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For good, cheap food, who needs a grocery store?

If you're looking for some nontraditional options for purchasing inexpensive and nutritious foods, we have some ideas for you.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 17, 2014 1:32PM

This post comes from Kimberly Winkowitsch  at partner site Money Talks News


Money Talks News on MSN MoneyA couple of years ago, I was feeling especially thrifty. My husband farms both organic and traditional wheat, barley, lentils and peas, so I thought I should make use of what he grows.


I ground some of his organic wheat in the dry container on my blender and made my own homemade bread. To my surprise, it turned out really good. I've had more than a few domestic fails over the years, so I was pretty excited about my bread success.


Shopping cart © Claus Christensen, PhotographerI decided to go all out and bake all of our bread with our very own wheat.


I watched bread-baking YouTube videos, I bought lots of bread pans and supplies, and I even found a used grain grinder.


I was really having fun and impressing my family, but there was one problem. We ate so much bread that we started gaining weight at an alarming rate. Because I'm trying to keep us at a healthy weight, I put away my bread-baking supplies. (My new focus is making green smoothies.)


But here's my point: There are inexpensive alternatives to buying food at the grocery store, whether it's getting it directly from the local farmers and ranchers who produce it, or from cooperatives and other groups. You can save money and have more control over the source and quality of the food your family eats.


Here are some options:


Join a CSA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's website describes community-supported agriculture or CSAs:

(A) CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.
Typically, members or "shareholders" of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production.

These groups are great for the farmer and the consumer, because the farmer gets a guaranteed market for some of his crops every week, and the consumers get to see where and how their food is grown.


Other pros:

  • Quality. The food is often organic and grown according to high standards.
  • Variety. These farms may provide everything from produce to eggs to meat. You'll likely learn how to cook vegetables you haven't tried before.
  • Kid-friendly. Children are likely to enjoy vegetables more if they come from a place the kids have seen.
  • Great price. Says Serious Eats, "A typical single share of produce in New York City costs around $300 to $400 and runs from June to the end of October, so it's roughly $12 to $18 per week."

Cons:

  • Selection. The food you get will be based on the growing season, which means your weekly supply of food probably won't continue year-round.
  • Risk. If the crops fail because of bad weather, disease or other problems that afflict farmers, the consumer loses as well.
  • Volume. Assess how much you get before you sign up, so you don't waste a lot each week.

How to find one near you:

Join a food co-op

Cooperatives operate more like a grocery store, and likely get food from multiple sources. For instance, they may purchase produce and meat from local organic farmers, then break it down into manageable portions and sell it to members.


StrongerTogether.coop says:

A cooperative exists to serve its members, but what makes co-ops unique is that the members are also the owners. So, in addition to getting the products and services you need, you also have a say in the business decisions your cooperative makes.
Rather than rewarding outside investors with its profits, a co-op returns surplus revenue to its members in proportion to how much they use the co-op. This democratic approach to business results in a powerful economic force that benefits the co-op, its members and the communities it serves.

Like CSAs, co-ops come in a variety of forms. In my neck of the woods, the Bountiful Baskets   co-op delivers produce and other foods every other week by truck. You order and pay via its website. A box typically costs $15, or $25 for the organic option, and contains roughly half vegetables and half fruit. The amount of food is abundant compared with what I can buy for the same price at my local grocery store. They also offer other products, such as bags of tortillas and breads.


Bountiful Baskets relies solely on volunteers, so they ask that you pitch in and help unload the truck and sort the food every few times you pick up your food.


Pros:

  • Great price. Like CSAs, you’re likely to get great food at a savings. But that's not guaranteed. Check out the prices before you sign up and, if it's required, pay a membership fee.
  • Community. You'll be volunteering with others.
  • Selection. Your local co-op may have relationships with local farmers, so the food is very fresh. You'll likely be exposed to fruits and vegetables you've never used before.

Cons:

  • Selection. Depending on how your co-op operates, you may not have much choice about the food you get. Learn more before you sign up.
  • Commitment. You will be expected to volunteer on a regular basis.

How to find a food co-op near you:

Buy grains and legumes from a local farmer

If you are really interested in getting some savings, you might want to buy wheat or other grains from a local farmer.


According to the USDA national grain market summary, a bushel of wheat averages about $6.50 if purchased directly from a farmer. A bushel of wheat is 60 pounds. The same amount of white flour purchased from a grocery store is about $32.50.


Even if the farmer is charging you a little more to handle a single bushel and you have to consider a bit of extra work involved, that is some serious savings.


Other pros:

  • Nutrients. You have more control over the handling of the product. Processed grains don't have the nutritional value of whole grains. When you are doing the cleaning and grinding, you can keep all of that goodness in your food.

Cons:

  • Work. You may have the extra work of cleaning your grain.
  • Time. It's time-consuming to prepare your own grains or pulse (peas, beans, lentils) crops.

Purchase meat directly from a grower

My farmer husband tells me that, unfortunately, it can be difficult to save money when buying locally raised beef or chicken because the processing costs are so high. But it's still possible when you buy in bulk.


However, it still makes sense to purchase meat from local producers because the conditions the animals are raised in tend to be much healthier and humane. Imagine the difference between cows chomping grass in a pasture and cattle crammed in a feedlot.


Pros:

  • Your choice. You can look for producers who raise only grass-fed beef and those who do not use antibiotics or hormones.
  • Cowpool. You have the opportunity to get several people to buy a beef or side of beef with you.
  • Help out. If your producer also has a butchering facility, you may be able to cut your cost by helping cut and wrap your meat.

