Today we are checking back in with Sustainable Together, a blog by Shelly Randall (our guest blogger at NWEI’s bi-annual conference last year). We also wanted to see what was going on in Port Townsend, WA several months after our sustainable food conference. Read on for a host of tips from Shelly on eating locally and affordably!

…When I launched Sustainable Together as a personal/professional endeavor, I made an ancillary pledge: to make food my main hobby.

I have other hobbies, many of which have fallen by the wayside as I raise a young child (pleasure reading, scrapbooking, kayaking, the list goes on!). Thankfully, I also enjoy cooking, baking, gardening, and shopping at farmers markets. At some point in my sustainable transition, I realized I wouldn’t be able to consistently feed my family seasonal, local, fresh, homemade meals unless I embraced sourcing and preparation of the food.

This takes time, so it helps if you enjoy it.

It also takes a financial commitment. We in the U.S. are conditioned to expect cheap food, year-round. But learning to shape your food budget around seasonal and local foods has many levels of benefits, both for your health and your community.

“With our food dollars, we create the future we want to have,” says Malcolm Dorn, co-owner of the new Chimacum Corner Farmstand, which proactively sources its offerings from local farmers and producers. “The dream is beautiful farmland, healthy people and a healthy habitat.”

Money tight? It helps if you follow the three simple rules the (Port Townsend) Food Co-op brochure lays out for “eating better on a budget”—with some of my own additions:

1) Eat food. (Not junk!) Avoid highly processed foods and consider the nutrient value of foods you ingest. (I found these handy charts of fruits and veggies with the highest nutrition for the least cost at the Sightline Daily blog).

2) Cook. Meal plan. Make it once and eat it twice or thrice (leftovers!). Prep your produce for longer life. Preserve the harvest bounty. Use a whole-foods cookbook. Share recipes, try new ones, get inspired!

3) Shop smart. Make a shopping list and stick to it. Buy produce in season. Definitely buy organic if it’s on the Dirty Dozen list. Buy direct from the farmer. Buy in bulk. Join a buying club. Special-order your regular buys for 15-20% discounts (a co-op member benefit). Shop sales. “Shop” from your garden, i.e., grow your own groceries. Shift your budget to spend less on luxury items and more on good food. Etc.!

I learned a lot about our county’s food system at the affordable food forum, and I was so impressed by the wealth of knowledge and experience represented by the seven panelists that I wanted to know what personal steps they had taken to eat local foods more affordably. So in the Q&A period, I asked each of them to share a tip. Here’s what they had to say.

Seth Rolland of Quimper Community Harvest (a gleaning network) said he picks “free food” from his neighbor’s apple tree and has built a rodent-proof box on his porch for outdoor storage of apples.

Malcolm Dorn of the Chimacum Corner Farmstand said he worked out a trade with a farmer to plant an extra row of pickling cukes for him. He harvested them himself and preserved them with a friend, resulting in a stockpile of one of his favorite foods: pickles!

Al Latham of the Jefferson LandWorks Collaborative said he built a greenhouse to extend his garden’s growing season. He claims six millimeters of plastic added 600 miles of latitude to this indoor climate!

Judy Alexander of Citizens for Local Food (for more, see cover story of Nov./Dec. 2011 Food Co-op newsletter) said she bakes her own bread every week. She’s still using the 100 pounds of wheat she received as her share for volunteering for two years with Jefferson County’s dryland wheat project.

Candice Cosler of the Farm-to-School Coalition said she increased her garden’s production by adding “loads of compost”–which boosts the food’s nutrient content as well.

Irene Marble, a dietician at Jefferson Healthcare (our rural hospital) said she grows her own winter squash and preps them for storage by dipping their shells in a bleach solution.

Brwyn Griffin of The Food Co-op said she simplified her diet to be plant-based with little to no processed foods.

My tip is to start my weekly grocery shopping at the farmers market. (I am fortunate that there are twoweekly farmers markets in my neighborhood that run April-December.) With fresh produce, local meat, eggs, and a few value-added goodies (cheese, salsa) in hand, I go home and meal-plan, creating a shopping list of necessities for the Food Co-op. This one-two punch works well for my family, and I miss it in the winter-time!

For the full blog post, click here.