Poor Locavore's Almanac - Low-Income Family Goes Local, Shares Their Story

One of the enduring critiques of locavorism is that such efforts to eat local via farmers' markets, food co-ops, and CSAs are a luxury of the well-off foodie elites. The naysayers have been quick to point out that low-income families with limited resources cannot afford to be so picky about the source of their foods. Advocates for industrial agriculture often point out that the industrialization of food has led to increasingly lower percentages of disposable incomes spent on food as illustrated below. They argue that it's counterproductive to lead people down a path that will necessitate more money. Go here for a reponse to such arguments.

image from www.ers.usda.gov

One problem in the debates is that we have all kinds of anecdotes but not much hard data on the financial impact of going local. During our year of local food, we didn't keep good financial records. Given this reality I'm pleased to see that a low-income family in the Northwest has taken on the task of going local and tracking in detail the financial implications. Here's the way Charlie describes his family's experiment:

I’m a student at a small college in the Great Northwest, majoring in Environmental Studies, and this blog is part of my senior year project. I’m taking a year-long look at the American food system from a user’s point of view. I’m trying to answer the question of whether a busy, low-income family can transform its diet from the conventional, industrial-agriculture model to one that is more locally-sourced, and hopefully more sustainable.The family in question? Mine.

I started out specifically to examine the environmental impacts, both small-and large-scale, that this transformation would generate. I soon realized that the economic and social implications would be every bit as important, so I will take a long look at those as well. This project will last for at least the forthcoming school year, so I should have plenty of time and space to find out whether it is feasible for a poor family on a tight budget, without benefit of a garden or chickens or much else in the way of external resources, to dramatically localize their eating.

Thanks for taking this on Charlie. I look forward to seeing how things unfold. Go here for his Poor Locavore blog.

Here's an example of what they're discovering;

Another apple-related expenditure happened the weekend before last. We went apple-picking north of town and came back with 50 pounds of Cortlands for…wait for it…twenty dollars. Oh, yes, we did. Even figuring the cost of gas to get up there, it came to 60 cents per pound. We even got to press our own cider for $4 per gallon, not that it lasted long. So, those apples are going to get stored, stashed, chopped, frozen, baked, stewed, sauced, and eaten all winter, and cheaply enough that I might be able to buy a food mill or a corer-peeler to help me process them.