As part of the Paleo world, the biggest complaint I hear is, “The food is too expensive! I can’t afford to stay on the diet.” My family of four eats a Paleo diet, and I get that it can be hard to make a budget stretch to fit expensive meats and vegetables. But while I do understand this complaint, the reality is that you can’t afford not to eat well. Fortunately, after decades of experimentation, I’ve found some tricks for getting your organic meats, eggs, and vegetables for a fraction of the price.
If you want the best-quality food without the high price, you need to go to the source. The big-box stores are the middlemen. They buy the food cheap and mark it up to sell it to you. The farmers are the source of high-quality food at the cheapest price. But just how do you get your food for less from a farmer?
Seasonal Excesses and Shopping for Seconds
All farmers raise an excess of food beyond what they sell to stores or at the farmers market. Some of the food they raise may not look perfect, but it’s still highly nutritious. This food is called “seconds.” Buying seconds means you still get the highest quality—they’re just not “perfect.” There are also certain times of year that the “firsts” of the produce will be left over because there is so much of a harvest!
I have a friend who raises organic, pastured eggs. The natural cycle of the chickens is to lay more eggs in the spring and fewer in the fall and winter. One spring, he had such an excess of eggs that he could not find anywhere to sell them. He came to the farm with a 5-gallon bucket of eggs that he tossed to our pigs! I bet there were 600 eggs in that bucket. The pigs loved them, but I am sure my friend would have preferred to trade or sell them. All farms have excesses of different things at different times of the year—so this is probably happening in your area, too.
Developing a relationship with your farmers can really pay off in the long run. Most of your local farmers are drowning in excess, and if you get into their world, you can gain access to this food!
On my farm, we grow about 1,700 pounds of organic carrots every year for our CSA and farm-to-table café. About 400 of those pounds are seconds. We eat some of the seconds, but there are always way more than I can use, so I trade these seconds for some help on the farm. I also give some to loyal customers.
There is an excess of many different vegetables throughout the year. In the early summer, greens like kale, swiss chard, spinach, and lettuce are overabundant at most farms. In the late summer, there is an excess of cucumbers, tomatoes and summer squash. Late in the season, there tends to be lots of winter squash, carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes.
What about organic meat? Farmers generally end up with an excess of organ meats (especially liver), shanks, neck bones, and ribs—and most of the time, bones and fat just get thrown away at the butcher. These are all items you can get for less—or for free—if you are a loyal customer of the farmer. If any of my loyal customers asks for the fat and bones, I give them the excess of what we have.
Meeting Your Farmer
Now that you know what and when to buy, it’s time to develop a relationship with a farmer. You can join a community-supported agriculture farm share or buy from one at a farmers market. Make sure you stay long enough to have a conversation so you stand out and the farmers remember you. A compliment about the produce or appreciation for all their hard work will go a long way. Most farmers barely get by, and they live off of knowing that they’re doing something good for this world. If you don’t know where to meet a farmer, go to localharvest.org and find a farmer in your area, or check out your local farmers market. The key is to shop consistently to become a loyal customer.
Once you have a relationship, you can start asking them about excess meat, eggs, and produce. It will blow your mind to find out how much excess or slightly damaged food there is. Tell your farmers (get to know more than one, as they all specialize in different products) that you want to preserve extra for the winter, and you would be interested in anything they may have. You can even offer to help harvest. If you can help, even for a few hours on a Saturday, they’ll likely reward you with tons of food. When you are friends with your farmer, the produce, meats, and eggs will start flowing. You will need to get a freezer to keep all the extras, but it will be worth it in food savings alone.
High-Quality Produce for Pennies a Day
The other insider secret to ultimate control over your food is growing it yourself. The average Paleo plate is 75 percent vegetables. In the right growing system, you can get your vegetables for only pennies a day. There are easy gardening systems that can grow all your produce and that take only 15 minutes a day. In my gardens, there are no big tools required, and I can garden in my Sunday-best clothes. This high-performance garden system has come a long way from the old row garden that my grandmother had.
All you need for success is a garden that fits into your modern lifestyle. A high-performance garden is simply an organic container garden grown with the highest-quality soil mix and planted intensively. The great thing about a container garden is that you can grow one anywhere: in the yard on the driveway, in the window, or on a rooftop.
The Best Food for a Fraction of the Price
If you’re ready to put some elbow grease into getting your food for less, it’s time to make some new farmer friends and decide that you are going to learn to grow some food.
For your garden, I would recommend starting with some leafy greens. They are some of the easiest and most rewarding vegetables. Grab a container, buy a variety of seeds, and set up a system that works for you.
Challenge yourself to eat food without barcodes. All it takes is the right education and some practice. You’ve already stepped up to take control of your health, and now it’s time to step up and take control of your food. As a bonus, you will make new friends, learn new skills, and embark on a grand adventure!