Week 3- the costs of local food

Its week 3, and I feel amazing, you guys. My skin is clear, my hair looks great, and I have all kinds of energy. This rocks. It also takes a lot of time, energy, and maintaining relationships to make this work. It can be exhausting, and a full time job, and I already have a more than full time, exhausting job… but we’re getting into the swing of things.

I was thinking yesterday about the money involved in local food, and organic foods. Partially because I fell asleep to an audiobook of Joel Salatin’s Folks, This Aint Normal, and was listening to him breaking down the higher prices of biodynamic, natural food versus the improvement in nutrients, not to mention the better outcomes for the earth. This is all well and good, but not everyone has the cash for the higher priced food, even though its very true that they are getting way more nutrients for their dollar.

I was also listening to Sarah talk about how our bodies feel on this diet- we are damn pretty right now. And part of what she was saying was we’re eating no filler foods. Everything we eat is a whole food, and though the foods tend to be high calorie, we’re eating less bulk, and more consciously. The result has been a lot of energy and happy cells. This reminded me of when I used to spend about $2 every day on coffee. I would also get busy, stressed, and tired, and grab sushi from Harvest’s counter. I tended to get the avocado roll, which was about $4. Just those occasional expenses add up really fast. Not to mention burritos. Oh god.

Overall, I’m spending way less money on this diet thus far, but its a very different way of interacting with money, and one that isn’t always accessible to people with low incomes (including me) and a lot of what I eat I don’t exchange money for, but other resources.

I’m not buying anything prepared, or packaged, and I’m not buying any filler foods. And almost everything I buy is in bulk, so I pay less per pound. But, on the other hand, I’m spending that money in a chunk, up front, and I haven’t always been able to do that, and neither can a lot of people. One of the most frustrating, eternal things about being poor, is its expensive. I can buy amazing local organic potatoes grown by a friend less than a mile from where I sit right now, for $1.20 per 50# sack. That’s less money than the grocery store, which the last time I checked was selling organic (and not local) potatoes for $1.40 per pound, but I have to have that money all at once, rather than buying a few here and there as needed. So its cheaper, but not possible without strict budgeting. And just not possible at all for some folks.

The way we do it is by budgeting, doing without extras, and by cultivating connections with people. Sarah and I split that 50# sack of potatoes. We go in on cow shares together so we each pay less. We trade off who picks up the week’s fresh dairy. Those of us on the coast with goats are talking about going in together on bulk orders of organic regionally grown grain, so we can access the lower prices of buying in bulk. We trade a lot. There’s a wonderful local woman who sells her eggs at the summer market, and whose hens have just started laying again. There’s a winter market I attend with my produce, but she works on that day, so I brought her eggs for her last week and sold them, and in return she gave me eggs for the week. We do little things like this everyday. But none of this is possible without a lot of trust, and a lot of time spend building those connections. Community is a resource, and its a resource that is less accessible when you’re tired, stressed, or in pain.

A lot of what I do is a vow of poverty, traded off for extreme material indulgence. I’m a total hedonist. A hedonist who works 7 days per week, is always sore, and covered in mud, but still. I love what I do. I love eating this food, and sharing it with other people. I couldn’t afford to buy it if I didn’t grow it, however. And if you priced out something like my goat’s milk, against the countless hours spent building fences, feeding, snuggling, and arranging conjugal visits, I have no idea how high the cost per gallon would work out. But that’s not really why I do it. I do it because its my favorite thing on the planet. But I made that choice, and not everyone can.

I guess what I’m saying is, this is not simple math, and I can’t say so far whether or not what we’re doing is cheaper or more expensive than how most people are eating. Some of what we eat is totally free, in the form of wild kale, mushrooms, and trades, but built into that is the environment that is clean, the time to go find those things, and the physical ability to spend hours walking, bending, standing and cooking. Not everyone has these things. So while I am spending less money on food now, I also have access to a lot that most people don’t.


