Have you started shifting to local or organic foods, but you’re shocked by the prices? Especially if you live in large, urban areas, local produce, eggs, and meat are not more affordable than conventionally raised crops. In my area outside of Seattle, locally grown typically costs more. Then where can you buy local food on a budget?
My Local Food Story
Well, I’ve struggled with this myself. I’ve been trying to eat more local foods for over a decade. I started with a desire to eat simple, nourishing foods. I was sourcing raw milk and grass-fed beef, freshly grown kale and local honey.
In 2014, I decided to volunteer at a local farmers market. I offered to volunteer every Saturday without realizing it was a 9 month long outdoor market…Fortunately, I was hired as a market assistant and held that position for two years. I then became the market manager for an additional two years before I left for grad school.
That experience was incredibly eye-opening, as you can imagine! I learned so much about seasonality and local food systems. Pretty early on, I started working on farms to make ends meet and growing my own food. Eventually, I ended up with chickens and a giant backyard garden in a teeny tiny little house. When we drive around, I am 100% that person who says, “Oh, look at their garden!” or “Oh, they have sunflowers!” Major plant nerd alert.
Local food is a lifestyle
Now, my husband and I are in a suburban neighborhood. We are not able to have chickens thanks to our HOA, but we’ve been adding more and more raised beds and pots to our backyard garden each year. Ultimately, we would love to grow all of our own produce for the year, but that’s just not possible with the space we are in.
We need to find local, affordable produce for the majority of our diet. How?
My Favorite Tips About Where to Buy Local Produce on a Budget
1. Join a CSA
CSA stands for community-supported agriculture, but that name doesn’t really break it down. When you commit to a CSA, you invest in a local farm at the beginning of the growing season with the promise of regular produce orders throughout the season.
CSAs can be big or small, weekly or biweekly, set up like a grocery store or pre-packaged.
The benefit for farmers is huge because they get a cash infusion when their income is the lowest and expenses are the highest.
The benefit for customers is also huge because a one-time investment breaks down into usually a very good deal. If there’s any way you can save up for a CSA or set up payment arrangements with a farmer, this is the best way to go!
2. Work Trade
This one all depends on the farms in your area, but many farmers are glad to pay you in produce for the work you do! Some farms may have a work share program in place or you might need to set up your own terms.
3. Offer to help harvest
In the summer, I typically harvest on a local farm. Sometimes I just harvest berries, other times I’m there a couple days a week harvesting, weeding, and planting.
I get paid for working on farms and usually, there is “farmer food” available. These are usually seconds or excess produce from clearing a bed. We simply take that food home to make sure it all gets used up!
If you have time during the week, especially before a big market day, your local farmer would likely love the company and an extra set of hands. My favorite way to do this is to save the money I make farming to spend at the farmers market!
4. Join a gleaning group
What is gleaning? After a farmer harvests a field, there is usually still plenty of food in the field! There are gleaning groups around the country that organize days to take leftover, unwanted food for food banks and/or the harvesters.
This is a great way to help a farmer, a local organization, and yourself. Plus, you get a free workout, a nice day out, and to tap into your local food community!
5. Find a U-Pick
I love U-Pick farms and wish there were more of them near me! Basically, you do the work harvesting the produce to save some money. We have lots of U-Pick berry farms and orchards nearby, which is a great way to fill the freezer for less.
In your area, you might be able to pick a greater variety of crops like green beans, peppers, etc. Lots of my readers have shared with me the amazing low prices they’ve paid at U-Picks! Definitely look to see if there are some in your area or within convenient driving distance!
Find a u-pick or pick your own farm near you!
6. Buy in bulk
You have to be careful buying produce in bulk because if you don’t have a plan or the time to deal with it, it will go bad.
However, even my husband and I buy produce in bulk (and not just for canning)!
For items that store very well, we will buy 5, 10, or 20 pounds at a time. Some of our favorite foods to buy in bulk are:
- Apples (always stored in the fridge)
We will get a 20 lb box of organic, regional apples for $25 at a local farm store. That one box will fill our crisper drawer with a little extra. We save the backup in the pantry and try to eat those or make room in the drawer as soon as possible. (Perfect time for some apple crisp!)
Learn more about where to buy bulk produce for your canning projects!
7. Be flexible
One of the best ways to live an organic lifestyle on a budget is to just be flexible! The less picky you are, the more likely it is that you will find good deals.
Instead of requiring Red Russian kale, what about any type of kale? What about chard? Collards? Broccoli leaves?
