My focus on this blog generally has been to show where local foods can be purchased here in the Skagit Valley. Price hasn’t really been much of an issue since it’s actually often less expensive to buy products and produce locally and, in the long run, it is better for our local economy. The greater economy, however, is affecting all of us in one way or another and it’s a good time to share what I know about the cost of eating.
One caveat about my information is that I have barely set foot in a standard grocery store for years. I occasionally go to Albert’s Red Apple and pick up a half gallon of Organic Valley milk or some toothpaste, but unless I really really need something out of season or I notice some great deal on an organic item in Haggen’s weekly flyer I’m pretty clueless about what the going rate is for anything. I do know that, except for loss leaders, grocery stores charge a lot for stuff.
I tend to buy things in bulk, seasonally, organic whenever possible and limit the ready-made and processed. I don’t use a microwave. We’re omnivores, but we eat mostly plants. There are two of us. We love cheese. We spend a lot of money on cheese. Since I’m under-employed currently, we’ve made a few changes in our shopping (including cheese) and I’ll note those. So here goes, I’ll start with the big ticket items …
Beef: Hemlock Highlands, unquestionably the most tender and flavorful beef out there. It’s a great value and I try to make many meals out of each cut every other week. We try to buy a quarter in the fall. The key here is buying it by the quarter, half or whole from your favorite valley rancher.
Chicken: Not in the budget. We used to purchase a chicken (~$18) or so per year from Skagit River Ranch, but they’ve stopped raising them for the market due to the cost of organic feed. We have a couple of Ranger chickens and some parts in the freezer from special sales, but chicken is generally unaffordable. I won’t compromise quality here so no chicken. (Although the co-op just had breasts with ribs for $2.50/lb. when buying the case. Not sure if that is still on.)
Fish: Costco is the go-to for wild-caught salmon fillets (varies ~$6.99/lb.), Trident salmon patties and *gasp* Trident fish sticks (60 count 4 lb. ~$13). I’ll also buy the farmed trout ($3.99/lb.) there for grilling and smoking. Our local fish markets are also a good source. Kirkland albacore tuna is a good deal. I’ll buy a couple of Trader Joe’s tuna in olive oil ($2) as well. (The fish sticks are a recent addition, taste pretty good and make great quick fish tacos. They’re inexpensive and yes, processed and even breaded, but we’re poor and it’s real fish at least.)
Pork: Silvana Meats or Tenneson Family Farm for all our piggy needs. I get bacon ‘ends and pieces’ since they’re less expensive ($3.89/lb.) and we use bacon only sparingly as a flavoring component. Great sausages and landjaeger too if we’re feeling flush. Inexpensive ground pork from which to make sausage when not.
Milk: Golden Glen Creamery gives us our two half gallons (or so) of milk per month. At $3.50 they’re usually less expensive than the grocery organic equivalent. It mostly goes to Keith’s coffee or baking. Cash and Carry usually has the best price on coconut milk (~75¢ per can).
Butter: I used to buy the organic butter at Costco, but it’s from Aurora so I’m not paying a premium just so they can stretch the rules and abuse their cows anyway. I buy the regular four 1-pound blocks (~$8.50) and will change as soon as they do. As a treat, I’ll buy Organic Valley pasture butter from the co-op for fresh bread use only.
Cheese: Costco – Tillamook extra sharp vintage cheddar, Dutch Gouda, Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano and Jarlsberg. Occasionally Beecher’s or something else pricier. I’ve knocked down the cheese bill lately a little by buying the 2 pound brick of Frigo mozzarella and smoking it, but our food budget just goes to heck in this category. *sigh*
Eggs: We have chickens now so I don’t buy eggs, but I used to buy the Wilcox Omega-3 eggs (18 for ~$3) from Costco. They’re a good value. They’re much cheaper than keeping chickens what with organic feed and scratch and building coops and whatnot.
Yogurt: Nancy’s plain honey whole milk yogurt in the big 64 oz. tub from the co-op. It keeps well, can be flavored with jam or fruit, diluted with water for baking, and costs about $5. Do not waste money on tiny containers of flavored lowfat yogurt, the food value is in the whole milk. Reuse a small container to take it to work for lunch. If it’s on sale, buy two!
Flour: Pendleton Grain Mills Power® brand flour (50# sack ~$28) from Cash and Carry. It’s not organic, but it’s not GMO and it’s milled in Oregon. When I can afford it, I buy organic from Bob’s Red Mill either from the co-op or from the mill store. I can’t afford Fairhaven Mill’s flour anymore either.