Cons:

  • Where's the beef? You may have to buy a half or a quarter of beef, which is a lot of meat. Do you have sufficient freezer space, and will you eat it before it gets freezer burn?

Grow your own garden or raise some chickens

To really make this a hands-on experience and one that your children will love, you can raise your own food. You can contact your local County Extension Office to get information on growing a garden or raising animals. The Cooperative Extension System page of the USDA website provides a searchable map to find the office in your area.


If you really want to take it to the next level and learn how to preserve all of the food you grow, your Extension Office can give you helpful literature to show you how. Be sure to follow the directions of a credible resource, like the Extension Office information, when canning or preserving food to ensure that your food is safe to eat.


They can also steer you in the right direction so that you don't break any city zoning laws while raising animals.


More from Money Talks News

35Comments
Jul 17, 2014 4:50PM
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What about the huge number of people who live in Apartments??

This article was just stupid.

Jul 17, 2014 4:53PM
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Finally, an article chock full of some realistic advice for all the city dwellers. NOT!!!!
Jul 17, 2014 3:29PM
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Although the theory seems good, practicality and reality rule.  Time, location, expense, and availability of these "inexpensive" alternatives to "grocer" fodder is prohibitive in the greater portion of our country/society.  Ready availability of many of our fresh staples is seasonable at best.  Being a "hunter and gatherer" may be a good quality to have, it is not really possible or feasible.  Unless you thrive on raw fruits, veggies, and nuts, you will still be venturing out to the local grocer for items you want to use to, oh, say, "enhance/dress-up" your meals.  Even if we may have the ability to raise gardens, fruit-bearing trees/bushes/plants, and livestock/poultry/fish/etc., it is unlikely in our service-driven society that this would become a daily practice for anyone but the most compulsive health/frugal/agrarian person.  But, thanks for the article anyway!
Jul 17, 2014 3:04PM
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While some of these suggestions sound nice, they're mostly completely unrealistic. "Raise some chickens"? Really? 

And making your own bread might be nice, but honestly, a loaf of bread usually costs anywhere between $1.20 and $2.50 depending on the brand, and according to a recipe site I just looked up, it takes approx. 2 hrs to make a loaf of homemade white bread. I make $12 an hr, so why would I spend $24 worth of my time making my own bread when a loaf of already baked bread only costs $2?

I must admit though, I have always wanted to start a garden and grow some of my own veggies, particularly leeks, which I love but most grocery stores don't sell them.
Jul 17, 2014 3:43PM
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Not for nothing but there is a better chance of food stamp use than seeing  the use of these practices by a long shot. 
Jul 17, 2014 3:16PM
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did you hear that in new york,the stop and shop grocery chain merged with the A&P.
    Now it's called the Stop&P.

where does a one armed man shop?at a secondhand store.  
Jul 18, 2014 10:38AM
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Lot's of nice fluff stories about celebrities and such on MSN today! It will keep your mind off what a weak and useless liberal government we have. Enjoy and don't worry!
Jul 17, 2014 7:29PM
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I'll stick with the grocery store :-)
Jul 17, 2014 10:45PM
Jul 17, 2014 7:24PM
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you go to walmart and get a  French bread for $1, if you make it will cost you more than that counting ingredients, electricity and your time. Well if you are unemployed maybe then you can do it. Personally I like, time to time make a baguette or two myself, just for my pleasure, but everyday? I prefer to go to work.
Jul 18, 2014 10:21AM
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This article is unrealistic to the majority. Certain things are not allowed within the city limits. This is for people who live out in the country only.
Jul 18, 2014 12:52AM
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Making your own bread is great. IF you have the time, which MOST people don't. As far as NOT shopping in grocery stores, ask people what it was like to shop for groceries BEFORE supermarkets. The BEST place to find such people is in small towns who are over 65, because they remember what it was like for THEIR parents to go from one store to another. One stop for baked goods, one stop for veggies and fruits, or canned goods, another stop for meat. the list goes on and on. These older folks will tell you, also, that their mothers ALSO had to shop TWO OR THREE TIMES A WEEK., because packaging wasn't as good then, as now, so food spoiled easier. And a LOT of people did not have home freezers until well into the 1950s.

Yeah, the author is right about freshness  and home made food DOES taste better, but who has TIME???

Jul 18, 2014 10:33AM
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None of these are cheaper than an actual grocery store.
Jul 18, 2014 4:42PM
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CSA's are not cheap in my area, plus you have to drive 40 miles just to get to the closest one.   Buy from a local farmer?  What makes you think his grain isn't full of pesticide and herbicide?  I probably need to drive 200 miles to get to an organic grain farmer, and then there's only one grain harvest a year, so what do I do the other 10 months of the year?   And, the author of this article lives on a farm.  Of course it's easy to take her farm's grain and make bread.  Duh.   It's easy to grow an organic garden in the country too, so that's not big news to us who live in the city/suburbia.
Jul 18, 2014 11:10AM
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Sounds a lot like a Rube Goldberg machine to me and if just one, teeny tinny thing goes wrong, the whole thing will fly into a million parts and then you (and your family) will be screwed.
Jul 18, 2014 2:49AM
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yep another future market.. lovely when it works.. healthy and all that good stuff.. l liked the article.. nice writing job.
Jul 17, 2014 8:07PM
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I have done the bountiful baskets thing.  Some of it wasn't great but some was exellent.  One problem was figuring out how to use it before it went bad.  We ordered extra asparagus but even after spreading it to friends and family some spoiled.  11 lbs was a bit much.  My wife would rather order out than cook and i can burn water so fruit great veggies not.
Jul 17, 2014 5:50PM
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