Local markets provide an overwhelming number of options. If you’re cooking your own food to save some money, you may be used to buying your own ingredients at these stores.
We weigh these purchasing decisions against many options, like taste, healthiness, convenience, tradition, appearance, and price. But you could actually cut your costs even more by thinking about “when” you’re buying—as opposed to “what.”
Shortly after a friend left the music industry to start a goat farm in Vermont, I started wondering where, when, how, and who produced the products I put in my body. I took for granted that food came from the supermarket and never really gave any thought to the process before it arrived on the shelf.
So I went with my friend to his next farmers market in a well-trafficked city square. The difference between the products I saw there and what I was used to from the supermarket immediately overwhelmed me.
A CORNUCOPIA OF CHOICE
It was at the end of September, and everything felt like it was available in super-saturated colors and smells. The farmers explained their products, how they were grown, and even give some recipe suggestions.
I returned to the market after a few months of traveling, but the delicious corn, tomatoes, berries, and watermelon were missing. In their place was a limited selection of equally delicious apples, onions, squash, and cauliflower. With this simple switch, I realized that these things are grown according to the rules of nature and are only available during their specific harvest periods—not always, as I had assumed.
So I started asking questions and doing some research.
DELICIOUS, FRESH, CHEAP
By meeting my local farmers and asking about their growling cycles, I came to plan my meals out by what was seasonal. It was easy to understand the cycles for some items, because they are rooted in traditional meals (pumpkin in the fall). Others took some study to remember.
What I quickly understood, though, was that eating a vegetable or fruit during its season made it not only more delicious but also cheaper. Tomatoes in February are expensive because they have to be shipped halfway around the world—adding fuel, pesticide, and packaging costs. But in August, they are cheap, plentiful, and overwhelming with flavor because they could be grown around the corner!
When I first discussed my new understanding with my grandmother, she was incredulous because what I had to stumble upon and investigate was common knowledge for her generation. They would look forward to June for the first peach or strawberry, and they’d can tomatoes in September so they could have that bright acidy during the winter.
With a little forethought, you can create a meal plan that’s seasonal and tasty with less money. You might need to meet a few farmers first, but they seem to be a nice bunch on the whole.
Have a great, cheap recipe for this time of the year? Share it in the comments.
(Photo: erin & camera/Flickr)