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We sometimes hear people say that eating locally is more expensive. We acknowledge that out-of-pocket costs for local, organic, sustainably-raised food is higher.

However, the price of industrial food is artificially low. Many costs are hidden, including those to our personal health and the health of the planet. More discussion on this enormous issue can be found in Chapter 1.

Steve Suppan, Director of Research at the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy, says, “It’s not that we really produce cheap food, just that by externalizing a lot of the cost, we’ve made it appear to be cheap.”[1]

Much of our industrial, processed and fast food, with its high fat, salt and sugar content, contributes to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses. Health care costs related to those conditions are not reflected in the price per pound of the food we eat.

A 2009 study published in The Journal of Health Affairs reveals, “We estimate that the medical costs of obesity could have risen to $147 billion per year by 2008.”[2]

We price-shop for food in a way that we don’t for many other products. You want a faster computer with more features? A TV with a bigger screen? An automobile with better performance or styling? You know you will pay more. Quality in food also costs more, but we have been well-trained for decades to consider price as the most important criteria for our selections. It may be time to reconsider our priorities.

What is the value of food that tastes really good? Would you feel okay about paying more for a tomato that actually tastes like a tomato or a peach that is juicy and sweet? What is the value of food that is healthier for you? Is grass-fed beef, containing one-fourth the amount of fat of feed-lot beef (and better for your health) worth more money? Is the better value a sugary soda or two eggs from a pasture-raised hen? Each option costs less than a dollar.

That said, many people have serious economic constraints that cause the one-dollar hamburger to seem attractive. Here are some ideas to help save money without sacrificing food quality. Many of the ideas involve spending time rather than money. Some involve changing habits.

Grow Your Own Food[edit | edit source]

Growing in a small space, even in containers, can produce a lot of food.  If you don’t want to start a garden for all or most of your produce, start with an herb garden. If you like fresh herbs, you know how much they cost at the grocery. Many herbs are perennial, so you can plant once for several years of harvest. Plant a few fruit trees; they are easy to grow and can provide fruit for years.  If it’s allowed in your neighborhood, raise a few chicken for the eggs and/or meat.  Appendix H can help you get started growing some of your own food.

Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farm Program[edit | edit source]

Overall, your share of the farm products will cost less than buying produce items individually. Your menu planning will naturally follow the seasons. You will start with the available food and then decide what to cook rather than deciding what to cook and then look for the ingredients regardless of season.

Barter[edit | edit source]

In exchange for food, provide a service at which you are good. This might be a computer service, running errands, babysitting, accounting, or whatever your skill might be. Volunteer to work on a farm in exchange for food. You’ll gain skills and new friends.

Cook From Scratch[edit | edit source]

Home-cooked food is usually less expensive than processed food and healthier than fast food. Regardless of a person’s income level, cooking at home provides healthier diets. Take a cooking class. Read some of the articles in the food section of the local newspaper. Food for People offers free cooking classes at the Eureka North Coast Co-op kitchen. Cook with your children—it is an enjoyable family activity that will teach your children healthy food habits.

Process Your Own[edit | edit source]

Most packaged foods are very expensive per ounce—consider the price of salsa or salad dressing. A five-dollar bottle of salad dressing can be made at home for less than a dollar, using oil and vinegar or lemon, fresh garlic plus herbs from the kitchen garden. Chop tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and cilantro—voila! you have an excellent low-cost salsa. Next time you need whipped cream, buy local heavy cream and whip it yourself instead of spending nearly double the cost for an aerosol can. As you examine out-of-pocket costs for processed, prepared foods at the grocer, you will begin to see the savings in homemade. Some homemade items can be made in bulk and frozen for future use, saving both time and money.

Don’t Waste[edit | edit source]

Eat the food you buy. Don’t throw it away.

Timothy Jones, in a University of Arizona study, reports: “On average, households waste 14 percent of their food purchases. Fifteen per cent of that includes products still within their expiration date but never opened. Jones estimates an average family of four currently tosses out $590 per year, just in meat, fruits, vegetables and grain products.”[3]

Be Creative[edit | edit source]

Keep the peelings and trimmings from vegetables to make a vegetable soup stock. Buy a whole chicken for a lower-per-pound price and roast it for a meal. After dinner, remove the remaining pieces of meat. It might be enough for a chicken salad, or add it to that vegetable stock for a wonderful soup (with a few added vegetables). The leftover bones can also be used to make the stock for the soup. You can have at least one more meal from that chicken—maybe two.