On the other hand, mass produced food is expensive in many other ways. Malnutrition leads to illness, packaged food is expensive (potato chips cost a lot more per pound than potatoes, though you do need a stove and time to cook) and there are the hidden costs of subsidies and pollution.

I want to be able to say that we can do this as a real viable lifestyle choice for people, not something that is only accessible to the wealthy foodie movement. We are definitely totally broke, and we’re doing it. But the truth is there are so many factors in how people deal with food and money that I can’t make any definitive statement. This works for me. Partially because of my sacrifices, and partially because of my privileges. And while I am absolutely philosophically and politically opposed to the giant food corporations and everything they do, I do not feel the same way about the people who buy their food. If people need or want to buy that kind of food, whether because of their budget, or because they work three jobs and have no time to cook, or because they can’t stand at a stove for an hour, I’m never going to judge them. My issue is with the people creating the abusive system, not the people in it.

This thing we’re doing is at once the most ascetic and most luxurious thing I’ve ever done.


This meal was pretty amazing- it could have easily been in an upscale restaurant. This was seared lamb cheeks, which is a cut taken from the face, as you might expect. Its amazingly tender and delicious. In this country, most of the time the heads of slaughtered animals are discarded, and the meat is wasted, but we’re lucky to have a wonderful friend who is committed to using the whole animal. He gave us these for free. The fresh fava bean hummus came from favas I froze last spring and grew myself. I grew the arugula. We used some fresh butter to sear the lamb, and there’s a slice of local goat cheese Sarah bought on each plate, but aside from that no money was spent. What was spent was a lot of work and time, and human connections.

It might well be true that most Americans spend less on food than those in other countries. I’ve heard that repeated so many times in documentaries promoting local food, said with a certain amount of scorn- criticizing Americans as fat, entitled lazy people who don’t know what’s good for them. Its always deeply irritated me. A lot of people aren’t educated about food, sure, but the solution isn’t as easy as suggesting everyone start eating at Chez Panisse. As much as I’m completely enjoying submersing myself in local food, I’m also doing my best to keep very aware of how lucky we are to have this chance, and to think about how we could make what we’re doing accessible to more people. I truly believe that small, local farms are the way to feed people, and I truly believe that we can all do this, wherever we are. Detroit is an amazing example of how inner city land can become used for food production, and in Chicago Will Allen is saving the world, and possibly all our souls, with Growing Power.

Its a work in progress, but I see encouraging things everywhere. The new law passed in California that allows the sale of some products made in home kitchens, (though of course not yet milk or meat) is a really good sign. Vibrant local markets, even in winter, are a great sign. Our local senior center both growing produce in their own garden, and in the space we donate on my farm, and gleaning at the end of market so that seniors can have healthy food, is a great sign.

Food deserts are real, and hunger in America, both from lack of food altogether and from malnutrition from poor quality food, are a huge problem. I love that my job is to grow organic food to feed kids. We need a lot more people doing this job. The knowledge exists, the land exists. School districts like ours can be used as a template for how others could work with local farms too.

From a taste-testing of kale salad we did yesterday at the High School.
The kids liked it!

As messy and meandering as all these thoughts are, hopefully we’re coming to something positive.



5 thoughts on “Week 3- the costs of local food

  1. Wonderful writing and well thought insights Gowan. Not at all rambling to me. So true that not everyone has the health or time or resources to do what you and Sarah are and should not be judged by that. To incorporate as much local food as we can into our diets whether it is 10% or 100% is a worthy thing to strive for. Really enjoying following posts and facebook updates!

  2. I love the way you bring together the work, the love, the politics, and the soul of this endeavor into one article. You have a talent for embracing the micro- and macro- all at once, and for sharing on a deeply personal plane but also on one that is universal, so all can relate. I am glad you girls are having this experience, and proud that you are people upon whom none of the experience is wasted. Namaste.

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