Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Local Food Project

Last summer, I had a disappointing garden year.  Intense rain, the fact that we were late to the planting season after working to build out the first three garden beds (of a planned 7-8) and pregnancy exhaustion meant that our yield was only so-so.  We managed to freeze some homemade salsa, roast some peppers, and have a few salads from our garden, but that was really about it.  

This year isn't going to be much better.  While we do have a garden planted, it's pretty small - some potatoes, tomatoes, kale, and a few other things.  We didn't start any of it ourselves, despite me being proactive about buying seeds before our daughter came along.  Thankfully, most seeds last for multiple years (and often even increase germination rates) as long as they are stored in a cool, dry place, so we're all prepared for next year. Instead, my sister and parents took pity on our sleep-deprived selves and gave us some seedlings.  

But similar rains this past June, making Massachusetts feel like a temperate rain forest, rotted many of those seedlings.  

And the remaining garden beds will have to wait another year, as will a chicken coop and chickens, our next sustainable living project.  We have some critical house projects that need to get started now that I'm back to work.  So that means that we won't be providing very much of our own food this year.  

And after an experiment with a CSA that just didn't work that well for us, I was back to the drawing board.  But food price increases are making a local diet harder.  

The downside of living in a high-population, high cost of living area in the current economy is that local food is expensive - far more so than last year.  I mean it's really expensive.  A quart of organic strawberries from the local farmstand, in season?  $6.59.  Local beef?  $8-$11 a pound. Local chicken?  $20 for a whole chicken.  A head of lettuce?  $4.


Since our total grocery budget (this includes personal care and cleaning supplies), not including diapers and baby supplies, is about $400-450.00 per month right now, it's clear that shopping at our local farmstand is perhaps not the most financially sustainable option.  It's still a part of our shopping repertoire, but isn't replacing the grocery store.

The farm stand does have a co-op for a cost of $50 a year, and I'm mulling over giving it a try. There's a 129-page abbreviated text catalog that I need to go through first, just to make sure there's foods that we would eat that make the purchases worth our while.

Still, local is important to us.  And so is growing our own food, now that there are signs that perhaps, someday, our 5 month old daughter will sleep more.  There's still time for a late summer garden, and some fall lettuces.

I've found a local beef farm about 2 hours away that sells in bulk, and my parents are talking about going in with us.  My older sister, in upstate NY, is willing to raise us meat chickens, and we still have some from the last batch she raised.   I make it to the farmstand about once or twice a month now, which is far less than I would like, but it will have to do for now.

With the cost of local food going up so high, it means that we're going to have to focus more on what we can grow.  So we're adding some more strawberry plants and a couple peach trees this year, and then next spring we'll break ground on the remaining 5 garden beds, and start up on the chicken coop.  It's my hope by July of 2010 we'll have chickens helping us on bug patrol, and finally that big garden we dream of.  

In the meantime there's the farmstand and the grocery store, and the occasional donation of fresh produce from family - and that will have to do.  It's not my preferred way of doing things, but it is what works now.

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