First, a number of months ago, when I was in the market for fresh farm eggs (from pastured chickens), a h/schooling friend recommended a business to me. That business is a farm located an hour outside of the city. There are nine women (sisters, in-laws, aunties) who work with their men-folk on their own land, to produce naturally grown grains and (in season) vegetables, as well as pastured pork, beef and chickens. They also work out of a kitchen to prepare some foods for purchase. Every second week, they deliver to my area of the city and, if I order a minimum of $20 (not hard!) they deliver to my door for free!
The delightful thing about them is that, although they are not certified organic, it is how they raise their produce, grains and animals (plus, the animals are all pastured...ie. grass & hay fed out on the fields). So I've been buying their homemade breads (baked, as their website says, "as oma made them"), homemade meatballs (from pastured beef), homemade chilli (also from pastured beef), etc etc - even bags of pastured beef bones for making stock. No preservative, no chemicals, all natural. I've been buying pastured beef and chicken for many years from another farmer, so I haven't purchased much meat from these folks, but we've tried a roast as well as some of their pastured pork sausages. They've been such a help, frankly - I get to feed my family food that is very much like I would prepare it, but it's done for me. A few years ago I gave up on making my own bread because it was just too busy to try to accomplish everything; these farmers make dense, utterly wholesome, super grainy breads that fill you up after one slice. It's been so nice to know that what I buy from them is made just the way I'd make them and with natural (mostly organic and pastured and otherwise all natural) product. It's lovely to have these things in the freezer - it's helped me regularly with providing great, healthy meals without having to put quite so much effort into it. Oh, and they do deliver to my door those farm-fresh, pastured eggs that started me off in the first place!
There's something else that we're doing now that I've been thinking about for at least a couple of years: Purchasing a share in a farmer's summer produce. This year we did it: A few months ago, in anticipation of the spring that seemed to take forever to arrive, we purchased a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture). As a bonus, the farm is owned by a homeschooling family, which I love to support. The CSA cost us $520 for the season which, over the seventeen weeks that we anticipate receiving a crate of produce, will break down to approximately $20/week for organically grown, freshly picked, local produce.
Yesterday we picked up our first bin of lovelies. We were warned that the first couple of baskets would be quite small compared to later baskets because it's still so early in the growing season here and, given that context, I was delighted with the first-of-the-season haul: An impressively massive head of butter lettuce; a large bag of mixed lettuces; a clump of beets with beet greens attached (I need to learn to cook the beet greens in the next couple of days - I've never cooked them but have heard they are fabulously healthy); enough fat rhubarb to make a hefty dessert; a batch of spring onions; and a bag of fresh oregano. Given how beautiful this produce was, I can hardly wait to sneak a peek into future bins!
So for dinner last night we enjoyed salad as our main course, using that entire massive head of butter lettuce and all of the spring onions (and adding a bunch of other chopped veg); I made a simple dijon/oregano vinaigrette using the fresh oregano; and topped it all off with thin slices of grilled, marinated beef. It was a delicious taste of summer and all five of us loved it.
Finally, I've made another change: I've joined a local food group. A homeschooling friend that I've been getting to know over the past year has been involved in this food group for about fourteen years - in fact, she was one of the founding families of the group. Every second week, 40-50 families (now including us) place a food order online and that food is delivered the following week to a local warehouse in the city. The idea is that produce and all other food are sourced first locally; then nationally; and finally internationally. Because food is mostly sourced directly from suppliers (rather than through a middleman grocer, for example), prices are more reasonable than purchasing the same products at a retail level. We'll be able to purchase pretty much everything we need through the food group. Everyone in the group contributes time and effort to the group - likely 3-4 hours every two weeks. Families hold various jobs: On the day of the food delivery, some families show up early to receive the food shipment and to prepare the receiving room for the sorting of the food; later, various other people attend the warehouse to sort food for participating families (ie. they fill family's bins according to the orders placed); later, other families come to clean up the room where the sorting has taken place; and still others train new members, prepare food for the sorters who are there over the lunch hour, maintain the online systems, negotiate with suppliers and source new ones, are responsible for the accounting/book-keping, receive and process order forms; etc etc..
Recently we were advised that there was an opening in the food group (we've been on the wait list for a while) and so I attended and participated in a Thursday sort last week to see what was involved and what it was like. I loved it: Other families sorting, and later picking up their food, were so friendly and welcoming; 100% of the produce was organic and absolutely beautiful; the other food looked fabulous, too; it was highly organized and efficient; the food was carefully sourced and top-of-the-line in quality. I decided that we'd like to join up, even with the time commitment and knowing that the kids and I will need to keep every 2nd Thursday open to accommodate our involvement. Next week I'm to be trained on the online system and I'll place our first order.
One of the things I'm hoping for, by joining the food group/co-op, is a greater sense of community. We have a rich circle of friends these days, one that has taken years to develop, and I'm looking to build on that even more over the coming years. The group of families attending the food sort last week was lovely and diverse: Working professionals; homeschoolers with a stay-at-home parent; hippie-ish folks; younger and older; with kids and without kids; vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, meat-eating; etc etc. I'd love for my kids to learn to participate in the sort over time, to help build their sense of community and to learn more about how food is sorted/processed/sourced. So far the kids are very excited to participate, mostly at this point because when they came to the recent sort with me, there were a few other kids there and they had a great time together. The idea is that, although we'll still keep our Costco membership because of many of the great products there, participating in the food group will radically reduce our need to visit a grocery store.
Between the farm products we've been purchasing these last months, our purchase of a CSA, our new involvement in the food group, and our likely pending purchase of a good juicer, it feels like we are making some good decisions when it comes to the health and community-connectedness of our family. I'm excited to be trying some new things and, in a way, moving in the direction of a slightly simpler lifestyle.