s a great feeling knowing where your food comes from, supporting local farmers, and saving money!

Categories: CSA, Food, Garden, Recommended Reading, Sustainability, Thrift, Urban Homesteading | 2 Comments

Thrifty Thursday: Joining a CSA Farm


Monroe's Logo, click to visit their blog!

One of the biggest money savers Rick and I did last year was joining a local CSA farm.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture (see my March 2008 post,  “CSA – And it Tastes Good Too” for more info on how CSA’s work and where to find one in your area).  Like buying your meat in bulk or using cloth diapers, the upfront cost of a CSA membership is a lot to shell out at once, but the savings over time is incredible!

At Monroe’s farm (the CSA we belong to) the fee is split into two parts:  a Membership fee, which is set for all members, though it is reduced if you chose to be a working member; and a Produce fee, which is based on the size of share you are purchasing (single, half or full).

When we joined Monroe in 2008, we signed up for a working membership.  To figure out if this would be worth wile for us, we sat down with our grocery store receipts from the months past, and added up just what we spent on produce alone.  Then we figured out the mileage to drive to Monroe in Kersey, CO once a week, and what that would cost us in gas.  The fuel costs combined with the membership & produce fees from Monroe were still FAR, and I mean FAR, less than what we’d been paying at the grocery store for often times non-organic, shipped across the country, under ripe produce for the previous summer.

About a week after we signed up (before things were really started for members on the farm), I got a call from another member who also lived South of Denver and was interested in car-pooling to the farm each week.  That meant our fuel cost was cut in half from what we calculated it would be.

For the whole summer’s worth of produce, including fuel costs, this is what we spent in 2008 (when gas prices were through the roof, remember??).  And, it should be noted that we froze, stored and canned some of this produce and have been eating it all winter too (we still have onions, tomatoes, potatoes, green chiles and corn)!

Membership Fee (working member):  $100
Produce Fee (half share):  $135
Fuel (we got aprox. 20 miles/gallon):  $497.07/2 = $248.54
Total for the summer:  $483.54

That amount divided by the number of weeks we received produce from the farm (approx. 24) is $20.14/week on about 20-25lbs of local, fresh, organic produce.  This does not count the 2 flats of strawberries, asparagus, and 4 bushels of roasted green chiles which were “pick your own” that I brought home in addition to the share, or factor in all the stuff we stock-piled for the winter.

You have to remember that this number could change based on how far you drive to the farm (assuming you’re a working member), car pooling with more or less people, fuel costs, and how bountiful the harvest is.  Or, it could change if you are a non-working member as well.

The produce is so incredibly fresh.  As in, picked just that morning!  The half share was plenty for our family.  We ate most of it in a week, and were able to store what was left.  However, for 2009, we uped our share to a full size with plans to store/can/freeze much of the excess in order to ensure our grocery bills for winter produce are further reduced.

Check out Monroe’s website and their brand new blog to see what we do at the farm.  And make sure to check into a CSA in your area!  The saving is incredible!  And the food is out of this world!

It should also be said, that we got a lot more out of the CSA last year then produce as well.  We made new friends, Rick has a new hunting partner, Henry got to play in the dirt all summer, eat melons warm from the sun, pick strawberries… it was very very cool.

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

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

This is how we hoe the weeds…

Ok, lots of people have been curious about the farm.  I started going up to Kersey once a week (on Tuesdays) to work for a few hours in exchange for a discounted membership to Monroe Organic Farms’ CSA


The first few weeks we did nothing but hoe weeds.  And hoe more weeds.  And hoe a few more weeds.  And there were no vegetables yet, because of the weird spring weather.  But that time passed quickly, and now we have veggies coming out of our ears!!! 

So far we have enjoyed aspearagus, four different kinds of onions, three varieties of potatoes, four kinds of lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, strawberries, the sweetest white turnips I’ve ever tasted, red turnips, candy striped beets, cucumbers, fennel, kohlrabi, carrots, purple (yes, you read that right) bell peppers, sugar snap peas, snow peas, green beans, yellow straight-neck squash, Q-ball squash, and of course, zucchini (lots of zucchini).  Last week, Dave, the guy I carpool with shared some apricots from his fruit share with us.  Oh man.  Amazing! 

This week, we’re going to dive into musk melon, watermelon, eggplant, green bell peppers and sweet corn!

Everything we have gotten has been incredible!  Full of more flavor than anything  that you can get from the store, organic or not.  The red potatoes are to die for, and even the onions are good.  I can’t wait until the tomatoes come on! 

The thumbnail is a picture of a salad I made Friday night.  It included Romaine lettuce, cucumbers, turnips, beets, purple bell pepper and walla walla sweet onions.  I made an orange-balsamic vinaigrette with garlic and fennel for the dressing.  Wow!  I also topped it with some sliced almonds, but we ate it before I could get them in the picture.  Everything was from the farm.  (Well, not the balsamic vinegar, almonds, orange juice or olive oil, but all the veggies and other dressing ingredients were!)

This has been the coolest experience too.  Every week, now that the veggies are on, we get to the farm at 7:00am and start counting out bags for the veggies.  We bag the beans or peas, and then we put together the shares for all the members.  People can buy a Full share, Half share, or Single share. 

The full share, right now, is packing a 50lb onion bag FULL of veggies.  The single share fills a 10lb bag, and the half share is in between.  Rick and I bought a half share and have tons of veggies to store by the time the next Tuesday rolls around.  It’s probably a good 25-30 pounds of produce a week.


So, at the farm we fill all the bags for both the working and non working members.  We then load the bags, along with the egg shares, fruit shares and honey shares onto trucks that go to different distribution centers throughout the city for the non-working members to pick up.  After all of that is finished, if there’s still time, we go hoe more weeds, or pick onions, or squash, or whatever chores Jerry has for us to do. 

This happens every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, each day with a different group of working members.  A lot of produce goes on these trucks!  And all of it from Jerry & Jacquie’s farm (except the fruit and honey which come from a farm on the western slope – hooray for that partnership). 

This is such a cool way to get your food.  And not only is it far less expensive than the grocery store, but it’s both nutritionally and economically more healthy!  Even with the cost of gas to drive that 120 miles once a week, I am saving hundreds on my groceries, getting fresher, healthier food, and supporting a local farm!

Do the math… it might be worth it for you to join a CSA in your state (or if you live here, get on the 2009 waiting list for Monroe!).

Categories: CSA, Food, Urban Homesteading | 1 Comment

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