Many of us love the idea of homesteading… but are unable to do it yet. I'm here to tell you, just because you do not grow and raise most of your own food right now, this does not limit you to the grocery store as your only source of food.
Ironically, although there are grocery stores galore, the conventional grocery store is often the hardest (and most expensive) place to find well-raised or well-grown, quality natural foods. Fortunately, there are numerous alternatives!
And they are…
Farmers and Homesteaders
Turn to local farmers and homesteaders in your area. Farmers often sell their products locally, and homesteaders may sell their products depending on the scale of farming they do. It’s definitely worth inquiring. This is a particularly efficient way to source meat and dairy, especially since if you purchase in bulk — a side of beef or a dozen chickens — the price will be discounted.
If you source food directly from a local farm, there is no beating your confidence in the product you are receiving. You know where it came from, where it was processed and how it was raised. Additionally, you are supporting local foods, small farmers and businesses, and often ecologically-minded growing practices which benefit the animal, land, and consumer.
Websites like Eat Local Grown and Local Harvest are designed to connect you with local farmers and producers in your area. You can also begin your search by asking friends and co-workers, or visiting a farmer’s market to ask the sellers there.
Speaking of farmers' markets, many areas, even urban downtowns, typically have a farmers' market or two (or more). Check newspapers, the internet, town centers, and local farms — just ask around for locations. Farmers' markets are particularly great sources for fresh produce because often the produce is picked that morning and brought straight to market.
Talk with the farmers at the market and ask questions about their growing practices. Just because their products aren’t labeled “organic” doesn't mean they aren’t grown carefully. Many farmers farm in sustainable, ecologically-minded ways but have never gone through the organic certification process (which can be expensive and difficult for small farmers). Talking with farmers is also a great means of networking. They may be able to source other products for you, even if they are not currently sold at the market.
CSA stands for Community Sustained Agriculture. CSAs are run in various ways, but typically the buyers pay a fee for the upcoming growing season at the end of the previous season. This money helps the farmer prepare for the upcoming year, and the number of shares sold helps the farmer determine demand. As the farmer grows produce, the buyers each receive a box of produce every week, which is their share of the harvest.
CSAs are a fabulous way to get super fresh, locally grown, in-season produce. Depending on where you live, your season may be shorter or longer, but you’re likely to receive produce for at least half the year, if not more. Some CSAs also include other local products like milk, eggs, cheese, and honey.
Sometimes a CSA requires a certain amount of farm service, either as a part of purchasing a share, or in exchange for a discounted share. This is a wonderful opportunity for children to get hands-on practice farming and learn where their food comes from. (If you have an eye toward homesteading in the future, this is also a great learning opportunity for you!)
Pick Your Own
If you live in the suburbs or in an agricultural area, there are likely to be u-pick farms nearby. Get to know the owners and ask about their growing practices. Frequent the farm throughout the growing season and pick all you can. Dehydrate, can, ferment or freeze extra produce for the rest of the year. Don’t forget to ask about seconds — the farmer sells imperfect produce and you get a great deal. Nothing is wasted. It’s a win-win situation!
Even if you can’t all-out homestead, you can always grow something. Lettuce and herbs will grow in a sunny window or even under a grow light. Keep in mind you can likely grow more than you think you can, as I wrote last month. If you have any homesteading desires or plans, gardening in some capacity right now should be on your “must-do” list. Now is the time to learn on a small scale before you venture forth on a large scale.
Co-ops are run in many different fashions, but typically co-ops provide you with the ability to purchase in bulk a wide variety of products at low prices. I currently belong to two co-ops. One is run from a farm on a small scale. The other is run on a large scale across a region of states. Both co-ops provide me with quality food at excellent prices.
Local Produce Delivery
Produce delivery can be a worthwhile option for busy people, especially busy people in suburban areas or big cities. A local produce delivery service networks with local farmers and delivers a box of fresh, locally-grown produce to your doorstep each week. Typically a delivery service is not your most cost-effective option, but it is an easy way to purchase local foods and support the local farmers in your area. (There are also local milk delivery services in some areas.)
While the internet wouldn’t be my top go-to source for food, it can be a useful and cost-effective means of obtaining some foods, particularly foods that are not local to your area like coconut oil. Vitacost sells coconut oil and raw organic honey. Because of their “free shipping over $49” deal, I make large purchases periodically throughout the year. While I do grow some of my own herbs, Mountain Rose Herbs is my go-to source for herbs and essential oils. And occasionally I find good deals on overstocked meats at Organic Prairie.
Many natural and real food eaters wonder if it is worthwhile to join a large warehouse store such as Costco. I think it is because, like the internet, a warehouse store can provide you with food that may not be local to your area, often for good prices. Some of the items my mom and I buy at our local Costco are coconut oil, organic olive oil, USA-grown nuts, wild-caught salmon (fresh, frozen, or smoked), frozen organic USA-grown vegetables, and sometimes fresh organic produce. Throughout the year other items pop up here and there, as well.
I hope this post has inspired you, brought you some new ideas or got you thinking out of the box. As I mentioned before, websites like Eat Local Grown and Local Harvest are useful in helping you find most of these alternative shopping choices. There is quality food to be had — sometimes we just need to do a bit of searching to find it.
Where do you do your alternative grocery shopping?
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