10 Ways to Shift Your Habit and Save $1,500 on Food
According to Shift Your Habit author Elizabeth Rogers, a few small changes can add up to big savings for you and your family—and the planet!
You'll save big if one-third of the produce you buy is out of season. Buying local, seasonal produce reduces the amount of transport energy—or "food miles"—it takes to bring your food from farm to table. In order to carry certain fruits and vegetables year-round, supermarkets buy them from countries in the Southern Hemisphere. To preserve freshness and prevent bruising, growers package imported produce in excessive amounts of plastic and cardboard. Check the Country of Origin Label (COOL) produce sticker to see where an item originated. In order for out-of-season fruits and vegetables to survive the long-distance journey, it's necessary to harvest them long before they reach full ripeness. This may result in inferior taste, quality and nutritional value compared to in-season produce.
Check out farmers' markets and farm stands for the best prices on truly local, seasonal produce. Visit the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service's website for a handy search tool, which will help you find farmers' markets in your area.
If the task of establishing a patch of delicious produce seems daunting, consider this: For every $1 you put toward your edible garden (including bags of compost, soil, pots, water, organic fertilizers, cages, netting, seeds, seedlings, etc.), you'll get an average of $9 back in produce.
Try this garden mixture:
- Arugula: With $1 and 5 square feet, you can grow 10 pounds, worth $40.
- Basil: With 50 cents and 5 square feet, you can grow 4 pounds, worth $20.
- Beets: With $2 and 5 square feet, you can grow 40 plants, worth $40.
- Bell peppers: With $3 and 10 square feet, you can grow 20 pounds, worth $40.
- Butternut squash: With 50 cents and 5 square feet, you can grow 10 plants, worth $20.
- Chard: With $1.50 and 10 square feet, you can grow 25 pounds, worth $50.
- Green beans: With 50 cents and 15 square feet, you can grow 10 pounds, worth $20.
- Spinach: With $20 and 10 square feet, you can grow 30 pounds, worth $90.
- Strawberries: With $10 and 45 square feet, you can grow 25 pints, worth $50.
- Tomatoes: With $3 and 15 square feet, you can grow 100 pounds, worth $320.
- Turnips: With $2 and 5 square feet, you can grow 40 bulbs, worth $20.
- Yellow squash: With $3 and 10 square feet, you can grow 20 pounds, worth $40.
- Zucchini: With $3 and 10 square feet, you can grow 25 pounds, worth $50.
Starting a garden? Check what kinds of plants grow in your area.
If you don't have the space in which to plant your own potager, join a community garden, where you can grow your own seasonal produce for next to nothing and strengthen your neighborhood's sense of community. Check out CommunityGarden.org to find the one closest to you.
The three most important things you need to think about when planting an edible garden are sun, soil and water. Get these right, and you'll be feasting on homegrown veggies, fruits and herbs year-round. Get them wrong, and you'll be stuck with a yellowed, buggy patch of mess.
Almost anyone can cultivate a healthy garden—the key is not to overthink things. Here's a step-by-step list of everything you'll need to know to go grocery shopping in your backyard in no time:
Find an area that will get at least six hours of sun per day. While there are shade-loving exceptions, such as lettuce and other tender greens, most edible plants—especially tomatoes, squash and peppers—need and love the heat and sun.
At the same time, too much heat and sun can be hurtful. If you live in a hot climate, make sure to plant your garden where it won't receive more than six hours of sun a day. You can shelter your plants with a home-built shade structure if you don't have any other options. Simply put four stakes in the ground at the corners of your garden, and cover with sheer fabric or bird netting. You can also purchase this at any garden or plant store.
Whether you set up your garden in raised beds, in pots or straight into the ground, be sure to grow your plants in good soil. To determine what kind of soil you have, try this: Take a hose and wet a patch of soil, then take a pinch. If it feels slimy and kind of sticky, then you have a clay soil. If it feels gritty and the water seems to drain very quickly through it, then you have a sandy or a "loamy" soil.
Those with clay soil need to get a soil amendment to help create air and loosen things up so plants' roots can expand. If you have a loamy, easily draining soil, get some soil amendment to help retain water. Another big essential is adding compost—hopefully organic—that will add the nutrients necessary to grow a good crop. Compost is like food for soil. A good rule of thumb is to add a 1- to 2-cubic-foot bag of compost per 6 square feet of planting area. You will also want to purchase a good organic vegetable food to feed your plants once a month during the growing season.
8 organic gardening essentials
People are often daunted by the task of properly irrigating their plants, but it's actually very easy. First, consistency is key. Plants should be watered three to four times per week for a few minutes when they're new. As they mature and their roots grow, you'll want to water less frequently—possibly twice a week. It's important to achieve a deep watering, though, to help encourage the roots to go down where they can stay cool. When plants don't get a deep water, their roots will stay at the surface, which tends to dry out quickly. Plants with superficial roots will not thrive as well and will require more watering.
Always water in the morning so the leaves have time to dry over the course of the day—this will minimize pest and insect activity. If you're not sure whether your plants need watering, here are some rules of (green) thumb: Droopy plants usually need water, unless it's the middle of the day and blazing hot outside (a hot day will make any plant—even a well-hydrated one—droop). You know your plants are overwatered if their leaves are yellowed and their flowers are dropping off. It's usually better to underwater than overwater, because overwatering can lead to decreased fruit production. To check to see whether your soil is properly hydrated, just stick your fingers 3 inches down into the soil. If it feels cold and damp, you're good.
