This Little Piggy Went to Market
This week’s SNAP Challenge is sponsored by Wholesome Wave Georgia, a non-profit committed to making fresh, healthy local foods accessible to all Georgians. By partnering with local farmer’s markets, Wholesome Wave Georgia doubles a family’s SNAP benefits up to $50 for use in shopping at one of 37 partner markets across the state. Check out their website to find out more about other Wholesome Wave programs including a summer feeding programs for children and a new Veggie Prescription model for people struggling with diet-related illnesses like Type 2 Diabetes. It’s genius.
There are two partner markets in my area, one on Wednesday down the street from my house and one on Thursday near where I work. With such convenience, farmer’s market shopping should be a bigger part of my weekly routine. These two markets are some of the happiest places I ever go. The colorful tents and piles of gorgeous vegetables still fresh with local dirt have a festival feel. Often there is a musician picking a guitar or playing a wooden flute. This week, one vendor had a table full of mason jars filled with Sweet Peas and Snapdragons. I consider Fresh Market to be close to a trip to a spa, but it never makes me as happy as shopping at the farmer’s market. A grocery store can’t compete with sunshine and a beautiful breeze.
For the challenge, participants were encouraged to include a partner market in their weekly shopping. To do this, I visited Aldi early in the week for the first half of the week’s meals and lunchbox supplies. I spent about $45 buying (the now-dreaded) Ramen, tortillas, cheese, butter, chicken, beans and rice, and produce like bananas, oranges, organic spinach, grape tomatoes, and Romaine lettuce. I saved the rest of my budget for the Mulberry Market on Wednesday. Not knowing what would be available, I couldn’t really meal plan ahead of time. I had to go with an open mind and careful attention to what I was spending.
I set a $50 budget for myself – which would actually only have been $25 had I been a real SNAP recipient. So far, I have spent about $70 of the $116 budget. Tomorrow, I am going to a friend’s grocery store that specializes in really cheap foods and caters to food stamp recipients. After I figure out if what I have will carry us through Sunday, I’ll get the remaining groceries there. This time of year in middle Georgia, it takes a combination of farmer’s market and grocery store shopping for my family. Like many on food stamps, I am unfamiliar with cooking some seasonal vegetables. This week, the market was filled with kales, turnips, and radishes. Thank heavens for the Vidalia onions that have just come into season. I know what to do with that bit of sweetness, but they were piled next to rutabagas. My mom once cooked those when I was a child, and I was certain I was being punished for some unknown crime. The smell was HORRIBLE! I don’t think I’ll be putting that in my shopping bag for a long, long time.
Here is the real benefit of shopping at a local farmer’s market: When you walk up to a table, you’re talking to the person who grew your food. You can ask her questions about how she likes to eat her produce. She’ll probably share a recipe with you and give you a host of ideas for what you can do with the foods on her table. You can ask the rancher which cut of meat is his favorite and how he prepares it.
I had a great conversation with Joseph Egloff, the 4th generation rancher behind Rocking Chair Ranch located less than 20 miles from my house. Joseph raises beautiful, healthy cows and hogs on lush pastures open to the public. I expected to buy ground beef from Joseph for our traditional Mid-week Mexican. He was out of the ground he sells for $7.50/lb, but because we were two people having a real conversation about feeding our families, he sold me premium ground buffalo (regularly $13.99 ) for the price of the ground beef. We talked longer about what my family likes to eat, and I went home with the buffalo, a hangar steak (and the story of how Joseph likes to eat his), four pork chops, and a pound of bacon that was a gift.
This doesn’t happen in a grocery store.
And it didn’t happen because Joseph knew I was taking this challenge and blogging about it. He didn’t – until I told him at the end of our conversation. I just wanted a way to thank him for his kindness and generosity.
This was a rancher who wanted to know his customer – and be known by his customer. He wanted to work with me to help my family eat well and enjoy his product.
If my cell phone hadn’t been ringing in my purse, I could have had similar conversations with the good people of Local Lands and learned what to do with kale beyond putting it in a green smoothie. They probably would have told me how to make that rutabaga palatable.
With the help of Wholesome Wave Georgia, shopping at a farmer’s market and buying local, organic, sustainably grown produce and meats isn’t the stretch it might seem. $7.50/lb for ground beef is more expensive than any ground beef in the grocery store, but when your SNAP benefits are doubled it’s actually less expensive than the $4/lb package available at Sam’s Club. The challenge is getting the word out to the people who need to know about it – and then helping those folks build relationships with the growers who will teach them how to best prepare the foods that are currently in season.
Tonight over tacos, my family is going to imagine cooking classes in community centers and at the market. I’m going to ask my children what might make them curious enough to try kale and if they can think of ways to help people find out about the opportunities Wholesome Wave provides. In the end, it’s the best thing for all of us, and shopping at the market was definitely the highlight of our SNAP Challenge. I may have even learned enough this week about eating for less that I can make that pricey buffalo part of our regular menu. But don’t expect me cook a rutabaga. I’m going to hold out a little longer for the tomatoes in my back yard.
PS- Check out the work of Leanne Brown who published a beautiful FREE cookbook based on a food stamp budget. It’s called Good and Cheap and you can download it today.