Saturday, May 26, 2012

Eating Part II: Practical Steps, Or, Why We Bought a Cow (Really, We Did!)

Dear conscious eater and happy-bite-taker,

So, you wanna start eating more consciously.  Not like, "Less fats," but more like, "Local, organic."  Sustainable eating, it is sometimes called.

We discussed the matter of Comestible Enlightenment in a previous post, so now we'll get down and dirty and talk about actual things you can do.

Since we just moved to Virginia, I'll walk you through what I did to re-establish our food supply here, so you can see where we are getting all our food; this may give you some ideas for how to find food in your area, since this is the same process I did in Chicago and San Diego (in Seattle, my evolution of food was a little more gradual and natural, and less intense).

Goals: Organic, locally grown, fresh, and lots of it
Supply: Preferably a CSA, or at least a good market where we could stock up weekly

1. I went to to look up farmer's markets and CSAs in the area.  Meanwhile, I shopped at Trader Joe's, a local natural market, and a nearby grocery store that all carried a small variety of organic produce.  

2. I found a few local farmer's markets and visited their websites.  Their websites listed which farms sold at the market.

3. I investigated which ones raised their produce organically.  I didn't necessarily look for the words "certified organic" - I looked for information on their growing processes.  A farm may raise their produce without spraying or chemicals, and yet not have been established on the land long enough to earn a certification of organickness.

4. I went to the market, and I talked to the farmers to hear them talk about how they raised their produce (more on this in a following post).  I chose produce based on what I learned was fresh and chemical-free.

5. Continuing my research online, I chose a CSA farm that I thought fit our lifestyle.  I visited with the farmer at a farmer's market and realized it was not what we wanted.  I kept on reading the websites of local CSAs and found another that I thought sounded appropriate.  It offered a work-share program (cheaper membership in exchange for working a given number of hours on the farm) and lots of educational days.   I was really looking for a work-share so I could gain some knowledge about farming practices!  They were not certified organic but their website proclaimed that they were spray-free/chemical-free.  I drove out to the farm and visited with the farmer; he told me they had just purchased this plot of land, so they hadn't been on it long enough to be certified - but he never uses any chemicals or pesticides.  This was fine by me.  We bought a membership; now we have 20 weeks of produce, and a whole lotta options for learning how to farm!

6. I'll be picking up my CSA basket once a week at the farmer's market near our home (conveniently, only half a mile away - back in Seattle, my farmer's market was about 15 miles away but well worth the trip!).  While at the market, I can purchase more produce if I wish; I can also pick certain items while I am out on the farm working my work-share, and pay for them buy the pound.

Always bring a cooler and ice when picking up items like meat, milk, or produce!

Bringing home the glorious feast - produce, milk, and more! 
Goals: Raw, grass-fed, pasture-raised, local organic milk, use it to make our own dairy products like butter, ice-cream, kefir, yogurt, whey, cheese, cheese curds, et cetera
Supply: Preferably a cow-share or delivery system, where we'd receive a set amount of milk each week

1. I went to and looked up farmer's markets.  I found milk suppliers at a few markets and started reading their websites.  One offered non-ultra-pasteurized milk - I gave them a call and found that their milk was shipped here from Chicago.  I was looking for local, so I moved on.  I found another farm, less than fifty miles from us, that offered a cow-share program with weekly installments of fresh, raw milk from pasture-raised grass-fed cows (the later stipulation is key to the nutritional content of the milk!).  Meanwhile ... we didn't drink much milk at all, because I didn't find any local suppliers of non-ultra-pasteurized milk until just about when we found the dairy farm.  We did go through a few half-gallon cartons of organic milk, which was not necessarily nutritious.  

2. I e-mailed them and learned about how they raise their cows.  We drove out to the farm to see the operation and sign paperwork; we bought part of a cow (a "share" of a cow, hence the term cow-share) and set up payments to pay a monthly fee for them to care for the cow.  I left them with a couple of sterilized half-gallon jars and took home a gallon of fresh, raw milk.

3. I am still learning how to make many dairy products at home, and so I look up books on, check them out at the library, and search blogs for recipes, tips, and ideas.  I try not to be overwhelmed!

Bonus Information - provided for FREE!  Why did we buy part of a cow?  Because it is illegal to sell raw milk in the state of Virginia; so, if we buy part of a cow, we can do whatever we want with what comes from the cow.  That just happens to involve drinking the milk.  Cow-shares are legal.  If you are curious about unpasteurized milk, read more here, or explore this book, or find a supplier near you.

Goals: Pasture-raised, local, organic eggs
Supply: Could be a weekly subscription like the milk, or a varying amount based on farm or market

1. I went to and found some farmer's markets that offered eggs.  I researched the farms by reading their websites, and made a selection based on what I read.  Meanwhile, we purchased organic, free-range eggs at the local grocery store & farmer's market

2. The farm I chose happens to be the same farm that supplies our milk; so I established a regular egg-supply as a part of our milk-supply.

3. Prior to establishing this resource, I was purchasing pasture-raised, organic eggs in the grocery store.

Meat (beef, pork, chicken, processed meats such as sausages) 
Goals: Pasture-raised, humanely treated, grass-fed, organic, local meat
Supply: A resource where we could order meats on an infrequent basis, as we don't have the freezer-space or cash-flow for a yearly meat supply yet

1.  I went to and found some farmer's markets that listed meats as part of their offerings; I looked up the farms that sold meat and made a selection based on what I read.  Meanwhile, I purchased organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed meats sparingly from a local Trader Joe's.  

2. The farm where we procure our meat is also the farm where we get our eggs and milk.  I can order my eggs and meat on their website and choose to pick it up at the farmer's market, or with my milk supply once a week.

Go Pigling Bland, Go!
Dry Goods
Goals: Organic bulk suppliers for nuts, grains, baking supply, cultures, et cetera
Supply: Probably through a co-op or group-buy system with monthly ordering

1. Previously, when living on the West Coast, I ordered everything through the group-buy system offered by Azure Standard.  I purchased my spices and some of my teas through the local markets of Penzeys and MarketSpice (and I still do, since they both ship via online orders).

2. I contacted Azure and asked if they ship this far East - they said no, but suggested a few other group-buy websites.  I have been exploring both these, and a few other natural co-ops that are in the local area.  I've started purchasing through a group-buy website for our area, that is similar to Azure Standard - Quail Cove Farms.

3. Meanwhile, I am using the supplies I brought with me from Washington and supplementing with small purchases of organic baking supply through the local natural market.  This is not a sustainable option though, because organic supply in small batches is pretty expensive.  With bulk, we can enjoy better health and still save $! 

A sterilized (boiled) turkey baster is a great way to skim cream off milk!

King Arthur Flour has been a nice stand-in while I try to find an organic bulk supplier!
There are many ways to find food supplies near you, and as you explore and branch out you'll find your groove.  Visit natural markets - check their boards for information on farms, brochures, and co-op events.  Talk to people and get connected with farmers or home-egg-raisers.  Hit up Google.  Check Craigslist. Many of my Virginia sources I found directly through because, since we had just moved here and I wanted to find food fast and it was already a part of our budget, I didn't have the time or need to gradually network and build up to a new foodstyle.  Now that I am plugged in to some local farms, I've been chatting it up with everybody and making more and more connections, finding more and more resources.

Additionally, if you are looking into changing over some of your external products like soaps and lotions, and are wondering what all the hubbub regarding chemicals is about, you can start with this easy read and go from there.

More on "chatting it up" later in this series!

For now - do you have some more great resources and insight you could share with us?

Mrs H

This series is linked up at Monday Mania



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