"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Trade Network Blooper

Ooops. Apparently, I had a big misunderstanding with my next door neighbor. She's the elderly lady with such lovely fruit trees, and early in the spring I left a dozen eggs on her porch with a note asking if I could trade her eggs all season in exchange for "fruit off her trees in season." She called me on the phone and said that sounded like a nice idea. I've been leaving a dozen eggs on her porch every week since, probably up to about twelve dozen eggs by now.

Usually I don't see her, but yesterday, her front door was open, so I called out "hello!" and we chatted for a few minutes. I said it looked like the raspberries were coming on and could we come over and get some in a few weeks? She answered that her daughter usually gets most of the raspberries. Oh sure, I said. How about those cherries? How do they look? She said there really weren't going to be very many, it looked like a bad year for cherries. Oh bad luck, I said. Well, we'll just wait for the apples! Bye bye, have a nice day, hope you're enjoying the eggs.

This morning, the carton of eggs was in my mailbox, along with an envelope in which was twenty five dollars and a note which read "sorry for the misunderstanding, I thought you just wanted apples! I have a large family and they come first. I hope this money helps you feel better. Sorry you're upset but I didn't mean all the fruit."

Well now I feel just awful. First of all, I wasn't upset at all, and I'm not sure what I did to give her the impression that I was. I'm perfectly happy with "just apples." I hate to think I came off as some kind of fruit-mooch. And of course there's no way I can possibly take her money.  And now, there's no way I can possibly take her apples, either! I'm not sure what to do. I guess I'll send back another note with her money in it and just say "oh tra la la, I'm happy as a clam, no harm, no foul, here's your cash back."

Any ideas?


Walter Jeffries said...

Hi Aimee,

I tried to reply to your questions on Ethicurean about costs per meal but it doesn't seem to be accepting my reply. Here it is:

This is going to be a long answer...

I've been feeding our family for years, decades, on less than $1/meal so it is doable. We've done it almost all store bought, eating very little meat and dairy, as well as getting the better diet of when we've been raising food of our own. Note that is an average over the course of the year. There are some days we have treats that are fancier meals and some days where we eat for pennies a meal. We've been doing this long before we produced our own meat so the fact that we grow our own is not key - it can be done store bought. This is even during the spring when there is the least available left over from last year's harvest.

For a detailed "Week of Food" see:

Week of Food


Walter Jeffries said...

That lists things out in great detail of one week. Total it up and compare what your local costs are like to see how it compares to our 62¢/meal. Maybe things are more or less expensive where you are.

For us dairy is by far the number one purchased item both by cost and volume including milk, cheese, butter and yogurt. I really need to get cows, or start milking our pigs. My daughter suggests the latter. 14 to 16 teats and some of them are very bagged up!

Wheat and corn flour are another big bought thing. Barley and rice are a similar large portion of what we buy as we don't produce any grains.

Eggs and meat we produce. Before we produced them I avoided buying them and was almost vegetarian as a result. Not for philosophical reasons but because of cost and that I don't trust the industrial ag sources. Remember BSE and friends. Food scares are nothing new. For this reason we started with rabbits a long time ago gradually adding other animals and plants each year. One can't just jump into doing everything in one season but it is very doable if managed over a long journey.

Chocolate is something we buy but that isn't a big expense as it is just a treat. If I spend $20 on chocolate in a year per person that would be a lot and that comes to <2¢ per meal. Also is that entertainment like cigarettes are for some people or is that food? We don't drink coffee or liquor either although we use a tiny amount in cooking for seasoning. These are like spices which is really a very small expense. Salt and pepper are the biggest volume of spices we use and they really don't cost much. A little goes a long ways.

We buy very little soda pop which I have heard is a big expense for many people, as well as being a big source of calories. Expensive water. Speaking of which, we don't buy water, especially not in bottles. I don't know if that is part of your budget or not. It would make it harder to stay below $1/meal.

...continued in next comment...

Walter Jeffries said...

...continued from other comment...

In winter we eat a lot of soups and stews which we canned in the fall. They keep us warm internally as well as being nourishing. If one spends summers growing veggies, even on a small lot or roof top, one can put up a lot of food for the year. It gets lean in spring. With more mouths to feed come more hands to help. In a warmer climate one could raise food year round - we're pretty well limited to the summers yet it still works. Livestock help as they store up grass in the form of protein, lipids and minerals for us to eat in the winter.

We don't have fresh veggies all the time. Yes, you can get them year round, flown in from New Zealand, California or Mexico, if you want, but that is expensive. I also have qualms about such shipping. *shrug* The soups and stews have veggies. Some veggies like pumpkins, beats, turnips and such last until deep into spring. Fresh fruit or fresh veggies every week of the year are a luxury. If I had infinite money I might be tempted to buy them - except I don't like shopping so it would still be long periods between trips.


Walter Jeffries said...


