How expensive is it?

A few weeks ago I put out the invitation to turn this blog into a sounding board.  I wanted it to be a place to ask questions, get more details and tell me what you want to see here.  I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded, comfortable person to be around and I was hoping that people would accept my invite.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a steady stream of comments and questions making their way to the blog.  It appears that I am a welcoming shoulder and, at least occasionally, a voice worth listening to.

My good friend, Melisa, asked me a simple question: “How do you afford this?”  She was specifically referring to the lifestyle we are actively adopting: local and organic food choices; removing harmful, easy to come by cleaners and chemicals from our home; and switching from wasteful products to reusable and recyclable alternatives.  Her question was a personal inquisition, but it also echoed the sentiments of our greater population.

One of the biggest hurdles I faced before starting this project and the very reason for not doing it before January 1, 2010 was my preconceived notion of the high price tag.  I have faced this fear and flicked {flipped!} off the sage on my shoulder warning me that bankruptcy was nearing as I loaded up one five-dollar gallon of milk after another into my grocery cart.

The question of the high cost of food seems to resonate with most people when discussing the lifestyle choices we have made.  Without boring you with number crunched details or invading our personal finances too much, I want to tell you how we are doing it.  We are now into June and have spent five full months making it happen.  During this time, we ran head first into that nasty, unanticipated roadblock called “unemployment” and sat in that rut for almost three months.  After finally being plucked from this pit of despair, we found ourselves packing Beckett up and sending her off to full-time daycare carrying a massive chunk of our paychecks in her hands.  What I am trying to say is if we can do it on a minimal budget that involves weekly stipends from the State of Washington, it can be done.

It’s strange to me that “cost” is the holdup for many people, because truth be told it’s “time” (or lack thereof) that has been our greatest struggle.  To round out the riddle of affordability the strain on time is a direct correlation of trying to reduce the cost.  In effect time management has become the key.

We no longer prescribe to “one stop shopping” and our entire week is focused on a menu.  The menu is built by Jacob and me each week while referencing our calendar and allowing for baseball games, work functions, social get-togethers, errands and chores.  The next step is to extrapolate the items that will be picked up at the Farmer’s Market that weekend and/or the local farm stands that we buy a handful of our foods from. And, from what’s left we shop.  Menu in hand, Beckett in the cart, away we go.

The planning takes time.

The shopping at a half-dozen places every two weeks takes time.

By planning ahead I am able to enjoy fresh produce purchased during the peak of the season for a fraction of the cost.  Dinners {relaxed?!} at home with my favorite people are pure bliss.  The farmers and growers we have gotten to know and talk with each week are becoming more than happenstance acquaintances.  The preplanned menu in-hand ensures that only a limited number of splurges and unnecessary products make it back home with us from the grocery store.

Skeptics tend to question the affordability of shopping local and/or organic and neglect to take into account the simple fact that processed food has a cheaper price tag upfront, but the actual costs run deep and fan out wide.  Local food particularly and organic food to a certain extent don’t fall prey to these same restraints and boast a price point that discloses all or most of the costs involved.  I could stand on my soapbox and shout this message from the rooftops, but I don’t want to slug waist deep in a mud pit of monotonous diatribe.  But, the numbers don’t lie.

So, for us, the price we pay is reasonable and affordable.

I will pay for fresh, in season produce at its peak and enjoy the fractional price and beyond comparison taste.

I refuse to purchase out of season produce that has been shipped from south of the equator and carries the residue of petroleum transportation.  For months, I steadfastly walked away from the organic strawberries showing their beautifully red faces.  I was waiting until July (but, low and behold, June bestowed an early gift!).

Beckett enjoying a fresh-from-the-garden, in-season, June-perfect strawberry!

Beckett enjoying a fresh-from-the-garden, in-season, June-perfect strawberry!

I limit our menu selections to meals made from scratch and using as much fresh produce as possible.  Asparagus graced our dinner plates every other night for the last half of April and almost all of May.  The ingredients for Sloppy Jakes come from our fridge, not a can.

Very few of our snacks are prepackaged.  We enjoy apples and dried fruit.

I believe in a meet and greet mentality when it comes to the growers of my food.  I want to touch your chickens and see the shit your cows are standing in (or not standing in!).  I want to exchange names and be on a first-name basis.  Being local and knowing who and where your food comes from makes the price all the more worth it.

In the end I am able to reason the price tag by focusing on my priorities.  The quality of the food we eat, the location of where it was grown and brought in from and the lives of the people invested in its journey are some of the highest concerns for my family.  It is not simply a matter of taste or a desire to snub my nose at the industrialized world.  I have a steely determination to opt for food free from pesticides and produce that supports local farmers.  I will put in the extra effort required to search out eateries that stand-by the quality of the meat they are grilling and rotate menu items based on the seasons of our region.  And, I am willing to pay for fewer text messages or less cable channels if it means choosing to eat local and healthy.  This is my priority.

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