Eating Beyond Organic for Cheap

 In Featured, Food

I want to take the time today to address a question many ask: How do we eat beyond organic for less than the costs of eating conventional?

First off, let’s define what “beyond organic” means. Organic production rejects the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, but still uses other variants for the similar purpose. “Beyond organic” goes one step further and looks for ways to work with nature rather than against her to achieve the same goals. To me, producing “beyond organic” food means healing the planet. It increases soil carbon, creates pollinator habitats, supports bird and wildlife populations. When we go beyond organic, we can move away from always trying to control and dominate. There’s a farmer’s saying that speaks to me:

“ I am sick of growing things that want to die and killing things that want to live.”

But back to the question at hand: How do we eat foods produced in this way for cheaper than conventional? Each of us consumes roughly 1,000 pounds of food per year. For my family of four, that’s almost 2 metric tonnes of food, which can seem pricey. But what many don’t realize is that we pay a heavy premium in the conventional food system for unnecessary extravagance. Do we really need access to fresh avocados or lemons all year around at many times the normal cost and environmental impact?

Beyond Organic for Cheap: Buying in Bulk

Nuts freedigitalphoto

To eat cheaply, we adopt the same strategy large corporations use for keeping costs low: purchase in volume. Every year we set aside a lump sum to buy ALL of our meat, usually in the Fall. Because we have built relationships with producers that produce amazing food, they reward us when we buy large volumes. This approach gets us all of our annual chicken, beef, lamb and pork in one go. We then store it all in energy efficient freezers that cost little to operate. Bulk is the way we go for dry ingredients, too. We purchase nuts, grains and seeds direct from producers at a fraction of the regular cost. They get stored in our root cellar and are used throughout the year. But what about fresh vegetables?

Beyond Organic for Cheap: Growing Year Round

Every year Michelle grows a kitchen garden around our house. Instead of needing access to urban lots or tending lawns that cost money, we made the decision that our property should serve us, not the other way around. In the front yard we have a food forest, with apples, cherries, saskatoons, strawberries, raspberries, currants, perennial onions, asparagus, rhodiola, rhubarb, honey berries, sea buckthorn, ostrich fern and sorrel; in the back we grow tomatoes, potatoes, sunchokes, squash, lettuce, kale, chard, rosemary, basil, thyme, eggplant, mache/corn salad, garlic, and beets. The two systems produce all the vegetables we need from June 15th to November 1st. Every year our yard reduces our food bill by turning soil, sun and rainwater into beautiful, fresh produce. As Ron Finley says in his amazing TED talk, “growing food is like printing your own money.”  

Lettuce from freedigitalphotos

 When the cold comes and the systems go into dormancy, we move our greens production indoors and cultivate microgreens. For cents per tray we use our already heated house to both filter our air and satisfy our “green tooth”.  In the winter, the only things Michelle and I end up buying from the store are dairy products (cheese and cream), onions and garlic (we can’t produce enough of them yet) and oils.

Sourcing beyond organic foods affordably is easy and when we get into the habit of doing it, we encourage more and more people to get into earth-friendly farming. If done properly, growing food is fun, healthy, and inexpensive. Most importantly, the food ends up tasting 10 times better! Not only that, we can recycle our unused nutrients back in to the soil with simple composting methods, which makes our gardens healthier and more successful every year!

Here is a list of some of our favourite food suppliers:

Alberta

Saskatchewan

There’s many more, if you have any favourite suppliers, please list them below!

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Showing 20 comments
  • Dan

    Very useful article, thanks.
    I am new to Edmonton and am looking to participate in beyond organic and related farming initiatives.
    If anyone has any grass finished and forest or ACTUAL pastured pork and eggs I would very much appreciate it.

  • Jerry

    Where you live can make a big difference. We buy all the meat for our family of three for less than $2,500. Eggs from the organic egg supplier to our food co-op, bought directly, are $3/15 eggs. Raw, unfiltered honey is $24/gallon and fresh milk $3/gallon from our Amish neighbors. Maple syrup made locally is $40/gallon. Produce is similarly well-priced when we buy in bulk and directly from the farmers. Lard has become a staple shortening for us because we get the pork fat from the butcher that processes our pork for free– all we want because other customers don’t want it. Rendering at home is simple. We live in Vernon County, in SW Wisconsin, home to the largest concentration of organic farms in the U.S. We have several local cheesemakers also…

  • Deb

    Hi Everyone,
    Also for more northern people…Rangeland Bison has had a few good promotions this year. I found them presenting at Elk Island Park this summer. Meat pick up is also in Edmonton. For other producers start with Alberta Bison Association…there are many choices closer to you.

