It is ironic that my last post elicited so many enthusiastic responses from farmers and ranchers around the world but that many consumers/eaters thought my list of suggestions were either: 1) too difficult because they lack money, a car, time for cooking; or 2) they are doing the 'best' they can and that should be good enough for me (i.e. the perfect is the enemy of the good); or 3) we shouldn't be eating meat anyways, so my list of suggestions does not apply to a vegan world. Farmers on the other hand were giving me virtual high fives, re-posting my article in their CSA newsletters or on their farm blogs. Since we need farmers and ranchers to stick around to keep feeding people, maybe we should be more accommodating to their needs, perhaps, instead of dismissing them as inconvenient, trivial, or too costly. Anyways, to address the issue of cost, I have assembled another list of things people can do to make our food system more sustainable and that require no exchange of currency at all, or some that are very budget-friendly.
Creating a more sustainable food system for free (or on a budget):
-Inform yourself about GMOs and fight their release into the environment. Do that by making phone calls to your elected officials, signing on-line petitions, sending a hand-written letter, etc.
-Join your child's school PTA or Site Council to advocate for better school lunches and food gardens on school campuses.
-Volunteer at your local food bank- often you will get free food out of this in addition to being altruistic. (Note: I don't think emergency food is sustainable, however, we need a food safety net in our country)
-Advocate for a sane, legalized agricultural worker program in our country so we don't continue to perpetuate an illegal, exploited workforce. Also, advocate for a legalized farm apprenticeship program in each state, where often it is illegal to pay apprentices-in-training below minimum wage and deters US citizens from working in agriculture or learning how to run their own farming businesses.
-Help get a farmers market established in your community or volunteer with one that already exists. You can help them with marketing, making a website, physical set-up or take-down, recruiting farmers, board management, bookkeeping, etc. Bonus is you often make friends with the vendors and they give you nice deals on food.
-Plant a garden- in a bed, in a box, in a pot, even in a jar (think sprout garden). Got excess? Can it, freeze it, dry it, or give it away to your neighbors, your kids school, or your church/synagogue/mosque/grange/etc.
-Buy jamming or canning flats of produce at the farmers market (they usually appear when farmers have excess or slightly blemished product). They are often half the price, but you have to make some time to process them. Make that your Friday night fun- invite some friends over, turn on some good music, & process some berries!
-Fish or hunt if you are going to enjoy the privilege of eating meat, then dry, cure, freeze, or can the meat to store for the long-term. If you don't hunt or fish but have friends that do, offer to help them process and I bet you will get a little meat in exchange for your time.
-Don't buy chicken or turkey breasts & thighs. Much cheaper to buy the whole birds and make several meals out of it, including a rich stock with all the bones.
-Make your own yogurt. Simply start with a container of yogurt that has just a little left in the bottom (use a plain, whole milk, organic one if possible), add some whole milk to it (raw is best if you can find that) and then set in your oven overnight with simply the warmth of the pilot light on. If you have an electric oven, set is at 85 degrees overnight.
-Make your own queso blanco with simply whole milk and lemon juice- no rennet or starter is required. Good cheese is expensive, so try making some of the quick, soft cheeses on your own!
-If you live near any fishing ports/docks, go down and ask a fisherman/woman for their fresh fish scraps. Then take them home and immediately simmer them in water for your own rich fish stock.
-Eat lots of greens- they are cheap and available longer than most any other vegetable.
-Buy your beans, lentils, dried peas, rice, etc. in bulk. Way cheaper....
-Find a rice cooker at your local thrift store (there are often 5-10 of them lining the shelves). Make at least one pot of rice a week (brown, organic, US grown is preferable in my opinion) for an easy, cheap filler you can put in burritos, tacos, stir frys, or even for breakfast with some milk & honey.
-Join a CSA that has a sliding-scale price based on income level, graduated payment plans, or work options to lower your cost. Offer to be a CSA host site and you normally get a free share altogether, plus all the leftover boxes that shareholders forget to pick up!
-Help a farmer clean up at the end of the farmers market by loading up their boxes or sweeping their space- they will likely give you a free box of produce for this. Better yet, offer to work a regular market shift and earn a little cash and a bunch of produce too!
-Pack your kids a healthy lunch instead of paying for the school lunch. Save money and save their health too.
-Eat less meat & consume smaller portion sizes, but pay more for the meat you eat (paying for better values, humane animal care, raised in your local vicinity, pasture-based, endangered breeds, etc.)! Or go vegetarian if that suits you.
How about you? Got any budget-friendly or free tips on how to make our food system more sustainable?