I have no idea where to start on this recap. I have so many thoughts, so I suppose we will just dive right in.
If we are being honest, I did not do well on this challenge. I had all these plans to check out farms ahead of time, prep the staples, like broth, preparing dried beans and baking bread. Then August happened. We overbooked ourselves, did too much and the whole family ended up sick. I was left with zero time to prepare for this challenge, so I made the choice to start a week late. I ended up starting on the 5th, just by happenstance, still not prepared.
I was able to get to some farms and new-to-me stores, but I found that some of the staples I had planned on weren’t actually as available as the internet lead me to believe. All the shops that I thought carried Farmer Ground Flour (the only local flour mill I was able to find) didn’t carry the basics, just the odds and ends like spelt flour and polenta. I still bought those but was at a loss on flour for regular bread. The case was pretty similar with dried beans and barley. There was one farm/CSA service that I wasn’t able to get in contact with until the end of the month that does, in fact, carry it all (for a premium), but by then it was too little too late.
Could I have loaded up Monster in and drove 2-3 hours in all directions to go get this stuff? Absolutely, but that didn’t seem fair to him. Spending day after day in the car so I could purchase a few staples for a month-long challenge wasn’t something I was willing to do. Had I planned ahead more I would have hit these places up during our recent travels since I was way closer at those times. I still plan to visit these as time allows.
What this turned into was avoiding beans, and allowing flour. barley and salt as a cheat, even though they weren’t on my original list. I did, however, make my own or, buy locally baked bread, mostly from Rock Hill Bakehouse. Again if we are being honest again I also ate a lot of English muffins with peanut butter at night. I’m 7+ months pregnant, and those cravings are hard to ignore.
Could I have gone without on these items too? Sure, but as a pregnant, predominately vegetarian woman, I (and my husband) felt I needed more than potatoes and corn as starches to fill my belly.
On the flip side I never used Mustard out of my cheats, so technically I could have switched something for that item.
Enough of the negative, let’s talk about all the things I loved about this challenge. It may not seem like it, but I really did enjoy the challenge overall.
First and foremost, was the food. I had a lot of fun building my recipes around what was available. It’s something I have always done, but this was on a new level. I also really enjoyed any excuse to eat excess tomatoes with fresh herbs! Some of my other favorite recipes included eggplant involtini (I used spicy sausage and added swiss chard), Venison Stuffed Cabbage, Corn Chowder, Venison Sausage Hash, Zoodles and Meat Sauce, Sausage and Barley Stuffed Peppers (no recipe yet), and Samosa Stuffed poblanos. I loved being able to dig through my archives and revive recipes that we have loved, but haven’t had in a while. I’ve also got a ton more recipes and ideas that I can’t wait to share.
I had so many more plans for meals, but as the third trimester kicked in I got really tired. Our meals became simpler, and I made more so we could eat them multiple times. I even got too tired to make my normal breakfast of eggs and potatoes. I started opting for a large scramble or just toast and peanut butter. This made for less fun on Instagram, but that’s how life goes sometimes.
I also used this challenge as an excuse to reach out to local farms. I was able to visit and chat with a bunch of new-to-me farms. Everyone was a joy to chat with and I’m excited to continue to build relationships with them. I even have a few more farm tours coming up as the season winds down, which is super exciting, so keep an eye out for those.
Things that Surprised me
Instagram’s ability to bring people together. I couldn’t believe how many new farms I was able to find through hashtags from the local farmers market. I knew Instagram had power (I mean I’m building a new business around it right now), but wow was I impressed. I’m so happy to have met so many new people and collaborate with new farms, that are actually local to me! You can follow along on my adventures here.
Another thing that surprised me was the availability of certain foods. Peas were surprisingly hard to come by. In the grocery store, snap peas are tough to find around here, but frozen peas are always available. I figured I’d be able to find at least snap peas at the markets, unfortunately, this was not the case, the few places that had them sold out quick. As far as shelling peas, I saw none of them. I was surprised because I know they grow up here, I usually grow them, but I went a different direction in my garden this year and didn’t have space. I use peas in so many of my recipes, mostly as a healthy filler, so that was a big change for me. The other thing I was surprised about was broccoli, again it’s something that grows here, that I have even grown it before, but I didn’t see it often at the market. I’m thinking that maybe it’s too early in the fall season? I know this year was tough on brassica plants also. I think this is one of those vegetables that it’s constant presence at the grocery store, and constant cheapness has blinded me to its actual season.
One thing I enjoyed was seeing new variations for things that you don’t see in the stores. The biggest thing was the mashed potatoes hybrid squash. It didn’t taste as much like mashed potatoes as I would have thought for everyone’s raving, but Monster absolutely loved it. It also costs a lot, so my mom is going to grow it next year for him.
Firstly, I found I spent less money if I went to the market with a rough meal plan than if I went without. I think this is obvious, but it’s also a little tough because you can’t meal plan when you aren’t 100% sure what’s going to be at the market. A lot of times I based what I was going to make on the last market only to show up and see totally different things. Similarly, I found that purchasing CSA boxes saved money. I could then just go to the market and pick up staples like potatoes, and onions, with blinders on of course. It’s really easy to get distracted by pretty produce and buy a bunch of stuff that you won’t have room to eat before it goes bad.
During September I spent $537.35 on groceries. This is significantly higher than previous months that averaged $410.30 this year. It’s also higher than the same month last year which was $465.17.
I definitely think a lot of this comes from spending more money on local meat. While I try to stick to organic, free-range meat when at the grocery store, but I always wait until it goes on sale and stock up. I get significant savings this way, which is something that I wasn’t able to do during this short-term challenge. I do want to make the change to eating more local meats, but I think the best way to do that would be to buy a larger portion such as a quarter or a half. This is usually much cheaper than buying the individual cuts. Unfortunately, I can’t do that right now because it’s hunting season and I don’t know how much room we will have in the chest freezer at the end of the season. It’s also part of the reason I had to buy so much meat, we are basically out of wild game at this point.
While, I always tried to buy local, and get to the farmers market, but the truth is I didn’t ever make it a habit. The grocery store is just so damn convenient, especially being only 2 miles from my house. I am glad that this challenge made going to the farmers market more of a habit. It also gave me some great contacts at local farms. I’m planning on trying some CSA’s and visiting the farms more often.
I didn’t get to try some of the things I wanted to like homemade tortillas (it felt silly to have them without beans), and homemade chili paste. I’m hoping to try these in the next couple weeks as time allows. While I try to cook from scratch often this challenge really showed me that I can do better. Baking bread on a weekly basis, and making pasta from scratch are totally doable things. Yes, I’ll have to plan ahead more, but I think the flavor, and quality of the food is totally worth it.
This challenge has been a great experience, one that I hope to repeat, with greater success. Feeding my family quality food is important to me, and challenges like this help me to check in on how I’m doing and what my actual long-term goals are.