Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Posts Tagged ‘budget’

HOMEGROWN Life: Six Tips For Eating HOMEGROWN On A College Kid Budget

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011






At 19, I moved into my first apartment, a shoebox studio that I shared with a fellow student in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood.  Our kitchen was just big enough for the mouse we called Einstein to scurry about. He was a genius at avoiding traps we set out in every nook and cranny, which left us little room to concoct culinary creations on our Playskool-sized stove. So, we sustained ourselves by eating cereal out of paper bowls, and hummus straight from the container. Nevertheless, my roommate and I did find the time, tools, and ingredients to make many messes, and some meals, on the 2’ x 2’ counter space.

Living on a college-kid budget, I spend more time eating samples at Whole Foods Market than buying actual ingredients, but inspiration comes home with me, and I (attempt to) recreate meals on the cheap.  Stockpiling dry goods in bulk, and splurging on fresh foods of the season has allowed me to spend and save, and eat well in the meantime.  By keeping ingredients from rice to spices in the cupboard, and supplementing with local produce from the market, meals are easy to whip up in even the smallest of kitchens.  What tastes better on bitter Boston evening than crock-pot stews of root vegetables, or spicy greens and heirloom tomatoes on a city summer day?  By foraging for zesty foods to enhance staples, you can forget the Mickey D’s and have a truly happy meal!

creepy ronald6unhappy-meal

While it would be sustainable and great to source all of your food from local, organic farms and markets – especially with reports of food safety and genetic modification cropping up too often in the news – it is not entirely possible for those of us who still eat iceberg lettuce and canned peaches from the dining hall a few times a week.  Here are some tips for those out there short on time, cash, and ingredients:

1)    Explore your local farmers’ markets. It is a great place to find out what’s going locally, and meet the farmers who are growing your produce or producing your meats.  Spend the afternoon perusing the seasonal selections, and ask others how to prepare some of the more “exotic” finds like kohlrabi and kale.

2)    Join a CSA or community garden! Opportunities to get your hands dirty and see where your food comes from make the food on your table taste that much sweeter.  Splitting the costs of the share or plot with foodie friends can also cut down on costs, and splitting the goods and making meals together is always more fun.

3)    Have a potluck with friends and screen films that celebrate good food from family farms.  Choose one ingredient to be the “focus food” and make dishes that bring out its flavors…and share the recipes with friends.

4)    Buy organic and local when you can. There are lists like this one that expose the “dirty dozen” foods to avoid.  If your food is healthy, then you are healthy.

5)    Eat sustainable on the go. Even if you are grabbin’ and goin’ there are many companies and local joints that uphold tenets of sustainability and serve good food to go.  Chipotle is one such place to get some grub and do some good.

6)    Take action to change your campus. By joining student groups that promote local food, the organic movement, or celebrate sustainability, you can bring change to your campus food system.  Check out what’s going on at Northeastern University, and start working on your school!


Caroline has been part of the HOMEGROWN and Farm Aid family since she first volunteered at the Farm Aid concert in 2008, and again in 2009. In the winter and summer semesters of 2010, she came on staff as a Northeastern University Co-op intern. She graduates in May (congratulations!) and you’ll soon be seeing a lot more of her here as the HOMEGROWN Flock-tender! Welcome Caroline! We’re lucky to have you!


HOMEGROWN Life: The Finance of Farming

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011






Diversification.  Saving.  Investing.  Building a portfolio…

No, I’m not blogging today about actual finance.  That would be such a snoozefest!  Instead, this post is about the finance of farming, and I’ll serve as the Suze Orman of seed saving.  Get it?  No?  You will…

Seed packets

With farming, seeds are currency, and financial jargon can be used to help teach ways of success.

One lesson to be learned is the importance of investing.  When Justin and I first started urban farming, we incurred a myriad of expenses (building materials, compost, feed), and one of our largest expenditures was seeds.  We doled out several hundred dollars our first year in fruit, herb, and vegetable seeds.  But thankfully as with most smart investments, our initial expense was rewarded with a profitable return.  See, if you grow heirloom produce, the seeds can be saved year after year – so one packet of seeds costing $3.50 can easily turn into several hundred seeds, and save you hundreds of dollars as well.

Which brings me to the second tip, saving.  With every variety of heirloom produce you grow, you should make a point to save some seeds to plant again the next year or share with other avid growers.  Why order again from a catalog, when you could take a couple minutes to save enough seed to supply the catalog?! This means carefully chopping your tomatoes during dinner one night, for example, and taking care not to discard the seeds – instead rinse them, set them aside to dry, and store them away for the following year.  This also means you can feel free to neglect little patches of lettuce or herbs and let them go to seed as well.  I happen to spend many lazy days in the heat of summertime gathering and spreading chamomile seeds.

Another point to keep in mind is the value of cultivating a diversified portfolio.  For instance, at YellowTree Farm we grow several dozen different types of tomatoes not only because we have trouble making up our minds, but also because we always budget for failure.  (We typically grow several varieties of every category of produce we offer.) Bad weather, lackluster soil, or a plague of pests could wipe out our crops in a flash.  The benefit to growing varying varieties of items is that different species wind up being more or less resistant to disease and pests than others.  By growing different types of a kind of vegetable or fruit, we’re taking steps to actively minimize our risk.  It’s one of the smarter moves a gardener can make to ensure success.

