Eating Local on a Budget

By: Co+op

Championing “eating local” has been a hallmark of natural food co-ops for decades. Co-ops and co-op shoppers have long valued knowing where their food comes from and how it was produced as well as and how fresh, locally raised foods from nearby support their community.

While local foods often come from relatively small producers who don’t have access to mass distribution and other economies of scale that large growers enjoy, there are still good deals on local foods to be had.

Here are some strategies for enjoying local foods on a budget.

Learn what’s in season

Seasonal foods are more abundant and affordable when they’re in season, and they tend to be picked when ripe, meaning they retain more nutrients and flavor. In the kitchen, you won’t have to do much—or use much—to make these fresh foods delicious.

Get to know local farmers and producers

By shopping regularly at farmers markets, you’ll get to know which growers have lower prices. They will guide you to the best seasonal values and might even offer a deal or two. To find farmers markets in your area, check out the United States Department of Agriculture's comprehensive farmers market database.

Browse the local foods at your neighborhood co-op

Food co-ops around the country often have long-term relationships with local farms and food producers (including producers who may also sell at your local farmers market), and co-op staff can help point you to the local products in the store. Whether you’re looking for locally produced honey, butter and eggs or bread, cheese and sausages, you’re likely to find the co-op to be your “one-stop shop.”

Cook more often

Purchasing whole foods, rather than packaged snacks and prepared meals, will save you a lot on your grocery bill—and turning them into a meal is probably easier than you think. Find great ideas throughout to get inspired.

Join a community supported agriculture (CSA) program

CSAs—membership programs that offer regular shares of regional farm harvests—tend to be a good bang for your buck. You’ll expand your culinary horizons and get a lot more of those recommended fruits and veggies.

Grow your own

You can start small, with easy-to-grow crops like tomatoes and basil in pots, or go big with your own garden plot. Either way, it's an inexpensive, healthy and delicious way to enjoy local. Read more about growing your own food.

Try out a few of these tips, and look for sales at your local food co-op. With the right strategy, eating local can be budget-friendly and fun.