Day 124–Ten Tips for Locavore Food Shopping (on a budget)

Continuing the theme of how to shop efficiently and affordably while still eating local, I have 10 tips from our own experience since January 1. I told you I like a list 🙂 Share your tips and ideas in the comments section!

Tip One–Know your farmers, know your farmers, know your farmers.

Before starting our locavore journey, my only experience with asking produce questions was asking the “produce manager” in our local grocery store, who usually knew almost nothing about produce or cooking. So, I was pretty shy and hesitant about asking farmers information. I thought it might be rude. But you know what?  Farmers LIKE answering questions and they LOVE talking about what they grow. And guess what else? Many of them cook this food themselves! Also, farmers, in my limited experience, are pretty practical folks. If you say you’re on a budget and you have xx to spend on vegetables, they can give you lots of ideas for how to stretch your dollars and feed your family. Try THAT at your local grocery store!

Tip Two–Use Social Media

You know those picture books with Farmer Brown plowing a field? Well, those books need a major update. Most farmers who sell to local markets are pretty media savvy (or at least they are getting there). They probably have a Facebook page, an email newsletter and/or Twitter account. Crazy, right? I get weekly postings on what is available from local farmers and farmer’s markets in my area. That saves me a LOT of time when planning menus because I’m not guessing at what I’ll find.

Tip Three–Pre-order the Important Stuff

Related to Tip Two, I’ve found that I can easily pre-order cuts of meat, types of cheese, seafood, eggs and large amounts of produce (like strawberries for jam) and pick them up at my local farmer’s market. Farmer’s like this because they know they are bringing items to market that will be sold. And I love it because I don’t have to get to the market only to find out that no one has any chicken breasts left.

Tip Four–Allow Flexibility for the Unexpected

From menu planning/shopping system, you might think I’m a control freak. Well, that would be partially true, but I also love getting to the market and finding out that something new is available. If I’ve planned my menu right (see below), I may be able to add something unexpected into our menu. Or maybe it becomes a lunch snack. I can also make a note of it and work it in next week. The point is, don’t make yourself so controlled that you miss the beauty of the market.

Tip Five–Incorporate Some “Go-To” Flexible Recipes

There are some recipes (roast chicken) that are pretty straightforward, simple and easy on the brain. I like to have some other, flexible, veggie-loving recipes that are always in rotation and can use almost anything in the refrigerator. These recipes are a good way to use up what’s left at the end of the week and a great way to incorporate those unexpected purchases. Here are some examples:

  • Stir-fry (one protein + chopped up veggies + onion + a whole grain)
  • Quiche/frittata (basic quiche/frittata recipe + 1 c. vegetables)
  • Pizza (one whole wheat crust + 2 c. chopped veggies + sauce/olive oil + cheese)
  • Roasted vegetables and pasta (16 oz. pasta + 2-3 c. roasted veggies + sauce/olive oil + cheese)
  • Saladpalooza (bowl of washed greens + assortment of chopped veggies + 1 protein + dressing)
  • Soup (4 c. chicken stock + pasta/rice + 3 c. sautéed vegetables)
  • Quesadillas (2 tortillas + fat-free refried beans + 1 c. sautéed vegetables + cheese + salsa)

Tip Six–Shop With a List

Now that I’ve addressed flexibility, once you have your list, stick to it unless you are POSITIVE you will use it. Back away from the impulse purchases that have no relationship to your menu. If you don’t have a menu that will work, say, rutabegas in, then do not buy them. I mean it…scoot, scoot!

Tip Seven–Make Use of What You Have

Americans throw away an obsene amount of food each year. Sometimes it happens that I get a huge amount of one vegetable in our Produce Box and it’s more than we can eat right away. Or maybe we have a last-minute change of plans and we don’t end up eating all our meals. In this case, the freezer is your best friend. Rather than throw away chicken because we didn’t make a big dinner, I can roast or bake it while we’re finishing up homework, take it off the bone and freeze it for later. Or, like last week when I received WAY more spring onions that we needed, I chopped them up, bagged them in freezer bags in 1 cup servings and froze them for later. Greens, like collards, mustard greens, kale and turnip greens, can also be cooked and frozen to eat later.

