Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sustainability on a Budget

One of the most common misconceptions about sustainable living is that it has to cost a fortune. In reality, every individual and family can live an eco-friendly, healthy life. I should know, I'm a college student on a pretty tight budget, but I still eat really well - and feel good about all of the food I buy. Here are some tips I scrounged up to help you bring SOLE (Seasonal, organic, local, and ethical) food to your family without breaking the bank:

1. Limit processed foods – when you buy processed foods, you are paying for packaging, preservatives, and transportation. When you eat fresh, whole foods, you get more for your dollar, and you're eating what nature intended. This doesn't have to mean cutting out convenience. Fruits, veggies, and nuts are just as portable as a granola bar, but they'll cost a lot less and fill you up more.
2. Eat with the Seasons – eating seasonally means buying healthy, delicious foods when they are at their peak, which saves money and connects you to your local environment. There are loads of resources out there to help you pick foods that are in season in your area, but nothing is simpler than heading out and seeing for yourself. Check out your local farmers market and see what the local farms are offering right now. Better yet, find out what they're drowning in - the most plentiful crops will often be the least expensive. Talk to you farmers - they want to help!
3. Eat Locally – By supporting local farmers and producers, you cut out the middleman and gain access to the freshest, most nutritious foods. The longer food takes to get from the farm to your plate, the less nutrients and vitamins are in that food. I'm totally a cheater on this one, because I often buy foods that are a bit past their prime (hooray for dollar bags and market mark-downs!), but a good amount of my food budget goes towards the freshest food possible.
4. Make your own - Starting with one food at a time, find replacements for packaged goods you’d normally buy at the supermarket, including bread, cereals, crackers, and canned beans. I'm planning on making my own crackers soon, and I don't think anyone can argue that homemade baked goods are so much better than the ones in packages. Eating SOLE food doesn't mean giving up taste or eating like a rabbit - it means eating great food that you can be proud of (this totally includes cookies.)
5. Buy in bulk – most stores have bulk aisles where you can save on packaging and processing. Find nuts, beans, rice, grains, and granola without the waste, and save money. This morning I threw a pot of Oregon wild rice on the stove, and it will last me through the week. If that's not convenience and taste on a budget, I don't know what is.
6. Grow your own – Growing your own fresh foods can be so rewarding, and everyone can do it! From a few containers of herbs on your patio or kitchen counter to a full garden in your backyard, growing your own edibles is a creative way to save money. Kids love helping out, and it teaches everyone what's in season - plus it's a great way to prove that local just plain tastes better. Tomatoes from your garden? No contest. Best tomatoes on earth.
8. Eat out less - I eat at restaurants maybe once a month (MAYBE) but I still have amazing dinners and breakfasts with my closest friends all the time, and I can tell you I don't miss the prices. Nothing beats the feeling of cooking up a great dinner with people you love. I know I'm kind of a rare breed, that spending hours in the kitchen is my idea of a day off, but it doesn't take much. If you think of yourself as a good cook, try this fun experiment - think of your favorite restaurant meal, and try to duplicate it at home with local, organic ingredients. You get to control everything about the meal, and feel good knowing that you've saved money and supported local farms.
9. Eat less meat - This one is a bit touchy for some people I know, but I can tell you, it really saves tons of money to eat animal products only a few times a week. Most of my meals are vegetarian, but when I buy meat, I try to make it the freshest, closest-to-home as possible. It's wonderful to say I know the people who buy the meat I eat, because they can tell me about their farms, their animals, and I know I'm not going to get sick from any mass-market meat scare. If you can't buy meat (or chicken, or fish, or eggs) from someone you can meet, buy organic as much as possible. Yes, it costs more. But really, if you cut back a little and find creative ways to make really filling meals without the meat, it's so worth the extra dollar to have faith in the food you feed yourself and your family.
10. Eat ugly fruit (and veggies) - This is my favorite tip. If you're a reader of my blog, you know I love to scrounge for mark-offs, dollar bags, and free tables of less than perfect fruits and veggies. Ask around at your local stores and supermarkets - they probably have an area of discounted produce. I'd tell you where I get a lot of my fruits and veggies for free, but then everyone in Portland would be competing for my bounty. That's my secret, but hey, I trust you'll find your own. It's all about being creative - a tart made with slightly ugly apples or a soup made with the farmer's less than champion squash taste just as fantastic!

