"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Local Eating, Year Two

Those of you who have followed along on this crazy venture since the start will remember that I set a goal for myself and my family of sourcing 50% of our eat-at-home food from within the county. Well, it's been a full year, and so I'd like to report on our (moderate) success and set some new goals for the coming year.

First, I'll just be blunt and say we didn't do it. Probably not even very close. There are many foods that my family simply won't give up, and cereal, rice, pasta, and bananas are among them. Coffee, chocolate, and  orange juice. Really, I didn't try very hard to source foods that we eat all the time but which I'm pretty sure aren't grown in the county, like wheat, dry beans, and so forth. I just assumed they weren't available, period. However, I've just finished reading "Plenty," a book about a couple of fairly extreme fanatics who ate 99% locally (defined as produced within 100 miles) for a year, based in Vancouver B.C., which is only a few miles from me. They found wheat, eventually, and all sorts of products one would not expect. They put a lot of effort into it. I'm frankly not prepared to put that much time into sourcing ingredients, but I guess I can up it to a couple of hours. I guess I can ask at the Co-op. "Hey, is anybody growing lentils around here?" That's not too hard, is it? 

On to the success stories: for seven months of the year, I didn't buy a single gallon of milk, nor an egg, nor any pork product. When I did buy milk, I could buy it from a local farm. I bought only about a third of my usual amount of cheese, because I was making lots of it. Ditto yogurt. I haven't bought beef for a few months now, since whenever it was that we got our quarter-steer. And for pretty much the entire growing season, say, May to the end of October, the majority of our produce needs were met by the trade network. Yes, yes, we ate more kale than we cared to, more beets and more pumpkins, but we ate well. I won't say I didn't buy produce, I had to keep buying onions and garlic, and we never did give up lemons. But I bought a lot of it from the local farmer's market, and some of it we grew ourselves (okay, just radishes, salad greens, herbs, and tomatoes. I never said I was a great gardener.)

I still have several quart sized ziploc bags of frozen local strawberries we picked ourselves back in June, and we ate the last blueberries yesterday (sigh). There are twelve frozen ears of local corn. About a dozen nectarines - well, wait, they weren't truly local, they came from Yakima. And let's not forget, the cabinet which is still stuffed with home canned goods - pickles, jams and cajeta. I'd better start trying to incorporate some of that into our diet or it will still be around come next harvest-time. 

So what can we do better next year? I'd like to expand the trade network. Unfortunately, my garden-lady friend found a new source for eggs while my hens were not laying, so I'll have to trade her something else. Goat's milk yogurt? Chevre? She said she'd be interested in a kid (one of the goat's, not one of mine) but I still don't know if any are on the way. That's going to be the hardest part of next year's local eating - accepting that we have to eat the baby goats. I hope I can do it. I can find a new gardener to trade with, and I'd better! because at the end of January I'm already getting 5 eggs a day, and I have the potential for a dozen a day in a couple of months here. 

The pig will be meat soon, and he and the rest of the steer ought to last us for several months. Meat and dairy products are  a cinch; it's finding more local products, expanding into the realm of dry goods, and finding more appetizing ways to preserve the harvest that will be the challenge. I think I'll set the same goal again: 50%. But this time, I'll take it more seriously.


AnyEdge said...

Honest question:

What is the value of eating locally? Whenever you set constraints, of any kind, you increase cost, unless by chance the constraint is redundant.

Now, cost in dollars is not the only thing I'm talking about. There may be costs in nutrition, energy, land use, etc.

No the idea of being self-sufficient has a certain seduction, I admit, but I'm not sure how I understand that kind of self-sufficiency as being meaningfully different from my kind: I have a job, I buy my food from people whose job it is to produce food.

Aimee said...

I haven't increased my costs, I've lowered them considerably. Every local food I've substituted for a non-local one has been cheaper, both in dollars and in conscience costs. When I eat local and organic, I drastically reduce and in some cases entirely eliminate the amount of oil used to produce to food, the amount of environmental damage caused by raising it, both air and water pollution, and I gain what I believe in economics are called non-quantifiable goods, mainly satisfaction Okay, and smugness. Also, numerous studies have shown that fresher, organically raised food is much higher in nutrients than conventional foods which have been sitting on a shelf in the store for a few weeks.The benefits are numerous and profound, and if your question really is an honest one, I'd suggest "The Omnivore's dilemma " by Michael Pollan.

AnyEdge said...

My question was honest. And there are obvious benefits to what you're doing.

As for the cost thing, I was writing from an engineer's perspective. In any system, extra constraints equal extra costs unless you're lucky. Remember when calculating your costs to include the opportunity cost, along with the cost in terms of hours spent farming compared with the value of your hours as a nurse if you were employed.

Buying processed food in bulk is always going to be cheaper, when the amount of effort is factored, than growing your own. It's simply an economy of scale.

I'll check out the book. It looks interesting.

Aimee said...

What is opportunity cost? And I don't have to factor against my hours as a nurse because I wouldn't be doing that anyway. I have to factor against much less tangible costs such as time spent... well doing what? washing dishes? Reading to my kids? Thinking about shit?
It is true that I can't make my meat any cheaper than grocery store cost. I figured that out a few posts ago ("farm finances"). Eggs are also about break even, and milk and cheese are possibly more expensive - unless you figure in the cost of buying this land in the first place, in which case I'll never catch up.
Lucky for me, cheaper in dollars isn't my main consideration. Michael Pollan's book is by far the best mainstream book on the subject, he is an excellent writer and not really a fanatic at all. Another highly informative and entertaining book which WAS written by a fanatic (also a highly educated biologist) is "Coming home to eat." Can't remember the man's name, but he did the local food thing in Tucson Arizona. His main angle isn't carbon footprint but rather plant biodiversity.

AnyEdge said...

Opportunity cost is the cost of your next best option.

So the opportunity cost of pancakes for breakfast might be the cost of waffles.

No costs can be evaluated in isolation. You must consider what you are giving up.

ChristyACB said...

Aimee - I admire your gusto in doing it and your explanations make perfect sense to me.

After all, if it takes me a hour of time to figure out a trade with a person who is growing apples in their yard for the season, it is still cheaper in every way that counts than taking an hour to shop for apples that have been trucked 1500 miles and have goodness knows what on them.

Keep up the good work!

For practical advice, those same items like coffee, cocoa, bananas and the like, I'm performing some experiments. I purchased small banana trees that can be kept in containers and brought into shelter during winter. Small investment and fun to see what happens. I'm growing coffee bushes in much the same way. Cocoa..no solution yet. Not cheaper in the short run, but also has a certain sense of accomplishment, like you described.

Aimee said...

Christy, where do you live? I'd be fascinated to hear how the banana experiment goes. I keep meaning to get a meon tree in a container, because I have a sunroom that gets very hot in the summer, and I could bring it indoors in the winter.