Tip Eight–Stock Up and Put It Up

Eating locally does not mean surviving on nothing but sweet potatoes and collard greens all winter. You can enjoy local peaches in February, delicious local corn in December and turnips in July. You just have to plan ahead. We’re new at this, but it’s already become a very enjoyable part of our farmer’s market trips. Food preservation is one of the oldest culinary skills around and guess what? It’s fun! You have three options when preserving your precious bounty–canning, freezing and drying. When fruits and vegetables are at their peak, stock up (prices are also lowest at this time) and save those wonderful flavors for later. You will save money and get high quality, delicious food all year-long!

Tip Nine–Ask. And Then Ask Again!

The local food network in my area (and I’m willing to bet in yours, too) is a close-knit community of farmers, chefs, bakers, cheese makers, etc. If you want something and can’t find it, ask around. I was amazed at what I learned once I started asking. Somehow in my mind, I thought that our local food producers would be highly secretive and competitive. While there may be some competition going on out there, the people I have found are pretty straight up. If I want something they don’t have, they don’t try to sell me something else. They tell me who has it. Sometimes they’ll actually walk me down to the other vendor and help me out. Crazy. And lovely.

Tip Ten–Realize That Sometimes You’ll Blow It

I’m human. And I love seafood. So when fresh seafood starts coming to our local market in the early spring, I go a little crazy. And going a little crazy usually means I blow my budget. Maybe even by a lot. I think this spring we had an entire week of nothing but seafood. At the end of the day, though, it’s like a fun celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of lighter foods on our menu. As long as it’s not a usual occurence, we’re ok. We make up for it over the next few weeks and we calm down our purchases. So stay on budget, but don’t let an occasional celebration ruin your joy.

What are your tips and strategies?? I’d love to hear them!

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10 Comments

  1. Keep a well-stocked pantry – so when you have a lot of something from when you went a little crazy, you can just Google it! That way you never have to go back to the store. I realize that this requires a little bit of practice and a tiny bit of kitchen proficiency, but not that much 🙂

    Reply
  2. What a great list! I would only add that a read of Tamar Adler’s book, An Everlasting Meal, is a great complement to what you’ve included here, and will raise your confidence level about how to make sure you eat up all the wonderful food that you can get at the market!

    Reply
  3. I still need to work on the shop with a list! I get side tracked so easily with what looks good.

    Reply
  4. Reblogged this on Rachel's Table and commented:
    Two reblogs in one weekend? Yup. Because this one is just too good not to share–Ten Tips for Locavore Food Shopping. Numbers 5, 7, and 8 are my favorites. Any one else out there have local eating/shopping/cooking tips to add?

    Reply
  5. Great post Rachel, looks like you are learning lots! Thanks for sharing your leanings, all of it makes absolute sense

    Reply
  6. Trader Joe’s plots to destroy attempts at sticking to a grocery list. But anyway, to answer the question, we keep a well stocked pantry of: several shapes pasta, jars of crushed tomato, boxes of several kinds of bean (usually chickpeas, canellini, black, kidney), several types/colors of rice, quinoa, dried lentils and mung bean sprouts, oats, several types of olive oil, other oils (coconut, seasame, avocado), several types of vinegar (rice, red & white wine, apple cider), capers, boxes of vegetable broth, jars of “better than bullion” in beef and chicken, a jar or two of excellent marinara and a hearty veggie filled pasta sauce, whole wheat flour, brown & white sugar, several kinds of chopped or sliced nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans usually), several types of seeds (hemp, seasame, sunflower, & pumpkin usually), some dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, blueberries, coconut, mango), black and green olives, jars of pickles, mayo, mustard, a FULL spice cabinet, soy sauce, worchestier sauce, jar of powdered horseradish, nutritional yeast, boxes of shelf-stable almond milk, aaaaaand, I think thats basically it!

    Reply

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