Archive for March 10th, 2008

Sources of Bulk Dry Foods

Sharon March 10th, 2008

First let’s talk about the word “dry” here - because it is important.  Globally, trucking and shipping are major contributors to climate change and heavy users of fossil fuels.  And yet, the truth is that while some of us will be able to meet most or all of our needs in our local foodshed, others of us will not.  We’re going to have to get some of our staples from far away.  So how do we make good choices in this regard?

 Well, the first and most important way to do this is to restrict your purchasing to dry foods - dry grains, beans, dry fruit, etc… Because when you ship fresh produce around the country, you are mostly shipping water.  In many cases, we end up, as Joan Dye Gussow observes, shipping water from very dry places that grow food with irrigation to wet ones - particularly wasteful  So it is especially important for us to get our fresh foods near us - and while it is both important and useful for regions to start growing some of their staples, it is much more environmentally sound to buy bulk dry foods from far away than it is to buy bananas (not that most of us won’t eat the occasional banana).

Now my first preference would ALWAYS be that you get your staple foods from local farmers near you.  It is really important that we start producing local staple foods.  So if you are seeking something, the first place to look is in your immediate region.  One good source is  Another is your local agricultural extension agent, who may have sources that aren’t online. 

You might be surprised at what is/can be grown around you.  I was surprised when I learned a farmer near me was growing barley (unfortunately not for human consumption, but I’m working on him).  There are a lot of small agricultural producers around, and sometimes they are hiding ;-) .

 But what if you can’t get it locally?  Well, expand your vision of local a bit.  Cross a few borders.  Maybe try a farmer in nearby state.  Check around.

If you are going to have to get grains from far away, the way that will probably cost you the least is to do it through your local coop or bulk store.  We have a coop in Albany that we visit every couple of months, and a bulk store run by a friend about six miles from me.  She can order things in bulk for me, because the trucks already come to her.  The same is true of my local coop.

But what if you don’t have a coop or bulk store?  How about starting one?  Coops are going to be desperately needed as a source of local food. In one of my last posts I suggested everyone start stepping into the informal economy - a coop is a good way to do this.  Alternately, instead of doing it as coop, you could do bulk buying as a for-profit home enterprise - my friend Joy did hers out of her home.  Delivery trucks and wholesalers will work with anyone who can order through them - if you repackage and sell smaller quantities, or get together with others and put together a bulk order, so much the better.

But what if you need it now, and are sort of stuck with internet ordering?  Here are some good sources:

Canadian fair traded cooperative, organic grains:

Some sources for grains: 

The grand old-man of bulk storage foods:

For anyone living in my area, this resource is invaluable:

For those looking for some interesting older grains, including Emmer wheat that can be tolerated by many people who can’t tolerate wheat in general:

Bobs Red Mill sells not only good grains, but may gluten-free choices:

If you want to go beyond navy beans, consider ordering bulk heirloom beans from Seed Savers:

These folks have dried fruit that is farmer direct as well as many other products:

For medicinal herbs, spices and teas, I like this place: and this one: Both places emphasize fair trade.

For spices (not organic, but of very high quality: 

If you are less concerned about local and organic and don’t want to package up your own foods for storage, these folks and Waltonfeed will sell them to you already sealed and packaged in buckets:

What about seeds?  Best prices on large quantities of seed come from a few places I’ve found including:, and

What if you can’t afford to buy local or organic, much as you’d like to?  What are the cheapest options? 

Well, for rice and spices, Indian and other Asian Grocery stores often sell multiple rices and large quantities of whole spices at rock-bottom prices.  Lord only knows what chemicals they were grown with, but not everyone has the luxury of caring. 

For grains, probably the cheapest option would be, if you live in a grain-growing area, to buy direct at the grian elevators.  Next cheapest would be to ask your grocery store manager to order larger quantities for you.  If you are trying to eat local cheaply, relying on what your region produces abundantly will put you in the best shape - so get used to eating a lot of corn or potatoes or whatever. 

