A year and half ago I decided that I was going to opt out of the food system. I was tired of the laundry list of harmful issues related to the food system: food safety issues, pesticides and fertilizers, excessive transportation, having zero connection to food and how it is grown.

It was as a result of this decision that I started thinking seriously about urban homesteading. We still have along way to go to reach my lofty ideal of (near) self-sufficiency, but I think we have made some substantial strides towards developing our own food system.

Chert Hollow Farm mentioned recently that the latest egg recall led to Stanton Brother’s first sell-out of the season of their local eggs at the Columbia Farmer’s Market.  So I think it’s time to reevaluate. A year and a half later, how close are we to opting out of the food system and developing our own local and backyard food system?

This one is easy. In December we cowpooled and bought a portion of a side of grass-fed beef from Covered-L Farms. We don’t actually eat that much meat, but do occasionally enjoy a nice burger, steak or roast. We still have a ton of beef in our deep freeze, so we are set for beef for the foreseeable future.

I am still struggling with this a bit. I know you can buy locally raised whole chickens, but the ones I’ve seen at Hy-Vee have been around $16 and that just seems a little crazy. Is it crazy? Or is that really what it costs to raise a chicken properly? Plus, I’m not much of a whole chicken person, and would prefer to be able to purchase chicken breasts. There doesn’t seem to be much availability of local chicken cuts yet. Can anyone connect me to a great source? Because I haven’t seen a great solution to my chicken problem, we just don’t buy chicken. It’s sad, really. I miss chicken. But I will not buy CAFO chicken.

We buy our eggs from Stanton Brothers. We can’t make it to the Saturday market so we pick them up at Hy-Vee. I’ve been told that, compared to the cost of raising backyard chickens yourself, their eggs are very reasonably priced. I’ve been happy with their eggs and am relieved to not be supporting chicken operations like the ones that are displayed in Food Inc.

The only type of fish we really buy is salmon. We’re not big fish eaters, but I do cook it very occasionally to make myself feel better about our omega-3 intake. I’m not aware of any sources of local salmon, and am admittedly not very savvy on the issue of farmed fish, so I’m not sure if that is even a viable option. Does anyone have a good salmon source?

Columbia is blessed with the knowledge and experience of Art and Vera Gelder of Walk-About Acres. We buy our honey from them, at Hy-Vee. We also plan to begin keeping bees next year, so we hope to develop a self-sufficient honey supply after that. (Check out this amazing honey harvest from the original Urban Homesteaders! Doesn’t this make you want to keep bees?)

For goat cheese, there’s no need to look any further than Goatsbeard Farm. We buy cheese from them either at Hy-Vee or the Wednesday farmer’s market. I have also purchased feta from them. For both the goat cheese and the feta, I always have to keep in mind that the cheese isn’t going to last as long as regular supermarket cheese. (Why is it that supermarket feta will last for 4 months, but Goatsbeard’s will last only for a couple weeks? What are they putting in the store-bought stuff that is making it last so long?)

We’ve also recently tried Morningland Dairy’s sharp cheddar. I have to admit I don’t love it as much as Cabot’s, but Cabot is really hard to beat. That, combined with learning that Morningland’s production and distribution have been halted because of Lysteria and Staph contamination, and I’m not sure we’ll make the switch.

I haven’t made the switch to local rice yet because I’ve been trying to use up our stockpile, but once that is finished up we’ll be switching to Martin Rice, from the Bootheel. By the way, did you know that Missouri is the #5 rice producer in the country?

This is another one where I haven’t made the switch yet, but it’s in the works. I’ve connected with a local farmer who’s willing to sell me no-spray Missouri wheat berries. He actually hadn’t heard the term “wheat berries” before, but when I showed him a picture he verified that that’s what he has. Having whole wheat berries instead of ground flour will mean I’ll have to invest either in a hand-crank grain mill or one of the uber fancy (and expensive) grain mills. I’ll probably go with a hand-crank model at first to see if it’s something I think I’ll get into.

And the most obvious…
Fruits and vegetables
We are working towards growing as much of our own food on our little urban homestead as we can. As I’ve mentioned before, though, this is a long process and it’s hard to go from a grassy lawn to major food production overnight – especially while working full time. So if we don’t have much coming out of the garden, we supplement our fruits and veg with purchases from the farmer’s market or other sources of local foods.

This works well during the growing season, but not as well during the late fall and winter when the market is closed and there isn’t much in the way of local fruits and veg to be found. This is why we’re working on fall and winter gardening with the help of cold frames and high tunnels. This fall will be our first attempt at it, but if it goes well it could go a long way towards bridging the gap between fall and spring garden production.

This is all not to mention food preservation, which obviously also can help provide homegrown or local foods during the winter. I do hope to get some food preservation in this year, although I’m realizing that my time is short. Where did the summer go?

So, back to the question at hand. How well are we doing at opting out of the food system? We definitely have some progress to make, especially in learning how to grow fruits and vegetables in quantities that will sustain us. On the local front, though, I think we’re doing a fairly good job of connecting with local producers.

What have we missed? Are there other great sources of specific local foods out there that I didn’t mention?

3 Responses to “Opting out of the food system: a year and a half later”

  1. Jess
    11 September 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    For chicken – I had a CSA with Danjo Farms before I moved away from CoMo, and Dan will sell his whole chickens for $2.50/lb. So I ended up paying around $10 for a whole chicken, which I thought was reasonable. I would cook them whole in the crockpot, then the meat just falls off and for my small family it turned into many meals. You can always freeze what you don’t eat right away, for quick meals later.

  2. fae
    6 March 2011 at 9:13 am #

    Found you through the big urban homesteading uproar, poking back through your archives. I probably live within two-three miles. :)
    You’ve probably since learned this, but don’t do farmed salmon. It’s omega-3 profile is terrible, probably due to the stresses of farming. Salmon are meant to be free-range cold-water carnivores, and the farming process is turning them into confined omnivores – they’re even being bred to eat corn, which I find rather crazy, and possibly offensive.
    If you really want omega 3s and will only eat local, stick with nuts. Or look for local flax, maybe? I haven’t tried that yet.

    As for chicken, I haven’t found anyone local selling disassembled birds, probably due to the additional processing and packaging costs, as well as having to store and hope the market wants what you made. I usually roast whole birds, then remove the cooked meat for other applications, but it’s entirely possible to take them apart yourself before cooking. Some patience and a few minutes (and a bit of practice) and you should be able to get whatever part of the bird you want.
    (I’m currently paying 3.35 a lb for broilers – high, but it’s an AWA farm, which matters to me. The price is only that low because I buy in bulk.)

  3. CoMo Homestead
    7 March 2011 at 9:48 am #

    Fae, this is great! Do you know about our Columbia Food Growers Unite Meetup? You should join! http://www.meetup.com/Columbia-Food-Growers-Unite/

    Thanks for the info on salmon. I hadn’t looked into it yet. I think I have found a good source for wild Alaskan salmon, so I will probably go that route soon.

    Flax only provides ALA, while the omega-3s you really need are DHA and EPA. ALA can be converted to DHA and EPA, but its conversion is only about 1%, so it’s very inefficient, unfortunately.

    I ended up going with DanJo for chickens and buying a whole bunch of their birds. I’ve been really happy with them. I’ve learned how to cook them AND turn the scraps into chicken stock, which I’m super pumped about! So I don’t mind working with a whole bird anymore.