October 28, 2011

Are local foods worth the cost?

I don't want to be a fanatic.  I really don't.

We buy are vast majority of our fruits, veggies and eggs at the farmers market.  Certainly, we grow some in our garden, and infrequently, we'll buy something--a carton of eggs, or a bag onions or some mushrooms--at a grocery store, but the vast majority of our produce comes from local farmers.  I do this primarily because I believe in the value of having a local food shed.  We believe it's also better for the environment to shop locally, safer for us as consumers to know from whence our food comes, and we think it tastes better.  I don't even think about the cost any more, but my guess is that it's actually cheaper than buying organic food at the grocery store (but probably more expensive than buying conventional food at a discount grocer).

We haven't purchased meat at the farmer's market for the last few years because of the cost.  Chico Meat Locker is our butcher of choice lately.  The meat is not necessarily local, but it is a local business and the quality is better than that at a conventional grocery store.

Most often we buy organic milk at Trader Joe's. I prefer it to other organic grocery store milks because it's not ultra-pasteurized.  I don't like ultra-pasteurized, because I think it kills enzymes that might be good for us.  Sometimes, when money is tight, we buy conventional milk, but I always make sure it says that it is "not from cows with growth hormones."  And sometimes, when money is not so tight, we buy organic milk from the natural food store.

Anyhow, I recently found a source of local, raw milk.  I know a lot of people are freaked out about raw milk.  I'm not going to go into the arguments for and against it here.  At least not right now.  Suffice it to say that I'm open to the idea of raw milk from happy grass-fed cows.  And locally produced milk would be preferrable to conventional stuff (or conventional organic stuff) from who-knows-where.

The thing is that this new source of local, raw milk is a herdsharing program, meaning there's a set monthly fee, kind of like a membership fee.  Currently this fee is $28 per herdshare (approximately one gallon of milk per week), but additional shares can be purchased (until October 1st, 2011) for $1 more.  On top of the herdshare fee, each gallon costs $7, and there's a weekly delivery fee of $5.

Oh, and each consumer provides their own containers.  In fact, if we wanted two gallons of milk per week in half-gallon containers (for easy pouring), we would need to provide eight half gallon jars (approximately $10 for canning jars at a hardware store).  And we need to provide a soft-sided cooler and ice packs ($ ??).

You see, the process is this:  We drop off our clean, empty containers in a cooler at the drop off point in Chico on Monday morning.  At 9:00am the delivery van picks up the containers and drives them to the farm.  It takes about three hours for four people to fill the containers and pack them back into the van.  They are driven back and dropped off at the drop off point in Chico.  After work I can pick up my cooler full of farm fresh milk.

Some people might see all those fees as price gouging, but that's not so.  This dairy recently cancelled their contract with Land O'Lakes because the big company wanted all their milk or none of it.  Now this small dairy is trying to stay afloat selling directly to consumers.  The herdsharing fee is income they can count on year round.  The $7 a gallon is only about a dollar more than a gallon of organic milk at Trader Joe's, and no one that I am aware of has been able to verify whether the cows that produce Trader Joe's milk are "happy."  And by happy I mean farmed-responsibly, with enough acreage to support them,eating grass in a pasture, not "feed" in a lot.  The delivery fee covers the cost of the couple who drive their van from Oroville to Chico to Redding and back each Monday to delivery the milk.  When you break it down all those amounts seem reasonable.

The trouble is the total.  Based on these numbers if I wanted to purchase two gallons of milk a week (assuming four weeks in a month) through the herdshare, the monthly cost comes out to $105.  (That's $29 for the herdshare, $7 times 8 gallons, plus 4 weeks of $5 delivery.)  If I purchased two $6 gallons of organic milk per week from a grocery store, the monthly cost comes out to $48.  If we decide to go for this raw milk thing, we'll have to more than double our milk budget.

And that's assuming that two gallons would be enough for our family.  When I talked to the delivery man on the phone and said I thought we'd want two gallons a week, he laughed good-naturedly and informed me that his family of three goes through five or six gallons a week!  They make their own cheese, yogurt and butter.  That sounds crazy to some of you, but loyal readers know that that's the kind of stuff I am into.

So is it worth it?  What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Tony (The Wrench) DelgardoOctober 29, 2011

    I have the land and the fencing to do so if we went at it as a family project we could raise a dairy cow or two and have our own farm fresh unpasteurized milk. Just throwing the idea out there! i am not sure how much dairy cows cost but at that price it should pay for itself in under a year! I think this is doable and not only that it is the right thing to do! It would be a cool show and tell item for your daughters to tell their class where their milk comes from and why! Kick it around in your head and then give me a call Your cousin Tony 530 864 2620