I am on a mission. A mission to do the bulk of my "grocery" shopping before frost sets in . . . Not my grocery shopping for the week or the month, but for the winter, and eventually, the year.
Our customers always comment that we must never have to buy groceries - we might get there one day, but with two wee babes and a steep learning curve, we're not there yet! So, in attempt to eat as close to home and as cleanly as possible, I've embarked on this quest to see what I can learn, who I can meet and what lovely things I can find to feed my family through the dark days of winter.
Here's how I'm doing it.
Take a realistic look at your diet. Can you simplify it? What do you really love to eat and cook? What are you likely to ACTUALLY eat and cook?
What do you have room for? Do you have a garage that could work as cold storage? Could you share bulk purchases with family and friends? Do you know how to can and preserve? How much room do you have in your freezer? Your space and storing ability will determine how long a period you can purchase for. Be creative. Even in an apartment with a balcony you can store a lot of food. (Better yet, barter with friends for freezer space!)
Figure out what you need. How many pounds of onions do you eat a week? Potatoes? Flour?
Next, the fun part.
A Treasure Hunt of Sorts
If you really want to eat well, inexpensively and locally, you have to be prepared to search in some pretty strange and unexpected places.
Craigslist, of all things, is my go-to source for groceries. Yes, Craigslist. I know, it's weird. It's also wonderful. Check out the Farm & Garden section of the Abbotsford / Fraser Valley CL. Be amazed.
Go out into the world with a spirit of adventure - don't wait for good food to find you - ask! I've even posted want ads for specific foods and received a plethora of replies.
Look Under Your Nose
Last week I called every small local farm I could think of looking to buy about 100 pounds of storage onions. No one called me back. (What's with that!?)
A few days later a neighbour from up the road sauntered up the driveway - her organic wine grapes were ready for me to come pick - only 50 cents a pound! While I was there, she deftly up-sold me on her other goodies and guess what - she had storage onions, organic and a third of the price of any others I'd found. Done.
Ask around. Get to know your neighbours. I was always amazed to walk the alleys of East Van and see just HOW MUCH food was growing in those backyards, hidden from view. Don't be afraid to barter and trade, it builds community and is ridiculously satisfying!
Learn to Preserve the Harvest
Apparently canning's the thing to do amongst the hipster crowd these days. You don't need a beard and big glasses (oh wait, that's Jeff! But I'm pretty sure he doesn't know what a hipster is . . .) to preserve your own food. It's easy and cheap and requires little in the way of supplies.
Other than canning, there are lots of ways to put food by that are simple and effective. I rip the leaves off my beets, boil them in the biggest pot I have and bung them serving-sized freezer bags. When I want beets I don't have to boil them an hour, I just defrost them, rinse off the skins and hey-presto, supper.
There are lots of amazing blogs out there featuring traditional food preservation; drying, fermentation, cold-storage - and more and more are geared towards folks who don't have a barn with a million freezers.
Let's face it, most of us wouldn't know what to do with an entire side of beef. But get together a couple of other families and suddenly you've broken down both the bill and the required freezer space, and scored organic pastured steaks for less than the price of feedlot burgers.
The biggest lesson I've learned since moving to the farm from the city is if we want to live this lifestyle and eat this way, we need a thriving community. We have to know our neighbours, eat with them, share, work together, barter and trade, watch each other's kids, pitch-in in each other's kitchens and gardens and let go of some of our notions of separateness, hyper-individuality and isolation.
My Grocery Connections
Here's who I've bought groceries from so far this year:
Enjoy and happy shopping!
HOMEMADE CUSTARD SAUCE
Our flock is made up of a mix of heirloom chickens as well as a number of industrial laying hens rescued at auction.
We raise Buff Rocks, White Rocks, Cuckoo Marans, Araucanas, Speckled Sussex and Dark Cornish breeds. Our mixed flock gives us a lovely assortment of eggs in a variety of colours and sizes, from small pale white to dark terracotta even green and blue!
We'll be raising hogs for the first time this summer. We're trying out a couple of varieties to see which ones we like best for temperament, ability to forage, flavour and whatnot, but no matter what, we won't be raising the familiar pink pigs we all think of when we think of pork. Some of the hog breeds we are considering are actually critically endangered species.
We have a deep passion for heritage breed animals & heirloom vegetables here on the farm.
More and more of us are becoming aware of the loss of biodiversity due to rapidly increasing extinction of species caused by climate change and human activity. Unfortunately, many people don't know that our current industrial food system has caused an alarming decrease in the biodiversity of the plants and animals we rely on for our nourishment.
The lack of diversity makes our food system brittle and vulnerable to a myriad of threats; climate change, severe weather, drought, disease, corporate monopolies, reliance on harmful pesticides and herbicides and antibiotic resistance, to name a few. Maintaining older varieties of plants and animals helps protect them from extinction, makes our food system more resilient, and brings a host of flavour and joy to our tables that the industrial food system just can't provide.
But wait, if they're endangered, we shouldn't eat them, should we?
It seems counter-intuitive, but yes, choosing rare breed meat and veg can actually help a species recover from the brink of extinction. If there is consumer demand for a particular type of meat, farmers are more likely to take the extra time and care required to raise them - and the more farmers raising them, the better off the whole breed will be. We even raised a breed that had been thought to be extinct! The Chantecler is the only Canadian chicken breed and is incredibly hardy and resourceful. Lucky for us it survived!