Though winter may not officially be over yet, this is the time of year most pros get their seed orders in, and if you’re really on top of things, you’ve already got some seedlings started.  Regardless, it’s never too late to think carefully about these “financial” approaches to farming, and hopefully this post helps you think of ways to save both seeds and money!


Danielle Yellow Tree

“I’m half of YellowTree Farm, an urban homestead that I founded with my husband in late 2008. Together, my husband and I grow vegetables and raise animals on less than 1/10 of an acre in St. Louis, Missouri. We speak publicly about urban farming, sew, and make our own toiletries.  I don’t have children. I have animals, which is kind of the same thing as being a parent, except I eat my babies.”

Poor Girl Gourmet – Eating Sustainably is for Everyone

Monday, November 29th, 2010

The concept of Amy McCoy’s Poor Girl Gourmet – Eat In Style on a Bare-Bones Budget is simple: eating sustainable, ethically-raised, family farm food is financially feasible for everyone.

Through her recipes, Amy shows that, for close to the price of a “family meal” bucket of fast food, a family of four can sit down to a wholesome, nourishing, lovingly-grown meal. Delicious meals like Kale Lasagne with Walnut Pesto, and Braised Pork Shoulder with Honey Mustard Cole Slaw!

Amy was generous enough to share a favorite recipe for Chicken in Cider Gravy – a recurring dish in our meal plans! NOTE: We’ve adjusted the numbers to reflect the current higher price of packaged chicken at finer grocery stores ($2.29/lb). Even at $3/lb., this meal for four still rings in under $5 per person. This, of course, is irrelevant for those of you keeping your own meat birds!


Chicken in Cider Gravy

This is a variation of a chicken in white wine gravy recipe that I make when I have half a bottle of white wine hanging around. I developed this version to use the cider that was about to ferment in my refrigerator in place of the white wine, and added mustard. I think this is an improvement on the white wine version of the recipe, and the gravy would also be fantastic with pork shanks or pork shoulder.
If you want to increase the amount of chicken in this dish, you can add a couple additional drumsticks and thighs using the same amount of liquid. That would allow you to create a potpie worth of company with the Savory Pie Crust (page 134) a night or two later with very little effort.

1 (3- to 4-pound) whole chicken, pieced into thighs, drumsticks, wings, and breasts (see Note)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
About ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped, plus 6 medium carrots (approximately 1 pound), peeled, sliced on the diagonal
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 tablespoon fresh
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ cups apple cider
2 cups chicken broth

1 Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.
2 You’ll need enough oil to coat the bottom of a Dutch oven. Use a smidge more than ¼ cup if necessary. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat until the oil becomes shiny. Working in small batches, 3 to 4 chicken pieces each, add the chicken, skin side down, and brown until the skin is crisp. Remove the chicken from the pan and place it on a plate. There should still be enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. If not, add enough to do so.
3 Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook over medium-low heat until the onion is translucent and the carrots and celery are softened, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the thyme and mustard. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, then sprinkle the flour evenly over the vegetables in the pan and cook until no raw flour is evident, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the cider, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, then add the broth and simmer, uncovered, for 1 to 2 minutes.
4 Place the sliced carrots and the chicken, skin side up, into the pot.  The chicken should be in one layer with only the skin above the liquid. Bring the liquid back to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook until the chicken meat falls off the bone—meaning no knife, peeps—approximately 1 hour 15 minutes, being careful throughout not to let the liquid come to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve it forth.
NOTE: Ask your butcher to cut the chicken for you if you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself.

Estimated cost for four: $10.92 $13.32. That’s for you big eaters who can polish this off between four of you. If we’re talking six servings, we’re looking at $1.82 per serving. The chicken should cost no more than $1.69 around $2.29 per pound. At 4 pounds, that’s $6.76 $9.16, though I am expecting you to be on the lookout for 99¢-per-pound chicken, okay? The olive oil is 48¢. The onion costs 33¢. The carrots cost 94¢ at $3.99 for 5 pounds of carrots, figuring that our soffritto carrot is at most 1/6 of a pound. The celery costs 20¢ at 10 stalks in a bunch costing $1.99. The cider was 56¢ using 1½ cups from 8 cups at $2.99. The broth was 2 cups of the 4-cup box that costs $2.19, so that’s  $1.10. The flour is 24¢ per cup, so that’s 5¢.  The mustard is 2 tablespoons from a bottle that costs $2.99 for 19 tablespoons, so that’s 32¢. We’ll throw in 18¢ for the thyme. If you serve this with the Buttery Mashed Potatoes (page 121) those will cost you around $2.50, keeping you well under the $15.00 $16.00 dinner budget, and leaving a person or two in your family happy to have some Chicken in Cider Gravy leftovers.
—From Poor Girl Gourmet: Eat in Style on a Bare-Bones Budget by Amy McCoy/Andrews McMeel Publishing

Amy’s recipes are simple, the dishes are beautifully photographed, and the most valuable part of the book comes in the form of “Poor Girl Pointers”: simple, seemingly-common-sense (but then why don’t we do it) practices that can be a life line for those who may be wondering where to start. Tips like meal planning, buying meat on the bone and “do not forsake your freezer” provide the guidance and discipline that many of us with busy lives need.

So, HOMEGROWNers, how do you save money while eating family farm food? Leave your comment here and you’ll get a chance to win a copy of Poor Girl Gourmet – Eat In Style on a Bare-Bones Budget!