Buying food locally is another tip to save money on your food budget because it eliminates all of the middlemen. Another of those win/win situations that I like so much is when you eliminate transportation from different states and countries, you also help the environment. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and Buying Clubs (Co-Ops) are also options to save money on your food budget.
Variety is the spice of life. Although including ethical and regional foods to your menu is not about saving money. I could not help but add this information to this section. Every area throughout the world has different varieties of foods. I even build memories into my menu by including recipes that I have gotten from people during many of my travels.
If you are going to include farmers’ markets in your repertoire of places to get food items, the first thing you need to know the difference between Public Markets and Street Markets. Public markets are open year-round whereas produce sold by farmers are seasonal. Both types of markets are useful; you just need to know what items are best at each market.
For example, before I moved to Florida recently, my family always went to one Public Market. There were several Amish markets in that Public Market. Although saving money is one priority, the quality of some items is sometimes equally as important. For example, the meat at the Amish meat market was top quality and always extremely fresh. An Amish bakery had homemade muffins, rolls, and fruit breads that we could not find anywhere else. We knew that both baked goods and meats were more expensive than at supermarkets; however, the quality and freshness of meats as well as the baked items we could get there was more of a priority to us.
- Public Market: located indoors, in a building. They sell a variety of dry goods as well as produce and are open year-round.
- Street Market: always located outside: along streets or roadside corners, in parking lots, in flea markets, in some state parks, etc. They are only available during growing season.
Learn where farmers markets are located around your home. If you do not know where farmers’ markets are in your area, check out this reference from the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Farmers’ Market Search and Local Harvest.
There are many reasons to buy produce from farmers markets:
- To eliminate BPA from your diet. BPA is in most cans that manufacturers use.
- Lack of mass production reduces the possibility of E. coli in produce.
- Produce at many farmers markets is pesticide-free. Ask the farmer before you buy what method he/she uses.
- Most produce is GMO-free.
- Produce tastes better due to the reduced time between being picked, being shipped to markets.
- It helps the local farmers as well as your community.
- When food items are safer and cheaper, you will find it easier to try new foods. If they do not like the new foods, the cost is less than you would have paid at supermarkets. Below are some references that compare farmers’ markets to grocery stores:
- Many public markets sell nuts, grains, seeds, flours, etc., many times in bulk.
- Many public markets sell seasonings and almost always much, much cheaper than you can get in the supermarket.
- I reuse many glass jars in a variety of sizes and put my own labels on them with the various seasonings in the jars and I also provide health tips on a label that I put on the backside of the jar.
- It is a great way to get the kids involved. Let them pick out the various fruits and veggies, learn to cook, plan meals, etc. To get you started, check out some of these resources:
There are hundreds of websites that show fruits & veggies in season so I will not belabor this issue. However, I will share some of my favorite websites for anyone who does not know where to start:
- FDA: Nutrition Information for Raw Fruits, Vegetables, and Fish
- Fresh for Kids, Australia: growing season is different from the USA; however, this site has an amazing section for fruits & veggies
- Fruits & Veggies; More Matters
- Institute of Child Nutrition: Produce Safety Fact Sheets
- Lifehack: 20 Incredible Facts About Eating Fruits And Vegetables That You Probably Didn’t Know
- Smosh Food Faces
- WebMD Slideshow Fun Facts About Fruits & Vegetables
- Questions to as a Produce Farmer
- What to eat when you are broke
NOTE: In most cases, Street Markets are available only one day a week or just on weekends. That is because the people who sell the produce at Street Markets all have jobs.
- You will need to decide if the inconvenience of a Street Market available hours outweighs the convenience of supermarkets that are open 7 days/week.
- The amount of produce that I can get at a Street Market is usually far more than I can get at any supermarket in my area. That makes it well worth my time. All I do is to build the time that the different Street Markets in my area are open into my schedule. I make an appointment with myself.
NOTE: The USDA provides a guide: USDA Nutrition Through the Seasons, however, that reference only takes into account the growing season in the northern portion of the United States. I recently moved to southwest Florida and the growing season here is totally different from the northern states. The reason I am including this reference is if you click on each of the produce items listed, the information in the next website includes some recipes, how to select the produce, how to store the produce, and other great references.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
CSAs connect consumers with farmers and producers. You must subscribe to CSA. In exchange for your subscription (or membership), you will receive a weekly delivery of locally grown food that is in season. References: Wikipedia, Ecolife, Local Harvest, and USDA.
CSAs and Co-Ops may be a great option for some people. Serious Eats provides the Pros and Cons. Another option is to gather friends, family members, and neighbors and subscribe as a group. Everyone likes different food items. If a shipment includes produce that you do not like personally, someone in your group will probably like that produce. And visa versa.
Food trucks are becoming increasingly popular. It is becoming easier to find food trucks in many locations. We have found that not only is the food usually delicious, but it is an excellent bargain. For example, while we were in Hawaii, searched for food trucks on Oahu and asked the locals where the best food trucks were. We were directed to Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. There were about 10 different food trucks that met at a local park. Our shrimp dinner cost $13.50 and the portion was huge. The food was amazingly great tasting! We ended with ice cream ($3.50 for a double scoop) from an ice cream truck that was also in the park.
Because most food trucks do not have websites, it is easier to find them either using apps or on social media. Additionally, many food trucks move around. However, try finding food trucks at FoodTrucksIn. If you can find the name of food trucks, you can usually find them on facebook or other social media sites. There are iPhones and Android apps available such as Food Truck Nearby or Eat St. Some apps list food trucks by cuisine, some offer current locations and display them on maps.
