Saving on Food: The Benefits of Buying Local

December 26, 2012

Photo credit: Stockbyte-Stockbyte-Thinkstock

Every week we go to the grocery store, I look at the receipt with amazement. We spend so much money on food – a necessary expense, but certainly one that could use some trimming.

I have thought about going the coupon route, but I honestly don’t have the time to cut coupons, nor do I ever find a coupon that is actually useful.  Yes, if I buy the thing I don’t want or need I can save $.50, but it's just that, something I don’t need or want. 

One item that seems to always be expensive is meat, and this year it was worse with the drought -- a factor that causes the price of beef to rise. Along with the price, there are all the stories you hear about what “they” are doing to the ground beef these days – i.e.  the dreaded “red filler” that nobody knows much about.  So I began feeling like I was spending an arm and a leg on red-filler-filled-overpriced beef.

So I asked myself: What could I do to get cheaper and healthier meat?

This spurred me to explore something new -- the idea of buying a cow myself. This would allow me to replace the overpriced filler-filled beef from my local grocer with healthier beef that included all the cuts I would ever want, for a cheaper price.

Three of us went in on it together.  We went to a privately run ranch with ranch raised beef that is finished with no artificial hormones or animal products.  One friend bought a half of the cow (“half beef”) and my other friend and I split the other half (“quarter beef”).  A quarter beef gets you a wide variety of cuts of meat including T-bone steaks, sirloins, round steaks, minute steaks, many pounds of hamburger, short ribs, rib loin, beef roasts, flank steak, a brisket, and some stew meat.

Everything all in cost me $424.00 and I received approximately 120 lbs. of beef.  This means that I received approximately 120 lbs. of beef for $3.53 per pound.  What does it cost per pound at the grocery store?  Last time I checked, all natural grass-fed ground beef is $6.99 per pound and a round roast (not all natural) is $3.84 per pound.

That is what I call serious savings – something not found by cutting coupons. And, anytime I want a steak, I can go to my freezer and pick the one I want. I know where it came from and know that there is no red filler.  In my book I call this a no-brainer.

This process has me thinking:  Are there other ways to buy food in bulk and consequently eat healthier and save money?

Another idea I explored was buying fresh produce from a local farmer. In buying produce this way -- similar to buying a cow -- you are going to at least get a healthier product while helping the local economy by using local farmers.

An interesting way to do this is to become a part of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).  This allows consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer.  Here are the basics:  you would usually buy a share or a membership and in return you receive a certain amount of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.   According to LocalHarvest.org there are several advantages for consumers:

  • Access to ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
  • Exposure to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
  • An opportunity to visit the farm at least once a season
  • A new way to get kids interested in healthy foods (many kids tend to favor food from "their" farm)
  • A chance to build a relationship with the farmer who grows the food and learn more about how food is grown

But how does a CSA compare with the grocery store?  Since I haven’t joined a CSA myself, I turned to a few helpful articles:

“My Story: CSA vs. Grocery Store and Co-Ops”

After comparing her experience with the CSA vs. the grocery story, the author of this article stated that her belief is that the prices are comparable.  However, she found other benefits.

“So why get a share? The strength of the CSA is that the locally grown organic products can be as economical as the products in the grocery store…. My family can tell which products are from the CSA or my garden and which are from the store. The difference in flavor is remarkable, especially in the tomatoes and carrots. But the best part is that the food is grown organically with respect for the land and its health. We are what we eat and we are what our food eats. I really believe our CSA share is worth it!”

“CSA Farm Veggies: Deal or No Deal?”

In this article written by Bargain Babe, the conclusion is similar, stating that “A true bargain hunter weighs the total value of a purchase, however, not just the cost.”  Here are her seven reasons why she believes the CSA is the right way to go:

1)      I have never eaten healthier
2)      I am eating organic
3)      I am supporting local jobs and the preservation of the farm
4)      I am reducing my carbon footprint
5)      I am meeting neighbors
6)      I don’t have to choose what to buy
7)      The food tastes really good

A mixed bag I would say when it comes to the CSA being cheaper than your local grocer.  But, as you can tell, the pure comparison of price is not the only factor to consider when deciding whether to become part of a CSA.

What do you do to cut back on food expenses? Share your ideas by leaving a comment.

Other articles you may be interested in:
Simple Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget
Grocery Store Tips: How to Get More for Less