On your homegrown meat costing so much because of the butchering costs - You are very correct that the processing is a big portion of the cost. This is the same with vegetables getting processed, chips or anything else. You pay for service. Do it yourself. Eliminate that cost. Learn to slaughter and butcher. Paying someone else for the service is a luxury just like eating out at a restaurant and having someone serve you. You pay for the service so they can pay their taxes, mortgage and for food. If you want to eat on a very low budget then you want to cut those luxury expenses. Of course, meat really doesn't cost $4/person/day because there is only a tiny bit, maybe 1/10th lb, in a meal. So even at $4/lb that comes to 40¢/meal and you don't have to eat meat every meal or even every day. If only eaten in one meal a day that is an average of 13¢. Eating meat every other day brings it down to 6.5¢. Eat less of better quality, preferably homegrown like you are doing.

Holding down a full time job is a poor excuse for not raising food. Raising food isn't a full time job and there are a lot of other hours in the week. People need to just stop watching TV or what ever other thing that is eating up the other 128 hours in their week after working a full time job. Commuting long distances is a choice. They need to sleep, so I understand, so that leaves 72 hours available in a week to garden. Take out relaxed family meal times and there is still 51 hours a week available. That's over 7 hours every day to do something productive be it gardening, raising livestock, cooking, preserving food, keeping up the home, etc.

Remember that food you raise isn't taxed so you save again (some places tax food, others don't and some do depending on its form).


Walter Jeffries said...


As to the chicken and the egg problem, if you're not doing your own processing then you are buying a luxury - someone else's time and skill. Learn to do it yourself. It is not hard to do. Having someone else show you the first time can be a big help. I wish I had had that. Still, one bungles through. We started with rabbits which were a good small animal to begin with, not too unlike chickens which we tackled next.

If the home chicken eggs are costing more than store bought eggs something else is wrong. Store bought chicken feed is expensive so don't feed the chickens, certainly not layer all year. Make them work for a living as much as possible. This has the side benefit of higher quality eggs with more Omega-3 fatty acids and they will cut down on your local insect population. About nine months of the year ours forage for their own food. The egg count drops dramatically in the darkest, coldest, snow bound months. Some winters buy them a little layer but not much. If you're butchering your own livestock winter, when the hens need food, is the season to do it as you then have a big outdoor freezer for free. The offal goes to the chickens. It's great food for them.

Cities are expensive, in more ways than just financially. A statistic I once read was that living in NYC was the equivelant of smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. Is it worth it? Each person has to judge it themselves. I do imagine that it is harder in parts of the country where prices are higher, such as cities, and access to land is limited. Busy-body zoning can get in the way too. Heck, in some places they don't even want you hanging your cloths out to dry. But living in a city is really a choice issue. Nobody puts a gun to someone's head and says they must take a job in the city. They take the job in the city because they actually like living in the city, like getting paid a lot (enough to make it worth putting up with the city), want to live near someone who's there or something like that. It is a choice.

I choose to live in the country where it is a lot cheaper than in the urban areas, the real estate taxes are lower, the land is more plentiful, the air is cleaner, the water runs freely, etc. In turn I'm willing not to have cellphone access, ultra-fast internet connection (recently improved), nearby stores, there are fewer cubicle jobs and all those things people want in the urban areas. It's choices.

Either way, it can be done for around $1/meal, or less. The key is people need to change their behaviors and a lot of that is learned stuff, skills and patterns. Another big factor is motivation. Without it the other stuff won't come. I've watched people out here in the country who've lost these skills, in some cases a couple of generations ago. Most of them don't know what they're missing so they don't seem to have any desire to change. One interesting aspect of a Depression, with a big 'D' is that it will change behaviors.


Sugar Mountain Farm
in the mountains of Vermont

Walter Jeffries said...

PS. Trade problem is sticky. Sounds like a simple misscommunication and she wants to be sure things are tidy and clear. I would talk with her directly about it. Maybe just stick to cash and buy the apples.

AnyEdge said...

"I'm so sorry I misunderstood. I get that way sometimes. Here's your money back. Consider the eggs a gift and please think of me come apple picking time."


Aimee said...

Thank you for your extremely thorough reply. I still think you are minimizing the practical difficulties of producing most of one's own food, but I can see much better now how you are doing it. Personally, I spend about as much time as I care to producing food, between caring for the animals and tending my (pathetic) garden, and making and maintaining the trade network, and preserving the excess - not to mention the everyday cooking. Right now, I save my family a fair amount of money, as well as learning and passing on useful skills to my kids, fostering a sense of independence, and still enjoying myself. If I had to do much more of it by myself, it would cease to be fun and become a burden. For now, I am perfectly willing to pay an expert for their butchering skill - after all, I'm helping the local economy and supporting a neighbor when I do - but eventually I hope to convince my husband he should try it! I also am looking forward to learning how to make cured sausages, but figuring out a place with the right humidity/temperature for curing them is proving difficult. Same for the hard cheese. I need a curing cave. We have processed the odd chicken, of course, and will again.
Again, thank you for all you do to spread your knowledge and experience around. I really enjoy reading about your efforts.

Oh and bro- that's pretty much exactly what I did.

Walter Jeffries said...

Realize we didn't get to where we are in capabilities all in a day. I planned and connived since the mid-1970's. It's a process, gradually learning and implementing new things each season.

Speaking of cured sausage, I just got the book "The Art of Making Fermented Sausages" as this is something I want to do in a few years. I have not yet read it. I got it because it is by the same people that wrote a smoke house book I found very helpful.

Keep on keepin'

in Vermont

(Love that photo with the mountain in the background.)