Monday, May 20, 2013

Grocery-Free Summer Challenge

I've long been saying that the summer months should mean much cheaper trips to the grocery store because so much food is available outside, either in one's own garden, getting the extra from someone else's garden (with permission, of course), all the wild edibles that are everywhere, and even from the fresh air of a farmers market.  This summer, even though my garden is no where near where I'd like it to be by this point, I'm going all in.  From Memorial Day to Labor Day, I'm challenging myself to not buy any groceries at the store.  At all.  Not a single cup of sugar, not a single *sigh* can of soda pop.  Not a single candy bar or a single carton of ice cream. 

And I invite you to join me in this challenge.

Like I said, you can't buy anything at the grocery store (and, yes, couponing to get free items still counts as "buying" in this challenge, so put those coupon binders away for the summer).  There are still lots of ways to obtain food though:

1.  Your own garden.  Even if you live in an apartment, you might be able to grow a little bit, whether it be a tomato plant on a patio, some greens growing in a kitchen window, or some sprouts or mushrooms growing pretty much anywhere.

2.  Someone else's garden (with permission, of course).  Many gardeners end up planting more than they need.  Sometimes this is with the intention to share, sometimes it is just bad planning, sometimes it is a freakishly good harvest that is just more than they want to deal with.  Regardless, if you keep your eyes open, you may be able to find lots of garden bounty free for the taking through Freecycle, roadside signs, people bringing extras to church, or many other places.  If you're willing to pay for someone's extras, your opportunities for garden fresh goodies goes way up.

3.  Direct from a farmer.  When I brought this challenge up on my Facebook page a couple days ago, one thing people commented was that things like dairy and meat can be hard to find at farmers markets, either because no one at their local market offers these things or because they don't get their early enough and they are sold out by the time they get there.  My suggestion would be to keep your eyes out for opportunities to buy directly from the farmer, maybe without even the market involved.  In my area, there are a number of Amish people that largely do business in this way, although some take preorders at their farmers market stall and then deliver to the market on specific days throughout the year.

4.  Wild foraging.  Later in the summer, there are tons of opportunities for free fruit and nuts, as well as many greens all season long.  Just make sure you have permission if you are going onto someone's private property to forage.  Pears, blackberries, apples, and acorns are all common bounty in the area I live in, but other areas vary.

5.  Farmers Markets.  This kind of goes along with buying directly from the farmer, but sometimes (at least where I live), some market vendors actually are there on behalf of several farmers so they don't all have to show up on market day and take time away from the fields (or whatever), so I'm going to add it separately.  Plus, (again, at least where I live) some market vendors carry some products they definitely didn't grow, whether it be Bragg's apple cider vinegar or ice cream treats or commercially produced croutons or salad dressing, but since the purchase of these items would still help the farmer/vendor selling them, they are allowed under this challenge.

6.  Barter.  I'm a little wishy-washy on including this option in the challenge, since it does offer a lot of potential for abuse, but I'll leave it in here since a number of people commented that they thought it would be a good option.  Whether what you use it for is to your discretion, since this whole thing is pretty much honor system based anyway.

7.  Eating out.  Again, there is a lot of potential for abuse with this in the challenge, since someone could just eat out all the time and then say they took part, but that's not the idea here.  I'm including this because it is summer and people travel and do a lot of fun things and I don't think it helps anyone if someone is made to feel like they are "cheating" on the challenge if they spend a little longer at the beach than planned and decide to grab a bite instead of waiting until they get home or something.

8. Stocking up before the challenge starts.   I'm intentionally posting this a week ahead of the challenge so you have a chance to load up on whatever grocery items you can't get anywhere else that you'll need over the summer.  For me, this will include a lot of sugar and lemon juice for use in canning over the summer, rice for either eating or grinding into flour, and maybe a couple gluten free cake mixes so I have the option of having cake to celebrate my sons' birthdays this summer (then again, maybe I'll forgo cake and have fruit salad or something instead).  For others, that may mean loading up on pasta or coffee or some other luxury item they feel they can't live without for three months.  Regardless, you are allowed to use anything you have on hand as of Memorial Day.  Someone questioned whether this defeats the purpose of the challenge, but I don't feel that it does.

So what is the point of all this anyway?  Depends on who you are probably.  For me, it is just to see if I can.  For others, it may be a test of their emergency preparedness, to see how they would fare if there was a situation where going to the store wasn't an option anymore.  Others may do it to improve their health by eating fewer processed foods, or to improve their pocketbook's health by not running to the store for every little thing.  Regardless of your reasons for doing it, are you up to the challenge?  I'll be posting how I'm doing with it throughout the summer and hope you share your stories as well.  (Bloggers, you are welcome to use this as a theme for your own posts through the summer, but please link back here.)

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