We’ll talk more about putting up your own local fresh produce coming up shortly!


52 Weeks Down - Week 37 - Don't Expect the Simple Life to Be Easy

Sharon March 10th, 2008

When we were first looking for our farm seven years ago, one of the houses we considered was located about 25 miles north of here, in a community with a large Amish population.  The house was on 10 acres, fenced for livestock, with a new (and beautiful) barn, 4 bedrooms, an asking price of $25K (yup, you heard that right!) and was in every way perfect for our needs - except one. The house had been the home of an Amish family, and had no electricity, running water or plumbing.

I was enthusiastic.  I was excited.  I pointed out the advantages to my extremely frugal husband.  The house we liked next best (this one) was nearly 4xs as much, and while it had more land, was similar in size, and didn’t have as nice a barn.  We could, of course, add electricity, running water, etc… as we went on.  Why wouldn’t we buy it?

The answer was a firm - no way.  My husband was not prepared to haul water from a pump in the yard, or to go out to the outhouse.  Period - he just wasn’t willing to do it.  So we bought our present home, and now and then, I still remind Eric that we paid quadruple the price for some wiring and a bit more land.  I’m just that kind of helpful wife.

As we became more and more concerned about where our society was headed, we began considering our options in terms of how to live without a lot of fossil energies.  We looked at the price of renewables, and also thought about what was likely for millions of people who would discover peak energy only when it was too late for them to invest large sums.    We wanted to do something that would provide a useful model to others.

And what we decided was that renewables to power even a deeply energy conservative lifestyle were probably not the way to go - we couldn’t afford them as easily as we could afford human powered alternatives.  So we realized that our job was to start turning our house into a house that could be lived in rather like the Amish - we didn’t want to depend on grid power or fossil energy supplies to meet any of our most basic needs.  That’s not say we wouldn’t use some of them while they were there and convenient (I’m grateful for my washing machine while I’ve got it), but we didn’t want to depend on everything staying as it is to go on.

May I just note how many times I have rued that we didn’t buy a house that was already equipped to run without power, around other people already doing it?  Because it is far harder, I think, to live as we are, with one foot in a low-energy world and another in a high-energy ones, than it is to simply choose one.

Think about costs - we still have to pay the plumber when the pipes burst, and we also had to pay to put the hand pump well head on - we’re still waiting to afford the new cistern that will bring hand pumped water into the house.   We have to have a car, because my husband commutes to a job - even as we price out electric assists for our bikes.  I may be a Luddite but since no publishers accept hand-written manuscripts anymore, my luddite life will always have to involve a computer - and the electricity, whether stand alone solar or grid-tied - to generate it.  Or at least until “Internet Prophetess of Doom” no longer is a viable career ;-) .

The same is true of a host of things.  On the one hand, we live the simple life by the standards of our day -we eat local and grow our own, our kids roam the farm and play with the animals.  It looks so simple.  But it is built upon outside jobs, tax money, and the frantic gathering of a host of skills that we weren’t born or raised with.  For most of my life, one person or another helped me learn to write.  On the other hand, mending my underwear and butchering chickens I had to learn on my own.  No wonder my peak oil friends and I sometimes jokingly send each other emails “Ok, I’m ready for the end of the world if I just don’t have to…”  Somedays, having a foot in each world seems way too hard.

This post isn’t an advice post - it isn’t about some particular way you can reduce your impact.  It is meant more as an acknowledgement of what we are doing - that is, we are balancing ourselves between two ways of life.  And it isn’t easy, particularly at first, when there is so much to learn and everything costs money, eats too much, poops too much, produces fruit flies or has some kind of big ol’ worm in it ;-) .

All I can say is this - the simple life is easiest as you move your whole life towards it.  Some of that may not be possible now, some of it may never be possible.  But if you think of it as a journey, a trip towards something, you’ll feel better, I think, than if you think you that the chickens, or the garden or the homemade beer will magically get you where you need to go.  Just remember, the simple life is hard work - and the work is definitely worth it.