The Eat Local Challenge: Eating Well at the Market, On a Budget

Throughout September, the central Illinois chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local is hosting the Eat Local challenge.  The challenge is to spend $20 a week on locally grown food during the month of September. When Buy Fresh Buy Local asked us to collaborate on the Eat Local Challenge, Steph and I jumped at the chance to share some resources and ideas for eating well at the market without breaking the bank.

Deals at the Market: Buying in Bulk

September is an amazing time to get deals at the market. Vegetables like summer squashes, peppers, and tomatoes are nearing the end of their season but are still producing at a prolific rate. Traffic at the market also sometimes slows down, so farmers find themselves with a lot of produce that they are willing to sell in bulk, which is a boon to shoppers.

Keep your eyes peeled for signs that offer “two for one” bunches and “bulk” anything! The key is knowing which veggies are “bulk-ready” and using those items in your meal planning.

Prices on vegetables at the market can also change over time. According to Katie Bishop of PrairiErth Farm, when a crop first comes into season, there isn’t much of it but there is a lot of demand – think of those shoppers lined up for first-of-the summer tomatoes. Farmers may leverage this demand (that is, charge a little more). After a few weeks, they will drop the price because the supply is so much greater and they need to sell it. Tomatoes that were $4 per pound in July are now $3.25 in September – and they are probably available for far less if you’re buying in bulk. (Click here and here for ideas on preserving bulk tomatoes for later use.)

Potatoes also tend to cost less as the season goes on. “New” potatoes must be hand-dug and washed, says Katie Bishop. It takes a lot of hands-on labor to get those beautiful spuds out of the ground. But potatoes in October are mechanically harvested and machined washed. There is less work for the farm, so they can drop the price. (And who doesn’t love potatoes?!)

Ask For Seconds

Most farmers put only their most beautiful products out at the market – but they’ve probably got a few bins in the truck that hold less-than-perfect but still perfectly edible items. Farmers would far prefer to sell those items than to compost them (especially if they don’t have to haul it back to the farm). Ask your favorite farmer if they can offer any deep discounts on these veggies. With a few extra minutes of prep (to cut off bad spots, for instance), you’ve saved a lot of money but still ended up with great food.

One great item to ask about is carrots. “Juice carrots” might not look beautiful but can be pureed, juiced, peeled, shredded, etc. – and the taste is just as good as the cosmetically perfect carrots. Peppers are another item that can be incredibly cheap in bulk and as seconds (try cutting them up and freezing them in small amounts to use later in soups, a stir fry, or chili).  Peppers can also be roasted and frozen for a range of uses later.

Resources for Eating Locally On a Budget

Our blog focuses on easy meal preparation that features great, fresh, local food. For that reason, we love Lee Ann Brown’s Good and Cheap – a cookbook designed for families utilizing SNAP benefits (formerly known as good stamps). Shoppers can use the Illinois Link card to purchase items at The Downtown Bloomington Farmers’ Market every Saturday.

Good and Cheap is available at no cost here. Brown’s website is also fantastic, featuring an extensive recipe index and other great tips. Her recipes are for everyone who likes tasty food with easy prep!

Buy Pantry Staples in Bulk, Too! Other good things to buy (and cook/prep/freeze) in bulk include:

Both Green Top Grocery and Common Ground Natural Grocery in Bloomington have extensive bulk selections. (Green Top is a cooperative grocery, and is owned by members – and anyone can shop there, no membership needed.) We’ve got some great ideas on prepping and freezing in earlier blog posts, too. (More tips on buying in bulk here.)

Recipes for the Eat Local Challenge

You might be surprised how far you can make $20 go at the market. We are also happy to feature a number of recipes from Good and Cheap below.

Five Days of Breakfast:

Lunches and Dinners:

Did you accept the Eat Local Challenge? We would love to hear from you.

Have a great week, and see you at the market!

 

 

 

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