Cut out the middleman! You can find affordable, delicious, and healthy foods:
- At your local farms – go to or to find local sources of everything from fruits and vegetables, to meat and dairy products. Your entire dollar goes to the farmer, and your get more value for your dollar.
- At your local Farmers’ Market – get to know your local producers, and find out about the best deals every week from the people who know the best!
- Buy a Share in a local CSA – get local produce delivered to you every week, for less than you’d pay at the store! Go to for more info.

We vote with every dollar we spend on food. When we support sustainable agriculture and organic, locally produced goods, restaurants, supermarkets, and producers respond by making more sustainable food accessible at prices that are fair to everyone. Have more tips for an eco-friendly diet on a budget? Let me know! I love to hear what other people are doing to eat in a way that makes them feel great, in their hearts, their minds, their stomachs, and their wallets!


  1. It sounds so simple and delicious so why is it that more of us don't eat this way??? Great post!

  2. "Cut out the middleman! You can find affordable, delicious, and healthy foods:
    - At your local Farmers’ Market – get to know your local producers, and find out about the best deals every week from the people who know the best!"

    Yeah right! Farmers' Markets have become such a hip buzz that I think they are gouging people.

    I attended a few and was outraged by the prices I went back to Trader Joe's and go me veggies and fruit from there instead. Seems like the middle-man knows how to keep the prices in check.

  3. i love farmers markets. they're not always THE cheapest thing ever, but you're getting quality and supporting local businesses. And sometimes, they have great deals. things that grow easily or abundantly aren't that expensive. i think this is a great post -- and not considering money, farmer's markets are WAY more fun to shop than a grocery store.

  4. Thanks for this post, I'll definitely be trying a them (a few at a time, of course!)

  5. It definately depends on the farmer's markets and where you live. I live near the Lancaster, PA area where farms are plentiful and local produce is cheap at the markets. Even better is to go to farm "stands". I buy my eggs, squash, tomatoes, corn and a variety of veggies at a tiny Mennonite farm near my house. It's local and super cheap. Best of all, I'm helping their family out while I'm helping MY family out!

    I totally agree with your food philosophy, thanks for sharing it with so many. This is how everyone should eat (not always easy though in our fast paced society). Back to the basics!

  6. Excellent post. I'm a vendor at a large local farmer's market and see first hand the importance of the market to the community. The gap is bridged between those who grow our food and those who consume it. And what a great way to meet neighbors and educate our children.

  7. Great post! I went to our Farmer's Market every Sunday for the entire season (this will be our last weekend) and was able to get everything that I needed (incl. bread, eggs and milk) and did not have to step foot into a supermarket all summer long (bought all paper products, detergents at PCC). I have to say it was very liberating. Yes, you pay a bit more but you are getting fresh and local food, which will last much longer than buying it for a bit cheaper and only have it last a few days.

  8. These are good points in theory, though I have to point out that in practice a lot of your points don't work. As others have mentioned, Farmers Markets often charge three to four times as much as grocery stores. If you get a good deal, it *might* be a dollar more than the grocery store. The same is true for other tips like buying local, being a vegetarian, etc. I have a hard time making it from paycheck to paycheck and I only ate meat occasionally for three years or so a long time ago.

  9. Thanks for the plug, Oakley. Your suggestions are 'right on' and it really helps out us local farmers:)

  10. Such a great post, for many reasons. My favorite? Eat the ugly produce!

    So true, so true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  11. Good tips! Eating vegetarian and in season is how I save the most money. I'm not sure that being vegan would save much more money, and it just wouldn't be worth it for me because I love cheese too much!

  12. This post is timely in this first week of summer, 2010, and it deserves to be posted! very informative! Great tips!

  13. Late to the party and last, I'd like to point out that at my local farmer's market, at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning, farmers sell tons of produce at bulk prices. Families here tend to by HUGE quantities, and then split the bounty and the cost with whoever wants some.