Street foods rank right up there with this novel way of having dinner. Because there is little overhead like there is for restaurants in brick & mortar buildings, street foods are cheaper than in restaurants. Street foods are another way to experience local cuisine at extremely reasonable prices. Because street food vendors are mobile, you can check out apps such as Street Food App, or Street Food Finder.
Ethnic Food Markets
Another way to add variety to your menu is to check out ethnic grocery stores and local foods. It also helps those local communities. Since you have to eat while you travel anyway, why not get the best and help the locals? Whenever you travel anywhere, if you stay within the local “tourist areas”, you will miss a great opportunity. I learned years ago when traveling that the best way to find great tasting food was to ask local people. More often than not, I was directed to a little “hole in the wall” restaurant and the food was always great.
Ethnic food markets focus on one type of food items, which is why many times you can get foods cheaper at ethnic food markets. What better place to find ethnic foods than from immigrants from different countries? Usually, people from different cultures tend to move to locations where there are already people of the same culture. Therefore, one way you can find where ethnic food markets are located is by searching geographic locations of each city.
- If you do not know where ethnic markets are located near where you live, search by the type of ethnicity. Some suggestions to find ethnic markets or bakeries near you: “Italian Markets, xxx, xx”, “German Markets, xxx, xx”, “Greek Markets, xxx, xx”, etc. In each case, replace xxx with your city and xx with your state.
- The Specialty Grocer has a directory. You can select your state; however, the selection of cities is limited. You get better results if you enter your zip code.
- Local.com is another resource. Search for xxx Markets (replace xxx with the culture or country)
- Search for xxx Markets Near Me (replace the xxx with the country or culture).
Talk with the owners of those stores. It is a great way to include a huge amount of variety into your menu. Many ethnic store owners will happily share some of their recipes with you. As with farmers’ markets, if you get to know the owners, you will learn amazing facts about their countries that you never knew.
Miscellaneous – Caveat
The next two suggestions are not necessarily the cheapest ways to get foods. The reason I am including them in this Buy Local section is that they can be fun and will add diversity in your menu. After all, your menu is not only foods that you prepare yourself.
Pick Your Own
For a time, U-Pick farms were cheaper than purchasing produce at grocery stores and in some cases, even farmers markets. However; because people ate so much produce as they were picking the items, Pick Your Own is no longer cheaper than supermarkets. U-Pick farms are not necessarily organic. The only reason I am listing U-Pick farms here is because it is still fun to take the family out, sometimes, because it is a great quality family event for all ages.
Some of the best times my family had was when we went to U-Pick (or Pick Your Own) orchards and farms. That includes both when I was growing up and also when I had my own family before they grew up and left the nest. I am all about making memories. When I was young, we had so much laughing and playing around the apple orchard that we lost track of how many apples we had picked. When we got our BUSHELS of apples home, my sister and I were charged with making recipes to use all those zillions of apples. We made a variety of flavored applesauce, apple crunch, apple pie, apple bread, apple turnovers, baked apples, etc. We finally discovered that our Mother was quietly putting apples that were in the kitchen sink into a pocket she had made with her nightgown and hiding them in her bedroom. She was tired and wanted to go to bed!
When I had my own family, and then extended family when their daughter – my granddaughter – we went to U-Pick farms to pick blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. That is when I learned to use a solution of vinegar and water to swish the berries in before putting them in the car to take home. Even though the trip home was only about 30 minutes, before I started using the vinegar solution, many times the berries would be moldy by the time we got home!
- Mix one part vinegar to 10 parts water in a large bowl or clean bucket. Add berries and quickly swish the berries in the solution. Put them back into the box or container the farm put them in when you checked out. Take them home. Rinse in clear water before you use them.
- I use this same technique whether I get the berries at a U-Pick or from the supermarket.
- Freeze berries by spreading them in a single layer on a cookie sheet or other flat pan. Put it in your freezer for several hours. Remove them from the freezer and immediately put them in re-sealable bags. Label the bags with the date picked and put the bags back into your freezer. The berries will be good for 5-6 months.
Every region throughout the United States has foods that are local only to that region. For example, when I grew up in Upstate New York, we had Coneys. If you search for “coney”, you will find hot dogs with chili on them. Upstate New York coneys, now known as Snappy Grillers, are made from pork and veal, and they are white. I always had them in a fresh hotdog roll with spicy mustard on it. You can only get them in Upstate New York. We also had clambakes that included (in addition to clams) salt potatoes and corn on the cob. One last thing that we had was cheese curd. We were in the heart of dairy farmers and cheese curd was just taken for granted. That is, until I moved away from home and people never heard of “white hot dogs” or “salt potatoes” or “cheese curd”.
I cannot go into as much detail about other regional foods; however, I can get you started. My goal is to help you to provide variety in your menu.
There are a number of ways to divide the United States into regions. However, the regional foods I am talking about are each state’s region. Rather than listing all of the regions in each state, I found a great list of states’ regions on Wikipedia. thought it better to provide the regions of each state with a hyperlink. You will already know some of the regional foods in your state’s region.
What’s Cooking America provides a great start for cuisines for regions of the United States.
Hopefully some of the information in this article has been helpful for you. Please leave a comment to let me know what some of the foods are in your area.
TAKE ACTION #1: Take note of the various supermarkets, superstores, little Mom & Pop ethnic grocery stores, and other merchants that are in your area that you never noticed before. You will find that when you include a wide variety of foods into your menu, everyone will look forward to meals.
#2: Visit one Organic at least one of each: CSA, Co-Op, U-Pick Farm with your family. Ask each family member whether or not they liked what they saw.
#3: What are some of the regional foods where you live? Have you ever had any of them?