A few months ago, the big food source question for me was whether I should buy things at the big supermarket or at the co-op. This month in particular, we've been moving farther away from grocery stores of all sorts. Here's where it does come from:
Meat -- we had a three-month meat CSA (including beef, whole chickens, and eggs) that finished its deliveries in June, but we've got about 10 pounds of beef still in the freezer. I would bike to an adjoining suburb and pick up the meat and eggs directly from the farmer. I have since found another farmer (same good grazing/organic principles but cheaper) from whom I'm buying chickens, pork, eggs, and butter. Their delivery site isn't as close, but I can get my veggies in the same trip. Today we signed up to buy 1/4 beef from a farmer in western Minnesota. It'll save $200 over buying from my CSA farmer, but we'll have to drive 130 miles to get it. That tank of gas is still far less than $200 and we'll get to hang out at the farm for the day, which I've been meaning to do all summer. That beef should last us a year, for about $400. I'd like to find a farmer from whom I can buy milk and cheese, but the one I heard about didn't return my call. If I wanted raw milk, I'd have lots of options.
Vegetables -- the garden gave us all the lettuce we could eat for about 6 weeks (plus all our neighbors and friends). We got a handful of sugar snap peas every few days during late June and a bit of July. The first green beans started in early July and we can pick enough for dinner every 3 or 4 days. The first bush beans are done, the second planting is in full swing, and the third planting is flowering. We ate the first pole beans tonight and should have those until frost. I'm hoping to have green beans 2-3 times a week through September. We're up to about one cherry tomato a day with lots of 2" green Romas on the way. Something ate my 2" green pepper last night and I'm peeved. We have a bunch of 1.5" Jalapenos. I just planted fall peas and lettuce. The birds got most of the black raspberries, the broccoli went straight to flower, and the onions were small. I picked one carrot and was pretty happy with its size -- we'll have a few dozen more of those. The pumpkins, cukes, and squash are flowering.
We share a weekly CSA box and that's now providing most of the rest of our vegetables. I still buy a bag of onions, carrots, and garlic every few weeks to fill in.
Fruit -- We get an enormous box of organic fruit every other week from the veggie CSA farm (it isn't grown locally). We're figuring out how to spread it out, but we're doing well if it lasts 10 days. This past weekend, I bought a pint of peaches, a pint of cherries, and a watermelon from a farmer's stand (none local or organic, but at least the money went just to farmers) to fill in the gap until Thursday. We'll have a year's worth of rhubarb jam that I canned or froze in May. I'm planning to go berry picking later this week and will freeze as many blueberries and raspberries as I can to hopefully provide some fruit once it goes out of season.
Dry goods -- A month ago, we bought 5 lb bags of dried apricots and cranberries, a variety of nuts and seeds, and a 5 lb canister of baking powder, all from a natural foods buying club that has a low minimum order and doesn't require enormous amounts of each item. I believe 4 families went together on the order and we paid double the minimum. I spent $190 but I think the nuts and seeds are going to last a long time. I might run out of the dried fruits before the next delivery at the end of August. So long as we don't eat more than usual, everything will be cheaper than the co-op. I specifically didn't buy flour, rice, or noodles because I can get it cheaper from the local stores. My approach has been to refill the fruit jars once a week as if I was filling them at the grocery store, except I only went to the basement.
Hair/body care -- I ordered soaps and shampoos from a WAHM who makes them herself through a co-op at 35% off. Still waiting for them to arrive, though.
Frontier -- I'm getting mass-produced natural products at wholesale price through Frontier (fair-trade coffee, sunscreen, yeast, and other odds and ends). I found someone a mile away who orders whenever she needs enough to get free shipping. I don't have to pay a co-op fee or shipping fees and I can bike to pick them up. I ought to get deoderant and toothpaste through them, but haven't gone there yet.
Other small sellers -- I get maple syrup by the gallon from a farmer who drops it off at a friend's house. If I need particular cuts of meat on short notice or more honey, I go to Midtown Market, which is a collection of small businesses in an old Sears distribution center. One section has a collection of happy meats, dairy, and honey grown locally.
What's left -- I haven't been to the co-op for a few weeks because I mainly bought vegetables there and bulk goods. I got the bulk goods through the buying club and can get the few organic veggies I need at the grocery store. At the grocery store (I wait until pasta and diced tomatoes are on sale), I get organic dairy, canned tomatoes (not for much longer), pasta, rice, and flour (the first two not necessarily from the natural aisles), and Edy's ice cream (only when it's 2 for 1). Toilet paper's just about the only paper product we buy and I had a bunch of Target gift cards I was using for those. I went to CVS last week and only bought things that were on sale and for which I had a coupon (toothbrushes, toothpaste, razor blades). My biggest money saver was just before we went on vacation. Target was selling three 12 pks of pop (hey, I'm a Minnesotan) for $7, plus a free 1.5 qt container of my favorite ice cream (usually $6). I brought in 3 $1 off coupons for the pop. I ended up spending $4 (and that was actually a gift card) on about $15 worth of pop and ice cream. I don't usually buy pop, but we needed to bring drinks to share to the cabin. I find that we've been running to the corner store (expensive non-organic stuff, but I can walk there) a couple times in the past week or two because we haven't stocked up on milk and cheese and haven't done much meal planning. But I'd rather support the small store owner now and then anyway. I'd prefer to get back into the meal planning, but we're successfully finding ways to cook the trickier vegetables from the CSA and not wasting anything, so it isn't too bad. My grocery budget for July was $300 and we're just going to make that, although the bulk foods and meats aren't included with that. I'm hoping that I'll be able to can enough tomatoes to make a dent on that part of the winter food budget and ideally get some peas or beans frozen along with the berries. We'll see. Our CSA veggies will come through December, so it's only February through April where we have to buy more.