  • Kris Arbanas

    For Northern Alberta peops, these 3 do grass fed beef and pasture based chicken, turkey, pork deliveries to Edmonton regularly:

    Tim & Maighread http://www.eatfoodforlife.com

    Dylan & Colleen http://www.tkranch.com

    Rusty & Agnes http://www.bigcouleefarms.com

  • Crystal

    Love the article! Where do you buy your bulk nuts, seeds and grains?
    Something about fall makes me want to stock up for the winter 🙂

  • Cam

    Thanks for the post Rob, inspiring as always. I’m curious what percentage of your meals include meat? Meat is obviously an expensive food, so do you try to reduce your costs by limiting your intake or does that ~$4,000 cover 4 to 5 meals a week?

    Thanks,
    Cam

    • rob avis
      Rob Avis

      5000 with a family keeps me in Chicken, Pork and Beef. Sometimes I will add a lamb for 500. A half of beef is about ~2500, 1.5 pigs is around $1000, 30-40 chickens is about ~1000 and then I buy all the bones and organ meats from all the animals (marrow bones, ox tails, chicken carcases, livers hearts, toungue, kidney ect.) which are a fraction of the price and loaded with nutrient. We have a stock pot on the stove all week and at least 20% – 30% of my meals durring the winter are bone broth.

    • rob avis
      Rob Avis

      Also Cam, we eat meat twice a day and eggs every morning. We are part of an organic egg co-op which costs us $6 a dozen. As a family we go through a dozen a day which is cheap, high nutrient dense food.

      • Kim

        Rob, I can’t believe that you pay $6.00/dozen for your eggs. We are raising meat birds right now and so far our cost is only about $3.00/lb. In the spring we are getting Chantecler’s which are a cold resistant dual purpose bird, they are good layers during the winter and good for meat as well. I am going to let 3 or4 go broody so they can raise the next generation and I won’t have to do the brooder thing again. We feed natural, non GMO feed and it is only about $17./55lb bag.

        • rob avis
          Rob Avis

          Kim, does 6 dollars a dozen seem like too much? Paying $50 for 15 grams of protein seems like a lot of value. They are organic and I am supporting an amazing family. The point of my article is not about being cheap. It is about supporting regenerative farmers, good nutrition for our family and saving money. I think food is still too cheap.

        • Amanda

          Kim, we pay $6/dozen for eggs too. That seems to be the going rate for eggs from healthy chickens around Calgary. Where are you located?

  • Patricia

    For organic bulk food take a look at
    http://www.omfoods.com
    (Nelson, BC)

  • Amanda

    Hmmm, where do I start? 🙂 I’ve been working on sourcing from local growers for the past five years in the Calgary area and have built up quite a few. We get some of our meat from Earthworks Farm, some from Eat Food for Life Canada (they deliver to Calgary quarterly and provide chicken, turkey, beef, and pork). My sister and I just purchased a side of bison from Paradise Hill in Crossfield to try this year, and we’ve gotten beef from Double N Ranch in Sundre as well. I get B/S chicken thighs and breasts from Bowden Farm Fresh Chicken (they deliver to Calgary monthly). We do similar to Rob and Michelle and buy our meat in bulk (I have three freezers in the basement). Other than that, I try to grow as much as I can in our short growing season and buy some produce in bulk from the farmers’ market so we can freeze, can and ferment for the winter. This year we started bee-keeping as well to increase our garden yields (and maybe a bit of honey on the side!) I’ve taken a cheese-making course from Sandy Van Veen at Kettle Crossing Farm in Bergen, but unfortunately fresh, raw milk is not easy to come by in Alberta. Next step is to take Aviv Fried’s sourdough class and start making my own bread! One step at a time…

  • Tanner E

    Bravo Rob,
    More people need to reap the benefits of producing beautiful beyond organic produce in their own yard! We have felt so blessed to be in the very mild climate here on Vancouver Island for the simple reason of being able to grow more so that those June-November dates are pushed even farther in either direction. Hope all is well with you, Michelle and the kids 🙂
    Best,
    T

  • Karen

    Here is a source for nuts, seeds, dried fruits and baking ingredients. Not all of the products are organic or biodynamic but they are offering more all the time. They note the origin of the various foods to help make informed decisions and minimize food kilometres.

    http://www.ranchovignola.com (Armstrong, B.C.)

  • Bee Habitat

    is the meat and bulk items organic?

    • rob avis
      Rob Avis

      Yes, or beyond organic. They are not all certified but you can look at their opperations. They all run on transparency!

  • Simone

    Hi Rob,

    would you be able to add your source for bulk grains and nuts?

    Thanks!

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