Eat Local for Less

In a world where big agriculture is king and cheap food is in high demand and production, making sustainable food choices is a challenge. For college students and others living on a limited budget, eating consciously becomes an even greater task. I set out to determine how feasible it is for a college student of average income to eat locally, organically and sustainably. I have been participating in a local CSA, buying local when possible and am attempting to produce some of my own food in an effort to create a model for eating locally and sustainably on a limited budget.

Food In New Mexico
New Mexico is no exception to the national preference for cheap food. Although New Mexico is home to 20,000 farms, only 8% of these farms sell direct to the foodshed and only 3% of food grown in New Mexico is consumed locally.  Despite the high potential to produce and consume food locally, New Mexico imports over 95% of its food. Cheap food has taken precedence over local food and less than 1% of all cash receipts for food purchases in New Mexico are spent on local food.

Local Food Budget
Community Supported Agriculture
Participating in local community supported agriculture (CSA) is a great way to eat locally and seasonally. Participants in a CSA pay a weekly, biweekly, monthly or yearly share to a farm in their area and receive a portion of the farm’s yield in return for their investment.  There are many local CSA options in the Central NM region, both seasonal and year round with varying and affordable prices.

Year Round:

Seasonal:

Farmers’ Markets
If you subscribe to a year round CSA, it will not be necessary to include a significant amount of funds for farmers’ markets. Opting out of a CSA during the summer growing season to shop at farmers’ markets in your area presents the opportunity for direct contact with the farmers growing your food and better awareness of seasonal offerings.  However, if a year round or seasonal CSA is most convenient and will encourage you to eat locally, this may be your best option.

Gardening
The price of gardening and growing your own food can easily be decreased by providing your own materials or sharing and trading with friends. Organic compost and potting soil can be expensive, but producing your own compost is free and includes the added benefit of displacing some of your waste from the landfill. A home garden can occupy a remarkably small space. Raised beds can be a solution to poor soil quality and indoor seedling starts or small herb gardens do not even require a yard.

-Organic Seeds: about $2.50/packet
-Seeds from friends or own seed saved year to year: FREE
-Organic potting soil: about $15.00/small bag (enough for 2 large pots or one 3×3 garden box or bed)
-Backyard soil mixed with homemade compost: FREE

Garden boxes can be made out of recycled or scrap wood (just be sure to make certain there are no synthetic or toxic chemicals that may leech into your soil).  Seedlings can be started in recycled yogurt cups. Backyard soil can be raked and mixed with homemade compost. When recycled, homemade and creative measures are used, growing your own garden can be inexpensive and eventually significantly reduce your food costs.

Garden Trial
Purchasing Seeds
The first step in my home garden trial was purchasing seeds. I purchased organic (and some local) seeds from a gardening store in my neighborhood, Rehm’s Nursery. I consulted with the staff for additional knowledge about what to plant for the season and which seeds to start indoors before moving outside to a garden bed.

Compost
Secondly, I prepared my soil. I raked the ground in my backyard to loosen the soil, watered the dirt to loosen it and stirred in compost from my homemade pile.

Planting
Next, I planted the seeds according to the instructions on the seed packets and the advice of the Rehm’s staff. Finally, I thoroughly watered the seeds and soil. I kept the soil moist, watering at least every other day and when the soil looked dry.

Seedling Trials
I started some of my seedlings inside, under the advice of the Rehm’s staff and other experienced gardeners, to allow the plants that require warmer weather to get started growing. I planted the seedlings in recycled yogurt and berry containers with left over organic potting soil I had. I put the seedlings in their containers in a larger plastic container to keep them moist and alternated them outdoors while it was warm and brought them inside at night until the weather warmed up.

Results
After about six weeks, my garden and sprouts have begun to grow. My compost pile is working very well and I am still subscribing to a local CSA through Skarsgard Farms.  I have been able to affordably eat locally and sustainably through creative measures and believe that anyone can do the same.

Posted by Hannah

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