The economics of eating local

This week was our city's Local Food Week, celebrated at our downtown Farmer's Market on Tuesday afternoon. You might remember that there is a farmer's market "outpost" one block from my house and I usually walk there on Wednesday mornings but this week we joined the fun happening downtown.

We joined last summer as well and at the time I wrote this post on local foods being for everyone. Unfortunately that post does not do justice to the idea that local foods should be accessible to everyone regardless of income. I don't know what things are like where you live but around here local foods cost more. This seems a shame but the reality is that local food costs reflect the true cost of food. But this still doesn't answer the question of how to make it more affordable to low income folks.

fiddles and human pea pods: just all part of scene at local food week

Part of our family's answer to this problem is to support local organizations that help address this issue, specifically Lots to Gardens. We try to assist in what ways we can. Last spring we planted seeds, next week I'm cooking a full lunch for 20 of their summer youth workers, we go to fund-raisers and work in the community kitchen, attend board meetings and spread the word.

And then there's the whole other question of how do we help ourselves pay for the higher cost of locally grown foods? Maine is blessed with an abundance of ingenious and hard working farmers growing everything from greens to beans. Our family could get buy everything we needed (minus coffee but I suppose we don't need that!) from within the state. But on our current grocery budget there is no way we could afford it.

I track our spending very closely and have determined that our family spends more in line with the Europeans when it comes to food. We have kept our housing and transportation costs low to make this possible. And I remind you we're not eating high off the hog! (ha,ha). We eat a simple diet of mostly vegetables, grains, beans, fruits, nuts and seeds with the occasional meal out and ice cream for a treat!

We consider this a worthwhile investment of our resources because diet is the foundation of health and the first line of defense for illness. I do not remember (literally it's been probably 6 years) the last time we spent $$ on a prescription medication.

There was a very interesting discussion recently on beauty that moves. Heather opened a can of worms with a question of "how much do you spend on your groceries in this climate of ever rising food costs?" (or something like that). The response to her post was phenomenal and got me thinking, yet again, on how people value's are reflected in how they spend their money.

What gets really difficult is when you have to make compromises that you feel don't reflect your true values. For example: I would like to buy all our produce from local farmers, truly I would, but if I did our grocery tab would go up at least 30% in the summer and would double in the winter when we rely on out-of-state staples such as lettuce and fresh fruits.

This is a real conundrum and one I don't have an answer to. I do know that if we hit a personal financial crisis we would eat a lot more cabbage, potatoes and beans (you'd laugh at this is you knew how much of this we already eat!) and less fruit.

What was the point of all of this? I don't know but maybe's its just to encourage people to support their local farmers and businesses and yet say "I understand that it's difficult and I don't nearly do what I wish we could".

One of these days I want to write a post on starting a buying club (as requested by Nicola) and as I've mentioned before we have a farm share; these things help certainly. If we didn't like to hike and camp so much we could grow a bigger garden. But I still don't have all the answers or live out my ideals in full.

Related Posts

(pst... Damien installed a new feature that allows you to "watch" individual posts. Basically you can subscribe, via e-mail, to comments on specific posts. So if you ask a question I can answer it in comments and it will be sent to your e-mail. Three cheers for Damien!)

« August homeschool reads
Home ~ A place of Welcoming »
  • Shawna

    Shawna on Aug. 7, 2009, 11:04 p.m.

    i often feel the same way about local food, and out here it's a big deal. local can truly mean down the road, and even be organic. i can't imagine how hard it is for farmers who don't have such amazing supporters and, sorry to say, a rich population, even in this economy.

    CSAs are our first defense since it helps us eat locally IN SEASON, and truly connect with the farms. the amount of money seems large but comes out to 15-20 dollars for fresh produce weekly. not to mention, farms get their money at the beginning of the season when they are investing in a year of hope. it's guaranteed income and they don't have to staff a market table so it's win win in lowering the prices and keeping the gamble out of it.

    for people who have the time, most of our CSAs offer a work exchange. four hours of office or farm work (hello, hands on education!) in exchange for a weekly share. we almost did that until we didn't know what dave's job scene would look like, so we couldn't commit.

    we find ourselves in the potato and cabbage territory here, which is a bummer to watch a record growing season pass us by. we also feel less healthy when we eat this way, and with all the studies out there it's amazing to me that insurance companies don't realize and support healthy food as preventative medicine. at least farmers markets around here take food stamps. that's a plus, but not enough.

    we usually end up getting the bare essentials at the grocery store since we're crummy planners and can't make tuesdays (market days) work for us financially. i hope as we make our way back up, we can continue to support local farms so that slowly they will become the norm again and big corporations will find they need to change their ways.

    oh bother. i was typing with one hand and a sleeping baby and that got longer than i had intended! well you asked for thoughts ;o) ps i dreamed i was in portland last night and ran into you!


