One of our aims here on the Farmlet is to produce as much of our own food as possible, reducing our expenses and our dependence on outside food sources. We still have a long way to go, but it feels very good to have started working towards this goal.
What have we done so far?
1. So far, our biggest step has been starting the vegetable garden. We now grow most of our own vegetables.
2. Buying cows and goats has been another major step. We are now waiting to get milk from our dear cows (due to calve in a couple of months).
3. We are making an effort to buy from local, organic and/or bulk sources as much as we can.
4. As far as possible, we make our own food from unprocessed whole ingredients. We make our own bread, crackers and snacks, beer* and sodas, yoghurt and kefir, stocks and sauces, and sauerkraut, and avoid pre-processed, packaged foods almost entirely. [* I brew with Coopers— Kevin]
5. We have started to plant fruit and berries, and to plan out orchard and “food forest” areas on our farmlet.
So. . . how much do we actually spend on food? Over the last couple of months, we have been itemising and tracking our expenses in order to find out.
I have come up with a total of NZ$265.75 per month, or NZ$66.44 per week. That comes out to about US$49 per week. I don’t have enough information at the moment to see whether there is a big seasonal difference in our spending. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the totals through winter and early spring when our supply of home-grown vegetables will be running low. Of course, by then we will (hopefully!) not be buying milk any more, so our overall spending might not change much.
Recently, I read a Path to Freedom post on this same topic that quotes some statistics from the US Department of Labor on the average American food budget in 2005. I don’t have comparable statistics for New Zealand, but we think these US figures provide an interesting point of comparison.
1 person in the family, one wage earner: $68 a week
2+ persons in the family, one wage earner: $121 a week
2+ persons in the family, 2 wage earners: $144 a week
2+ persons in the family, 3+ wage earners: $184 a week
Path to Freedom (who grow a lot of their own food, and are committed to buying from local sources as much as possible) add that their own expenses are as follows:
4 persons in the PTF family (+ 1 volunteer), 4+(?) wage earners: $100-$125 a week (winter) & $60-$80 (summer)
Of course, while reducing expenses on food is a worthwhile goal, it is also a simplistic one. We try to reduce costs by buying in bulk, and buying seasonally, but it also makes sense to spend more money on goods that are local, organic, and higher quality. Our food costs are higher due to certain choices we make regarding source and quality.
What steps are we planning to take in the future, in order to increase our food independence?
1. As it is, we are growing most of our own potatoes. We have saved more seed potatoes for next season, and hope to expand our potato beds to grow all the potatoes we need. Potatoes are an important and easy-to-grow staple for us.
2. Work on growing more garlic and some large beds of onions. Now that our soil is more workable, we also hope to begin growing more root vegetables, such as sweet potato, carrots, and Jerusalem artichoke. Next year, we plan to grow a larger quantity of long-keeping winter squash.
3. Start growing some maize to grind into corn meal. Try growing some grain amaranth — with adequate protection from birds! (Corn and amaranth seem to be the grains most likely to yield successfully in this bio-region — and can be processed relatively easily at home on a small scale for human consumption.) We long to make polenta and tamales from home-grown corn!
4. Continue to plant fruit, berries and nuts, so that in time we will be producing all the fruit we need. Most high-calorie tree crops such as nuts and avocados take a while to start producing, so we are trying to get some started as soon as we can. We are dreaming of food forests!
5. Milk our own cows (nearly there!) and goats. We already make some of our own dairy products from scratch. Once we are milking the cows, we hope to make all our butter, and hopefully cheese, as well as yoghurt and kefir.
6. Get some chickens to raise for eggs and meat.
7. Once our animals produce offspring, we will be able to start fattening some for meat. We look forward to the good taste and savings of home-grown beef steak and goat curry.
8. Plant more olives, in hopes of producing enough to press for oil at the local olive oil press.