How I Shop for Food

A week's worth of produce from the farmers market

First you should know that one of my principal aims in life, now that I have three little ones, is to never set foot in a real store. I never loved shopping, and now with kids, I find that I really don't like it.  You should also know that I am willing to spend a significant amount of money on food. Maybe not more than the average household of five, since we rarely eat out, consume little meat, cook many things from scratch, and do other things that help lower our food bill.  But we try to eat mostly local organic foods, which can be expensive.

I aim to purchase most of our groceries from local organic farmers for a number of reasons: to provide my family with delicious fresh foods; to avoid eating weird things; to promote animal welfare and environmental health; to prevent the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria; and to support my local food economy. But I'm not a purist. While some items are non-negotiable for me (I will not buy conventional beef or eggs), about other things I am flexible. I'll occasionally buy a conventional watermelon since it's on EWG's Clean Fifteen; I still buy South American bananas even though I enjoy an abundance of local produce here in Northern California; and I sometimes purchase conventional animal products (buttermilk, ice cream, drumsticks) as long as they don't contain any growth hormones. I avoid GMOs (and would like to see them labeled) but don't agonize over them. My shopping priorities change as I learn more, but they are also subject to cost, convenience, and whim. If you are on a tight budget, I think the best thing you can do is cook more at home and learn to garden.

This is how I currently shop for food.

Farmers Market - Weekly
I shop at the farmers market most Saturdays year-round. I buy most of my produce there. Shopping at the farmers market takes all the mental effort out of shopping locally and in season. It also makes it super easy to reduce the amount of food you buy in disposable plastic packaging (plus no little stickers on your produce!). Whereas I am loathe to take my kids with me on most shopping excursions, I actually enjoy taking my little ones to the farmers market. Ours is small so I feel comfortable letting them roam a bit, and there are always some yummy samples to be had. I love chatting briefly with the farmers and asking about what's going to come into season next. I love that the prices for organic produce are incredibly good (often priced to compete with the conventional produce). And I love that all my cash is going to the farmer. You can find farmers markets in your area at Local Harvest.

CSA - Some Weeks
I also belong to a CSA (community sponsored agriculture). My CSA provides a wide range of produce because it's a sort of co-op of many family farms in northern and central California. I use my CSA mostly to buy citrus, apples (in the fall), and other produce unavailable at my local farmers market. Clearly, I am not on the 100-mile diet. But I'd rather buy my apples and oranges from an organic family farm within my state than at a grocery store, and my CSA allows me to do that. They also offer honey, oil, rice, canned goods and other various food products from local farms. I buy 95% of my produce from small organic family farms by shopping at the farmers market and with my CSA. You can find CSAs in your area at Local Harvest.

SPUD - Weekly
Short for Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery, SPUD delivers groceries to my door every week. It is not always the cheapest option, but through SPUD I am able to purchase non-homogenized organic milk from a local dairy in glass bottles (which get reused not recycled). SPUD sells a huge range of products, and by browsing the website I have figured out what items are priced competitively and which are not. I mostly use the service to purchase dairy products and eggs, but will pay higher prices for something I need if it will save me a trip to the store.

I gained a whole new level of love for my organic grocery delivery when I had a baby. Without ever leaving the house, we always had milk and eggs in the fridge. You can go pretty far on just milk and eggs. They also have some great grass-fed beef and natural meat options, which I buy when they go on sale. SPUD claims that you are helping the environment by getting your food delivered instead of driving to the store. I'd need to see the math before buying into that claim, but I do know that grocery delivery sure helps me. I also love that they collect a variety of packaging for Terracycle. Unlike most plastic I recycle, which probably ends up on a boat to China, I know that the items I put in my SPUD bins will actually get turned into something useful. (If you want to give SPUD a try, use the coupon code CRSFO-ESCBET. By doing so, both you and I save $25 on groceries.) There are other organic delivery companies out there too - just try an online search for organic grocery delivery in your metropolitan area.

Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Costco - Occasionally
About once every month or two, we visit one of these more traditional shopping venues. The packaged foods I do buy (cereal, tortillas, crackers, pasta sauce), I mostly purchase at Trader Joe's, because their products are free of preservatives, artificial colors and flavors. Trader Joe's also has great prices on organic dairy products and all of their dairy products are free of growth hormones. Every now and then I need to hit the bulk food bins at Whole Foods. I also like to get meat at the Whole Foods butcher counter in order to bypass the styrofoam trays most meat comes packaged in. Costco has great prices on organic chicken as well as bulk items like yeast.

While this description of my grocery shopping must seem complicated and a bit convoluted, most weeks it's just the farmers market, SPUD delivery or CSA delivery. A few minutes of driving, no shopping carts or checkout line, and the majority of my food dollar supporting local organic family farms and businesses.

P.S. I wish I had a garden.

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  1. My local farmer's market is only open late April to mid-December, but I shop there often (and being in Washington state, apples are abundant there). Because we live in the city, we are 5 blocks from a Trader Joe's and a food co-op. I try to do most of my shopping at the co-op so I can reduce packaging (love the bulk bins for grains, spices, honey, shampoo, and cleaners); my son and I used to walk there but now we ride our bikes and bring our backpacks.

    And yes, delivery is awesome. Once a month I splurge on an order from Amazon Fresh, particularly when I run out of bulky items like cat food/litter, toilet paper, laundry detergent. I used this option more often when my son was a baby and their minimum amount for free delivery was lower--but I also like the excuse to get out of the house and go to the co-op and get some exercise.

  2. I would be lying if I said I wasn't jealous of all that beautiful produce. :)
    Right now (in between Fall/Winter CSA and Summer CSA), we have a local food share-- you pay for categories, by month, and receive what they have available in each of your categories. When the farmer's market starts back up again next month, we'll go to that weekly. I make a trip to the natural foods store for bulk items once every 6-8 weeks, and we still end up at the regular market once a week or so. I also buy organic meat and dairy through a coop.

  3. This all sounds fantastic to me and I congratulate you on a healthy lifestyle. My problem is that, living in Norway, farmer's markets are practically inexistent. There is no other place to buy greens apart from the grocery store where most of the veggies are covered in plastic. Yes, I'm talking about one of the greenest countries in the world.

  4. We have this amazing thing called Relay Foods in our area, where I order online from 20 or 30 differnet local or organic farms and supermarkets and they get my food together and I just need to pick it up at a centralized pick-up location (they have locations all over our county). The stores see increased traffic so they give Relay the cut on their end, so it doesn't cost more to do it this way. Totally amazing, especially with little kids!


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