Downplay Meat[edit | edit source]

Most Americans eat more meat than necessary for a healthy diet and meat is expensive. Adding a few vegetable-based meals to your weekly diet can save money and promote better health. Vegetarians do well without meat. 

If you use meat, use it as an ingredient rather than as a meal. Employ eggs or dairy products rather than red meat—it’s less expensive. If you want to include meat in your meal plan, buy range- or grass-fed meat or poultry raised in pastures. With the money saved from not buying a larger quantity of feed-lot meat, you can enjoy the higher quality of range-raised and organic poultry in the amounts you actually need. The recipe chapter on vegetable-based entrées provides more information.

In-Season Equals On-Sale[edit | edit source]

In-season produce and fruit is less expensive at the grocery and at the farmers’ markets. Negotiate with the farmer for bulk price for case-lots. Preserve some of that less expensive food for later use.

Forage[edit | edit source]

Gather, hunt and fish. It’s out there, go find it. It also might be fun. Make sure you know what to pick and where it is legal. Make sure you have proper fishing and hunting licenses and know the law.

Assistance[edit | edit source]

Apply for WIC coupons from The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. Use some of the WIC coupons to purchase good local food at our farmers’ markets. Most farmers are happy to take the coupons.

Contact Food for People (FFP), our local food bank.

Food for People is working to eliminate hunger and improve the health and well-being of our community through access to healthy and nutritious foods, community education and advocacy. Volunteers from FFP collect and distribute food gleaned from local farms, backyards and farmers’ markets. FFP currently distributes food throughout our community by means of 16 area food pantries. Food is also distributed through the Children’s Summer Lunch Program, Senior Brown Bag program and more. FFP now holds two People’s Produce Markets (music an added attraction), during the summer and early fall in Eureka and Garberville. Food for People, Inc. The Food Bank for Humboldt County 307 W. 14th St. Eureka CA 95501 707-445-3166 telephone 707-445-5946 fax

If you can afford it, send a little money to Food for People to help our neighbors through tough times.

Food For People encourages more people who are eligible for Food Stamps to get them. Only 57 percent of eligible people apply. Changes to eligibility rules in 2009 make it easier for families with children under 18, primarily, to qualify, but others may also qualify. This government money can add tremendously to the local economy. Use the stamps at farmers’ markets.

In 2008, through Food for People’s gleaning program, Humboldt farmers donated nearly 60,000 pounds of fresh, nutritious produce for community members in need.

Grace Good Shepherd Church in McKinleyville, like some other local churches, cultivates gardens specifically to produce fresh, organic food for low-income households in their community. The food goes to those who might not otherwise be able to afford organic vegetables. Do you belong to a local organization that might do the same?

Advocate for Policy Change[edit | edit source]

Our last suggestion will not save you money today but may help us all over the long term. Become aware of national legislation regarding government food policy and agricultural subsidies. Much legislation benefits large agri-business over the welfare of the consumer. If an issue is important to you, contact your government representatives and let them know your views. Two organizations can help you stay informed.

Signing up for e-mail notices from The Organic Consumers Association is an easy way to stay posted.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is an on-line and grass-roots non-profit 501(c)3 public interest organization campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability. The OCA deals with crucial issues of food safety, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, children’s health, corporate accountability, Fair Trade, environmental sustainability and other key topics.

We are the only organization in the U.S. focused exclusively on promoting the views and interests of the nation’s estimated 50 million organic and socially responsible consumers.[4]

Visit the The Cornucopia Institute’s web site for information related to family-scale farming. Their mission is:

Seeking economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Through research, advocacy, and economic development our goal is to empower farmers—partnered with consumers—in support of ecologically produced local, organic and authentic food.[5]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Roberts; End of Food, p. 221
  2. Finkelstein, Eric A., et al, Annual Medical Spending Attributable To Obesity: Payer- And Service-Specific Estimates, Health Affairs 28, no. 5 (2009): w822-w831 (published online 27 July 2009; 10.1377/hlthaff.28.5.w822)
  3. Jones, Timothy, “Half of US Food Goes to Waste”,
  4. Organics Consumers Association,
  5. The Cornucopia Institute,
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Authors phil
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Aliases Eating Locally on a Budget in the Six Rivers Region
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