As one of my New Year refinements I promised to share how we manage to eat only from our food storage during the winter. Today, I will focus on how we manage bulk foods.
Last year, we were getting many of our grains from natural food stores and regular grocery stores. But over the last year, we opened an Associated Buyers account and now we order all of our grains, oils, sweeteners, teas, some legumes that are not available locally from them and cleaning products for body and home. I order from them 3-4 times a year.
Associated Buyers is the same company that serves as a distributor to many health food stores in our region. But they also will serve buying clubs (buying co-ops without a storefront). We are able to get wholesale prices when we purchase food from them; which allows us to eat good food much cheaper. A minimum order is 350.00. I let friends know when I am making an order so if there is anything they would like, I add it to my order. One added benefit of purchasing some of our food this way is that Associated Buyers carries foods that are produced in Maine. So I can get a 5lb jar of Swan's honey, seaweeds such as dulse and nori, along with many other value added foods grown right here in Maine.
The one challenge to ordering food this way is storing the food. I could buy food in smaller portions but then my cost goes up on the product. For some things I order, like raisins, I will have them broken down into 5lb increments because the larger size offered is more money than I intend to spend. But for things like grains and beans I order them in 25 or 50lb bags. For these larger quantities I store them in 5 gallon buckets with gamma seal lids. Inside each bucket the food is kept in the plastic bag it came in. The key to this sort of food storage is keeping things air tight and bug free. So I will put these items in the chest freezer for a day to kill any crawly critters before I put them in the buckets. I don't keep pasta in these bucket because we eat a lot of it. I order about 30lbs.. I order only organic whole wheat spiral rotini. It comes in 10 pound increments which is packaged inside a plastic bag inside a box.
What is the advantage of buying bulk food like this? Well, first, I have to be much more intentional about the food I am preparing for my family. I don't just walk through the grocery store loading up a cart and worry about the sticker shock when I get to the checkout. Granted, I have to come up with a large amount of money, usually about 350.00 3-4 times a year. But the rest of the money I spend on food is much less during the intervals. This time of year I average about 150.00 a month for a family of four on local meat,local eggs, Cabot cheese in the 2lb blocks, milk and raw milk for making yogurt and pet food. Second, I only order food I know my family will eat in order to reduce waste. If there is something new we might be interested in trying, I buy it in a smaller quantity at the health food store and try several recipes with it before purchasing a larger quantity. Associated Buyers sells many of the name brand organic products for fridge and freezer too, but we usually only buy from the bulk portion of their catalog because it is less packaging and more economical this way. Third, it is just healthier. I do all my cooking from scratch and all of it consists of whole grains, produce from my garden or local foodshed, and local meats. Lastly, food storage is food security. During these tough and uncertain economic times having a store of food provides a cushion if there are any disruptions to the household budget.
To end, I would like to share one of our favorite snacks. We order popcorn in bulk. Yup. Simple fare but always satisfying. I will make a batch of popcorn in the morning while I am making breakfast if we are going to be about town that day. This way I have a snack in the car and will not feel tempted to buy something quick to eat at the store; especially if the hungry beasties from the back seat start to growl. To cook popcorn from scratch put a a few tablespoons of canola oil and about a cup ( I'm just guessing here because I usually eyeball it) of popcorn in a good size pot. On the stove top, turn heat up medium high. Let it warm and it will start popping in the pan. Do not open pan until popping has stopped, not only because you don't want popcorn popping everywhere, but also because you don't want to loose heat while it is popping. When it is all done popping I will sprinkle with a little nutritional yeast and dill weed. This really doesn't take much longer to cook than that microwave stuff and it is much better for you.
Next week I will discuss how we manage meats and dairy.