This article was written by Local Food Systems Intern, Sarah Schenck. In a recent post about my Real Food Journey, I relayed the story of how I began eating locally for nutritional benefits, to decrease my impact on the environment, and to contribute economically to my community, which are just some of the benefits of choosing food from local sources. Amidst growing concerns over food safety, economic security, chemical inputs, and more, making direct connections with your food system at the farmers market is a great way to empower the community and know you're putting the best food in your body.
These are all important pursuits that we shouldn’t discredit, but in face of issues like affordability, accessibility, poverty, and the realities attached to it, is the local movement a luxury only afforded to those who have the means?
In exploration of this notion, I set out to see what it looks like to shop on a SNAP budget. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal anti-hunger program providing assistance during economic downturns and nutritional support for low-wage working families, low-income seniors, and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes.
The average 2015 SNAP benefit recipient receives $144 a month, or $36 weekly, so I used this as my guideline to explore affordability. In an effort to make nutritious food more accessible, a number of Arizona farmers' markets have taken initiative in accepting SNAP benefits. Debit card in hand and budget on mind, I visited my nearby farmers' market.
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I started with my heartier produce, that I could stretch over multiple meals. A total of $12.92 purchased: 1 lb/asparagus 1 lb/spinach 1 dozen eggs 1 bunch of beets A handful of mini heirloom tomatoes
Breakfast for the week? Try a protein packed combination of bread and peanut butter with citrus on the side. $4.50/ loaf of bread. Consider The Arizona Bread Company or Barrio Bread $6.00/8 oz jar from Peanut Butter Americano $1/3 grapefruits $1/4 oranges Total $12.50
Add up these purchases and this leaves a remainder of $10.58, with which you could peruse the market for more produce, or perhaps find local dairy from The Simple Farm, United Dairymen of Arizona, or Danzeisen Dairy at a nearby retailer.
For an idea of the affordability of some other produce items at farmers' markets, consider you can find: $3/bag of carrots $3/bag of brussels sprouts $3/spaghetti squash $2.50/1 lb beans $2/green onions $2/greens: a head of broccoli, bag of salad greens, bundle of bok choy, swiss chard, or kale, to name a few.
With my farmers' market bounty, I baked a loaded spinach, tomato, and asparagus quiche, which can easily be converted into a frittata. Split into 7 servings, this recipe can provide healthy helpings for a week. There was enough leftover produce to get creative with sautéing or roasting veggies each evening to eat alongside spiced beans and rice.
Price is the big beef many have with buying local foods, and often the prices are slightly higher, because you are paying for the true cost of producing good, wholesome food, and ensuring a living for our local food producers. But this experience has helped me (and I hope, you too) to dispel the idea that local is just automatically unaffordable. In fact, good, locally grown and harvested food typically has higher nutrient density and tastes a little better, making the cost/benefit totally reasonable.
This exploration of local food accessibility will continue in a future post, but until then...
7 Tips for eating locally on a budget:
1. Browse printed and online resources to get recipe inspiration to maximize ingredients you can use in multiple dishes throughout the week. 2. Plan meals that will yield leftovers; this way you cover more meals per week on your budget. 3. Use Good Food Finder to locate additional ingredients, locally. 4. Substitute more pricey meats with less expensive protein sources like local eggs, beans, nuts, and dairy products. 5. Visit this map of farmers' markets to see which ones accept SNAP benefits near you. 6. Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to get a great bang for your buck. Many offer huge weekly shares for less than $30. 7. Do the prep at home, eat with the season and save some cash. The best prices at the farmers market are found on raw produce that is currently in season.