    • renee

      renee on Aug. 8, 2009, 2:45 a.m.

      No bother, that was a lovely response Shawna. I think you touch on the realities many of us face. On the other coast with all this rain we are having a difficult farm share season. I'm usually inundated with beans this time of year and freezing and canning, not to mention cucumbers. I haven't gotten any of either of those crops this year. Lots of lettuce though! But lettuce doesn't keep.

      It's hard and sometimes I wish it were just easier. But then I realize this has been humanities struggle since the beginning of time - to get enough food to eat and not expend to much energy to secure it. Why should I think it should be any easier now?


  • SavvyChristine

    SavvyChristine on Aug. 8, 2009, 12:15 a.m.

    Renee, as always, you make me think. We just recently cut back on our organic fruits and veggies budget so that we could spend the money on sustainably raised meat. And have put a nix on the idea of eating local -- we don't have the time to source out local food producers, now that we keep odd hours. It really bothers me, but at the same time, we can't do everything! And thanks for linking to that discussion on Beauty that Moves -- what a great source.

    SavvyChristine's last blog post... Wardrobe Maintenance


    • renee

      renee on Aug. 8, 2009, 2:30 a.m.

      Thanks Christine. Except for our farm share and fruit I pick locally most of our produce is not organic. That would put us way over the top budget wise. I agree - you can't do everything. We all pick and choose.


  • Jenn

    Jenn on Aug. 8, 2009, 4:08 a.m.

    I hear you completely. We live in the country and in our area, there are NO organic foods, no natural food stores, nothing! We have to drive almost 2 hours to get organic natural health foods. It's ridiculous. And needless to say, we don't really. We go there some, to get some things, but not nearly as often as I wish we could.

    So basically we eat a not-as-healthy vegetarian diet. I buy beans and rice by the pounds. We eat lots of salad (actually, we have salad every day for lunch) but it's not organic a lot of the time. We have fruit every single day and smoothies for "snacks" but I have found that we eat the same thing most of the time and only occasionally will I fix a dessert. We do love bread and that is probably my biggest weakness, so I try to take it easy, but I have to admit that my children eat lots of tortillas.

    We do the best we can and we feel good about (most of) our decisions. I wish we could do better but we are poor (LOL) and we struggle so much just to do this. I cannot imagine all organic, there is just NO way we could afford it.


  • kyndale

    kyndale on Aug. 8, 2009, 4:18 a.m.

    We have a farmer's market in my town that accepts some kind of food stamp (for the elderly). I'm not really sure what this coupon is but there are tons of older persons, obviously needing the financial help, buying up as much of the farm fresh food as they can. It's a beautiful thing. I also know that there are wholesalers who will sell to a group of people. There are a few of those here in town.

    I saw that post on beauty that moves and I didn't comment because I spend SO much more on food than anyone that commented spends. Food is what we spend our money on. I should probably spend less..but we enjoy good food! I too believe there is a direct correlation between diet and illness (or lack of illness).


    • renee

      renee on Aug. 8, 2009, 1:50 p.m.

      I hesitated to comment there also, but went ahead anyway, because we too spend a lot more than other people. But honestly we're not buying convenience food, packaged foods, or high end organic stuff or very much organic for that matter. Just honest to goodness real food! And it costs.


  • Hillary

    Hillary on Aug. 14, 2009, 1:44 p.m.

    Hello! This is a topic near and dear to me. We used to be the people who had to drive 45 minutes to find a local or organic farmer until we moved to a community that has a strong local foods network.

    We spend more money than the average family on food, but when we reassess there really isn't anything else we'd rather spend out money on. I find solace in knowing our dollar is being shared with a local, hardworking, ethical farmer who is most likely to keep that dollar circling locally. When you think about how much effort it takes to grow, harvest, and collect food it actually becomes a very valuable resource to have someone else do it for you. Food, imo, should cost a decent amount--it's a valuable resource!!!!

    (But yes, I agree that everyone should have access to good food. Our farmers market and csa's offer sliding scales and take WIC and food stamps.)

    Thanks for the great post and it's nice to find you :-)

    Hillary's last blog post... Photo Friday :: A Papa is a Wonderful Thing


  • Anonymous

    Anonymous on July 19, 2012, 2:22 p.m.

    This is so marvellous! I guess cell phone directory won't work for this... but I guess we will have to choose somehitng about the caller.


You can subscribe to comments on this article using this form.

If you have already commented on this article, you do not need to do this, as you were automatically subscribed.