Whole grains: Wheat berries, barley, rye and oat groats from our wonderful co-op bulk section or Bob’s mill store. Thick rolled oats (25# sack ~$14) from Cash and Carry.
Legumes: Beans, lentils, peas, etc. from the co-op in bulk when I can’t get to Quincy. I cook up a pot of beans in the pressure cooker nearly every week.
Rice: Daawati organic brown Basmati rice (15 lb. sack ~$15?) from Costco. Others bulk from the co-op or from 99 Ranch in Edmonds (it’s Lynnwood, if you ask me).
Pasta: Costco carries organic Garofalo pasta including whole wheat spaghetti (3kg ~$8). Trader Joe’s also has delicious whole wheat pastas, but they’re more expensive.
Sugar: 50# raw cane sugar (~$35) from Cash and Carry. I whizz it up in the food processor when I need finer grind. This has replaced the organic fair-trade Wholesome Sweeteners sugar from Costco (10 lb. bag $8). (This one hurts because we gave up both organic and fair-trade, but at least it’s less processed and packaged.)
Bread: Pretty much all home-baked since good bread is otherwise too expensive. I’ll occasionally buy the 90 count corn tortilla pack from Costco for $2.99. (Fish tacos, right?) I vacuum pack and freeze them in smaller quantities. Also organic tortilla chips occasionally.
Oils: Coconut oil and/or Full Spectrum shortening on sale from the co-op for various uses including oiling the cutting board and seasoning cast iron. I get them at the co-op. My cooking and deep frying oil is grapeseed oil (3L ~$15) from Cash and Carry since it’s cheaper than organic high heat canola. Regular canola is usually genetically engineered. Organic EVOO (1.5L ~$13) comes from Costco and is so dear that it’s only used on salads and for bread anymore.
Nuts: Costco for whole nuts and peanut butter. Adam’s crunchy is $7 for the 5 lb. tub. I keep the nuts in the freezer or in vacuum-sealed canning jars. (I wish I could find pine nuts that weren’t from China! *grr*) Also whole walnuts in the shell from the co-op just because they’re so good and from Washington.
Spices: Costco, Penzey’s or the bulk section at the co-op. Kosher salt (3 lb. box $1.87) is least expensive at Cash and Carry.
Fruit: Seasonally usually the best price is directly from the orchard. My favorite is Jones Creek Farm. We also pick organic blueberries up at the Johnson’s U-pick in Rockport ($2/lb.). Strawberries come from Sakuma and yesterday’s can be half price and are great for jam. Winter is citrus season and I buy only organic from the co-op so I can zest or candy the peels. I save mandarin peels for spicing up tea.
Vegetables: Farmer’s Markets, CSA, farm stands and homegrown! Freeze, dehydrate and can. I won’t compromise on organic potatoes (varies, 50# box $32), but I’ll buy BC hothouse red bell peppers from Costco (~$1 each) in winter. Costco also carries organic frozen peas, corn and beans! They also have S&W organic canned diced tomatoes (8 cans $7*) and tomato paste ($6 dozen). *$2.50 off coupon until 12/17!
Foraged: Miner’s lettuce, nettles, wild berries and mushrooms are used plenty in my kitchen. Free!
Cleansers: Baking soda (12 lb. $5) and white vinegar (2 gal ~$3.50) from Costco. CountrySave dish soap from the grocery store or co-op. Either CountrySave or Kirkland environmentally friendly laundry detergent. Sorry, can’t find the receipt.
Pet Food: This used to be Canine Caviar for both cat ($35!) and dog ($50!), but now it’s Kirkland brand ($13 and $26) all the way. The dog also gets a daily Kirkland glucosamine pill tucked into peanut butter each morning.
Coffee, Tea, Wine: These are consumed, but generally not purchased. My mother provides spoils from all her travels and her wine clubs.
Okay, those are the ‘highlights’ more or less. This blog post would be a marketer’s dream except there’s not very much in that processed category. Also, you’d think I know what we spend on food monthly, but I don’t really since some things last a long time. I usually tally it up at the end of the year when I do my taxes, but last time (and the first half of this year) the budget was pretty free-wheeling in the food category.
I realize this was a tedious post, but I was trying to illustrate that it’s possible to eat good mostly organic healthy food and source much of it locally even though one is poor. Hopefully by including some of the prices I was able to indicate where many of the best deals are to be found locally. Yes, I know that many are at Costco, but the cost of membership is quickly recovered in savings. Also don’t overlook the ethnic groceries and the scratch and dent corner at places that carry organics like Fred Meyer. I haven’t been to the Grocery Outlet in years, but I used to go before I got all ‘picky’. I’ve heard there are some organics once in a while. I plan on checking them out.