Thursday, July 28, 2011

The First Step Part II (aka Shopping for Produce)

At long last I will tell you everything (well, almost everything) I have learned about buying fresh produce.  I know. Super exciting.  There are a few ways to go about it, depending on where you're at in life and what your priorities are.  I'm going to be upfront with you and let you know that all three methods require a paradigm shift in menu planning (foreshadowing of future post) because you plan your cooking from what's in season or what's available.  And here's a little secret: the food tastes better in season.

Method One: Grocery Store Bargains

It's not a huge secret that grocery store prices vary from week to week on produce.  (If this is a new concept to you, grab the ad for your local grocery store and check the front and back page for their weekly specials.)  This method is kind of like the stock market, you buy what's on sale now to get the most bang for your buck.

I don't really like this option because it's not easy to find what I want in organic produce at the neighborhood grocery store, and our healthier grocery store is expensive.  If I do go buy fruits and veggies to the grocery store, I consider which foods it is more "important" to buy organic.  For information on why organic and which foods to avoid click here.

Method Two: Farmer's Markets

If you are looking for fresh, local, in season produce this is the place for you.  I like this option because I like knowing where my food came from and I like supporting small farmers.  Grocery store varieties of fruits and vegetables are chosen because of their ability to pack and transport well--not for taste.  Most of what you buy at the grocery store comes from a distant state or country and was picked before it was ripe.  It may cost a little more than the grocery store, but if you'll eat more of it because it tastes better, isn't it worth it?

The downsides to this method are that farmer's markets aren't open all year round and all hours of the day, and I don't know whether the food is organic or not.  I've been told that a lot of the time it is, however, I don't know whether that holds true in Texas because it is not the easiest state to grow in.  The good news is, you can easily find out how the farmer grows the food if you aren't a wuss like me and afraid to ask!

Method Three: Join a Coop

This is the method that we employ for the majority of our produce needs.  It's super easy.  Once every two weeks I go pick up an 18 gallon tote of organic produce from the host's home for less than what it costs to buy the same at the grocery store.  We added an extra fruit share because Ben and I weren't eating much fruit because we were giving it all to the kids.  It is enough produce to feed the six of us for two weeks. Sometimes we have leftovers for the freezer, too.

I like this method because it saves me time and money by keeping me out of the grocery store.  We can order certain dry goods as well through the coop.  Plus it ensures that we are eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.  It is amazing how what is (and isn't) in the house affects what you eat! 

If you don't like the idea of needing to pick up your produce on a certain day, that could be a downside for you.  My only wish is that it were more local. As it is there is some local organic produce as it is available.  That being the case, I still pick up a handful local produce here and there if I see it available at farmer's markets, etc.  I mean, who can resist fresh from the garden tomatoes?

Bonus Method: Garden

I didn't mention this method above because admittedly, it takes someone who really wants to do it.  It's really more of a hobby (or obsession) that you hope actually gives you something in return.  I, for one, cannot help but dream of fresh from the garden produce when it's time to plant, and curse the squirrels, bugs, and weather that threaten to impede that dream.  When we are able to harvest the fruits of our labor, it is thrilling on so many levels: fresh organic food from our yard that we planted ourselves!

If you are as crazy as I am, and want to give it a whirl, try planting some herbs or plants in pots to start out with.  Fresh basil! Oregano! Cherry tomatoes!  Beyond that, there are so many books on gardening, try browsing the library for options. 

Maybe one of these days I'll be able to grow enough food to feed my family. In the meantime, I am so thankful for other people who can do it for me!

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