Food Budget, Food Independence

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.

Purple “Maori” Potatoes

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.

Market wonder and Dalmatian climbing (purple speckled) beans

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.

Fresh beet salad

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.

6 Responses to “Food Budget, Food Independence”

  1. Mike says:

    Kevin, Coopers certainly make some very good brewing kits, but do yourself a favour and go the extra step — nothing beats an all-grain brew 😉

  2. Mike Lorenz says:

    Kevin & Becky,
    I’m jealous of the amount of food that you are able produce. I’m currently limited to a 7’x15′ plot that I terraced off in my backyard. I think you make a good point about what people are (or should) really be after in their attempts at food independence. Attempting to produce everything you eat is going to be an exercise in frustration and futility. The people who will thrive in the energy scarce futurea are going to be those with strong connections to a local community. Buying your food from a local farmers market makes the community stronger for both you and the farmers. Food independence is a myth. Food interdependence is what we should be striving for. Our freedom comes from leaving behind the industrial agricultural system, not other people all together.
    – Mike Lorenz

  3. tochigi says:


    Have you considered growing winter wheat or rye? Or oats? Could be worth considering.

    If I ever get some land, up the top of my list will be Japonica rice (don’t laugh, there are permaculturalists in Matakana and Kaiwaka doing this already!).

    You are absolutely right to get the fruit and nut trees in asap. Long lead times except for berries. And try planting some dalmatian figs and japanese loquats. Yum! (loquat leaves have lots of medicinal properties too)

    (BTW, if you have the space, regeneration of some NZ native bush is also something to keep in mind. The birdlife it attracts is stunning. Tiritiri Matangi Island near Auckland went from pasture to really good bush in just over 20 years. Quite fast really.)

  4. Nicole says:

    You are certainly making excellent progress and have a plan in place. Plans change, but it helps to have one!

    You’ve given me inspiration to sit down and formalize my plan — most of it is in my head, I think, but one thing I have learned is that writing things down not only organizes your thoughts, but also helps you achieve those goals. So look for a copycat post on my blog sometime in the near future. 🙂 And then the “plan” is getting posted in my house somewhere I look at every day to remind me of the course ahead.

  5. Jenny says:

    I have just happened onto your blog and enjoyed srolling through and reading about your efforts and viewing the photos. I too grow Maori potatoes and am trying to grow enough for our table and seed saving. Your dream of a food forest will become a reality. Do you plan to plant heritage fruit trees? Many are disease resisitant and do well in Northland.

  6. Rebecca says:

    Hi All,
    Thanks for all the comments and feedback on this post.

    @Jenny: Welcome to Farmlet! I just went and checked out your blog — especially the bit about the Maori potatoes. Like you, we have found that they are an excellent crop to plant when you are preparing/improving the soil for future crops such as brassicas etc. We grow heirloom and heritage vegetables in our garden, and are hoping to choose heritage fruit trees as far as as availability and budget allow. We are lucky to have a grower down the road who specialises in heritage apple trees, so we shouldn’t have any problems in the apple department. We will also be checking out the heritage fruit tree offerings at Koanga gardens.

    @Tochigi: We suspect that our climate here may be too warm and humid for reliable crops of wheat or rye, though we are always on the lookout for more information that might change our minds about this! Oats might be worth a try, though I think most varieties would be too difficult to hull at home on a small scale. Apparently there is a hulless variety called “avena nuda” (naked oats). We haven’t found a source for it in New Zealand. We’d heard about the rice plots at Kaiwaka, and would like to find out more about that. Do you know if/how they are managing to hull the rice on a small scale? Corn and amaranth attract us because a)we know that they can be grown successfully around here, and b) they can easily be processed at home on a small scale.
    We actually have an area of regenerating native bush on the Farmlet, adjacent to the stream. We’ve fenced the stock out of it in hopes of creating a little wildlife corridor.
    Hmm. Funny that you should mention loquats. Our young loquat tree was annihilated recently by one of the goats, so we are back to square one with that. It’s fascinating to hear that loquat leaves have medicinal properties. I must find out more about that. By the way, do you know if the Japanese loquat that you mention is the same kind of loquat commonly seen in Northland gardens, or is it different?

    @Mike Lorenz: We really like your point about “food interdependence.” So true. Perhaps this post didn’t have quite the right title!

    @Nicole: Can’t wait to see the so-called “copycat post” on your blog.

    @Mike: Ah, real beer! From reading your blog, I understand that making beer from scratch is one of your goals. Are you doing that yet? We are really impressed if you are, since it looks like a LOT of work. Still, Kevin keeps saying that it’s something he’d love to try his hand at one of these days.