Vegetables don't like to have their leaves watered—this encourages pests, which will move up into the plants from the ground. To keep aphids and other flying insects away, just spray your plants once a week with a mixture of 1 quart water to 1 teaspoon organic dish soap. This mixture is identical to the organic insecticidal soap you can buy in the gardening store, for much less cash.
How to deal with larger pests in your garden.
Many people don't put enough thought into what to plant in their gardens. It's easy to know which plants are right for you—just think about what you and your family like to eat. Plant things that are difficult to find or a bit expensive at the supermarket. Don't waste space on things that are difficult to grow and easy to buy, like garlic and onions, which must be replanted after you pick them. Instead, choose prolific plants such as tomatoes, squash, zucchini, beans, sweet peas, berries and almost any herb. The more you pick, the more they produce.
What kind of gardener are you? Take this quiz to find out!
Some beneficial flowers will help deter pests and add color to your edible garden. Some choices are marigolds, nasturtiums, petunias, purple coneflowers, sweet alyssum, cosmos and sunflowers.
You don't need to have a yard to have a vegetable garden. Almost anything can be planted in pots on a deck, stoop or windowsill. Cherry tomatoes, blueberries, avocados and herbs flourish in small containers. Think vertical too—lots of vines do great in small spaces or in pots. Create a trellis and grow beans, cucumbers, raspberries. You can even find "dwarf"-size fruit trees that do great in pots too. There's no excuse for not having your own edibles!
Container? Windowsill? Community garden? Connect with the gardening method that suits you.
Use organic or natural fertilizer instead of synthetic or chemical fertilizer. Natural and organic fertilizers are made from composted or dehydrated plant and animal materials, whereas synthetic fertilizers require tremendous amounts of fossil fuel energy to produce. Organic fertilizers don't create the health or environmental hazards that are associated with chemical fertilizers.
While saving leftovers is second nature for some people, a surprising number of Americans consider leftovers waste and automatically toss them in the trash. In fact, the USDA estimates that the average American family throws away 14 percent of their food—or almost $600 worth per year.
So whether it's a lemon peel, bacon grease or day-old coffee, why not find a way to make use of it?
- Meat drippings: Freeze in ice cube trays as gravy base.
- Raw meat scraps, bones and skin: Simmer to make soup base.
- Bacon grease: Use for sautéing.
- Citrus skin: Use zest in baking.
- Coffee: Make iced coffee drinks.
- Flat beer: Create a base for fondue.
- Flat soda: Make a tenderizing marinade.
- Bread: Toast into croutons, or blitz into crumbs.
Soft drinks are Americans' most-consumed beverages, followed by, in descending order, bottled water, coffee, fruit drinks and juices, beer, milk, tea, wine, spirits and, finally, vegetable juice. The average American drinks 50 gallons of soda per year.
You could save up to $650 per year by reducing your soda purchases by just two 12-packs per week. You'll not only conserve the energy and resources used to make the soft drinks, manufacture the cans or bottles and transport the finished product to your local market, but you'll also reduce can and bottle waste and the energy it takes to transport the materials to either a recycling facility or landfill.
And it can't be bad for your health. If the phosphoric acid in a can of cola is strong enough to clean the rust off of a corroded car battery, what's it doing to your belly?
If you switch from a bunch of single vitamin and mineral supplements to a single multivitamin, you could save up to $350 per year. You'll also conserve the production energy used to generate additional supplements and containers and reduce your accumulation and disposal of plastic pill bottles.
Unless recommended by a health professional, taking additional supplements may not provide any benefits to your well-being and could cause harm if taken improperly. So, let the experts do the work for you—multivitamins typically contain everything you need.
Instead of grabbing a diet soda, iced tea, energy drink or bottle of flavored vitamin water the next time you feel parched, drink what's freely available from the tap. You could save up to $200 per year or more, just by cutting your beverage consumption by $4 per week.
You'll reduce packaging waste from discarded bottles and cans and conserve manufacturing and transportation energy. Staying hydrated by drinking the proper amount of water is one of the least expensive ways to prevent illness and keep your weight under control. Doctors recommend that people should drink half their weight in ounces. So a 150-pound person should drink 75 ounces of liquids per day—or a little less than 10 8-ounce glasses.
Save up to $600 per year if all the chicken you purchase (assuming it's about 4 pounds per week) is whole instead of as boneless skinless breasts. Reduce consumption of energy, resources and waste involved with processing, packaging and transport.
Using an electric pressure cooker instead of your stove top or oven to cook meals saves money on energy costs. If you use pressure cooker instead of your electric range an average of three times per week, you'll save roughly 165 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.
Plus, pressure cookers take a fraction of the time—merely minutes—required to cook a meal on the stove or in an oven. Unlike those of a generation ago, today's models are designed with safety in mind. And rumor has it they can cook almost anything.
How are you shifting your habits to be green? Share your advice and ask questions below!
Elizabeth Rogers is the co-author of The Green Book. Her latest book, Shift Your Habit, is about a new way of thinking that leads to both saving money and living consciously.
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