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

CSA – And it tastes good too!

Last October, I posted about a few cool sites, and one of those cool places was Monroe Organic Farms.

Monroe is a Community Supported Agriculture project – a farm that sells “shares” of produce to the community.  These shares provide the farm with capital for operating expenses before the produce is harvested.  It saves them from having to market, assures them their produce will be sold, and guarantees an income rain or shine for the farm.  In other words, CSA gives small, family owned farms a chance to make it.

The USDA defines CSA as: “… a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or “share-holders” of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer’s salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing. ”

Sounds amazing, right?  What could be better?  Buying locally; eating organic, super-fresh food; supporting a small farm; helping the local economy.

Well, I called them today – I really want to be a part of this – but guess what?  They were already sold out for 2008! Noooooooooooooo!!!!!!

But Jacquie (the lady at the farm) was super nice and answered all my questions about getting on a wait list for 2009, buying beef this year, and finally about being a working member versus a non-working member.  And as we talked about that last one, she mentioned that working members (members who come and help with the farm chores once a week up in Kersey in return for a big discount on the membership and produce fees) are given priority on the produce shares each year.  And there was still room for 2008.

Wait.  Let me get this straight.  I can still do this this year if I am willing to come work on a farm?  Me?  Work on a farm?  WHERE DO I SIGN UP!?!?

So yes, I’m doing it.  I know people might think I’m crazy, but I can’t wait!!  Every Tuesday morning from 7:00 – 11:00am in June, July, and August, I’ll be playing farmer!  I get one week off per month, and I get all my veggies and fruits, first pick!  I am stoked!!  And there’s always room for more working members, they say, so if anyone wants to join me (hey we could go really green and carpool), give them a call to sign up!

Oh, and before we got off the phone, I mention my four little chickens.  Well, we got to chatting about chickens and she was telling me that they should be molting soon.  I’m excited… I can’t wait to post pictures of naked chickens running around my back yard!  Stay tuned…

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

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