Friday, March 23, 2012

Primal Economics 102 - Produce

I wasn't always a fan of the produce section.  The veg in my shopping cart used to come in the way of some canned green beans, an onion, a few out of season roma tomatoes and a bag of frozen french fries.  Oh, and ketchup.  [Odds are the tomatoes were going to go bad sitting on my counter.]  My shopping cart slowly evolved over the years... and the places I got my produce from changed, as well.

While most Central Market grocers have well organized and beautifully arranged produce sections, you have to do a little digging to find what little organic produce they stock.  Whole Foods carries more organic produce... but you're going to pay for it.  Listed below are a few of the other ways you can affordably source your produce.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Once a week, for about 8 months out of the year (long growing season down here), my wife and I pick up a cooler full of locally grown, organic produce from a farmer named Gene.  How did we come to find out about Gene and his super secret dropoff spot?  No big secret, really.  Go to the Local Harvest website, enter your zip code, and you'll get information on every farmer in your area that delivers.  Gene, the owner of Oak Ridge Valley Farms Organics (our CSA), is one of 13 local farmers to deliver to the DFW area.  In addition to produce, he also offers eggs shares (dark orange yolks!) and opportunities to get in on the occasional grass-fed cow that goes to slaughter.  While I highly recommend Gene's farm, there may be someone with a more convenient dropoff for you.  Check the list of farmers in your area.

Farmer's Markets

There are probably more than you know.  In the Dallas area alone, they can be found in Frisco, Coppell, Rockwall... and, of course downtown Dallas.  Be wary, though.  Just because the folks selling to you are more personable than the kid stocking the produce section at your local grocer, doesn't mean they grew the produce themselves.  Or that it was even grown locally.  Even at the gigantic Dallas Farmer's Market, the bulk of the produce is shipped in from all over the world.  That juicy pineapple they're offering you a slice of didn't come from East Texas.  Be smart about your shopping at the farmer's market... just as you would in the grocery store.  Eat the seasons.  And if something isn't labelled, ask questions.  Where did it come from?  Is it organic?  If the vendor is worth their salt, they'll be happy to answer.  Heck.  If they grew it themselves, they'll talk your ear off about how they grew it, the rain they have(n't) been getting and what they'll be harvesting next week.

Backyard Gardening

If you have an area of full sunlight, you have an opportunity for a backyard garden.  It doesn't get more locally sourced than that.  Don't think you have enough space?  Grow tomatoes, herbs and peppers in pots.  Bad soil?  Grow everything above ground in a square foot garden.  That little 4x4 plot (shown above) my wife and I started last year gave us everything from mustard greens to cucumbers to peppers, snap peas, spinach and turnips.  We had tomatoes, beets, and radishes on the other side of the yard.  Have picky eating kids?  They probably love getting dirty... and might try a few of those previously untouched vegetables if they had a hand in growing them.

We did our first round of planting a few weeks ago and should get our first CSA dropoff next weekend.  There will be significantly less veg in our shopping cart... but more on our dinner plates.  You can probably expect a few more veggie driven recipes in the weeks to come. 

To break it down, in the growing season we probably get 50% of our produce from our CSA, 25% from the backyard and the remaining 25% from the Dallas Farmer's Market and Whole Foods.  Fiscally, I may not spend significantly less than I would if I shopped at a grocery store alone... but I waste less food (and I do actually spend less). 

It's harder to waste something when you know (or are) the person who grew it.


  1. I wish we'd get our act together for a garden, so great you are doing that. We get boxed veggies from a local farm every to weeks, and sometimes we can't finish them all before they go bad, so I'm thinking of investing in the vitamix blender (costco) to throw all the uneaten veggies in or the veggies the kids won't eat for a nice pureed soup.

  2. Green soup rocks... and greens are in season. Blanching and freezing is an option for some veg, too.