If you can think in categories like “salad” (salad greens, lettuces), “greens” (kale, chard, collards, etc), simply look for items that fit within that category or would do that job well.
I also recommend being a little flexible with your budget. If your budget is really tight, try to set $10-20 to the side each month for impromptu purchases during the height of the harvest.
If you want to fill your freezer with frozen local berries or your pantry with dilly beans, you’ll need the money to pay for your bucket of green beans or the berry U-Pick.
8. Buy seconds
Whether you’re at a grocery store, farmers market, farm stand or co-op, look for aging produce. Find the food that’s closest to going bad and take it home! You’ll be preventing food waste and saving money.
This might look like paper bags of browning bananas, older apples, withering kale leaves, etc.
Using aging produce for baking is one of my sustainable baking tips! Plus, greens like kale can be soaked in cool water to refresh a lot of the lost texture.
9. Expand your scope
If you cannot find locally grown _____ at an affordable price, you need to shift your lens. Start small and zoom out.
- Instead of locally grown, check in a few counties over.
- If it’s not in your larger local area, check your state.
- Nothing in your state? What about your region?
- If it’s not available regionally, aim for nationally grown crops versus international.
Personally, we try to not eat fresh foods grown out of the US. For myself, I can’t justify buying apples from New Zealand or Brazilian grass-fed beef when we have perfectly good grass-fed beef right down the road. This saves fuel and will ensure the food is as fresh as can be.
You’ll need to decide for yourself where you draw the line. This will depend on your budget, dietary preferences, and region.
10. Buy in season
If you’re buying locally grown, you’re always buying in season! Even if you can’t buy produce only grown in your local area, buying in-season typically means the food will be grown within your state, region, or country.
It takes time to shift your perspective and to understand when crops will be ready. Even last weekend (May), I had a lady asking me if local melons would be available. Well, close to never. They’re so hard to grow in our area and you might be lucky to get some tiny ones in August!
The growing season is different everywhere you go, so talk to your farmer. There’s something beautiful about watching the harvests shift across the season, too.
11. Grow what you can (literally)
There’s a balance between growing what you can and buying what you can’t. If I’m growing in a limited space, what should I plant?
I try to not grow crops that require a long season, significant space, and can be purchased inexpensively. Sometimes I can’t help it (there are potatoes in my garden right now, but they’re special potatoes!).
For example, carrots, potatoes, leeks, and storage onions take a long time to grow a good harvest. Some of these are easier to grow than others, too!
I’d rather grow the plants I eat the most (kale, spring onions, salad greens, zucchini) and some more expensive options (heirloom tomatoes, winter squash).
Other options are to try vertical gardening, growing in pots, windowsill planters, grow bags, etc. There are so many ways to grow produce in small spaces! Find easy vegetables for beginner gardeners here.
Bonus Tip: Set up a zero waste kitchen
A key principle in a zero waste kitchen is to minimize food waste. This is more than just using up the produce before it goes bad, but that’s part of it, too!
- Cook the edible leaves of broccoli, cauliflower, celery, and other plants
- Pickle thick chard stems instead of composting
- Blitz up broccoli stems in the food processor for broccoli rice
- Make infused vinegars with strawberry tops, chive blossoms, etc
- Ferment apple cores and peels to make your own apple cider vinegar
- Blend your strawberry greens into your strawberry smoothie
- Save veggie peels and scraps in a freezer bag to use for stock
- Make carrot top pesto
Especially if your local produce is more expensive than the store, start looking at the foods you are buying differently. How can you use everything?
Eating locally grown on a budget is a passion
There’s so much more to say about this and so many reasons why you should switch to local, organic foods. I’m also passionate about figuring out how to do this on a budget! We absolutely prioritize the quality of the food we buy in our budget, but that doesn’t mean we want to spend recklessly.
We want to make the most of our hard-earned money and the food farmers grew for us. The following posts are all connected to this topic and will help you on your journey.
- Azure Standard – Our Secret to an Easy Real Food Pantry
- Where is the Best Place to Buy Grass-Fed Beef? Here’s My Advice
- 12 Practical Sustainable Baking Tips for Your Zero Waste Kitchen
- 80+ Zero and Low Waste Frugal Food Hacks
Jumpstart your real food lifestyle
Want to know more about living and eating this way? I’ve shared my real food philosophy and favorite tips for affording local produce in my ebook The Well-Stocked Pantry. It also includes my meal planner and pantry staples list to set up your real food kitchen the easy way.
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Where is your favorite place to buy local or organic produce?
Was this list helpful? Do you have another tip about where to buy local produce on a budget to share with my readers? Tell us in the comments!