Grocery Shopping Twice A Year: How We Do It

Shopping is 60 miles away.  I have a large family.  When we go shopping, it takes all day—sun up to sun down.  Oh, and one more thing—neither the Farmer nor I has ever particularly liked shopping.

So what’s a family to do when town is so far away?

As my regular readers know, we live in a homesteaded community.  Most of the families who live here are the original families who homesteaded this land over 150 years ago.  Most of them are in the same situation as we are.

I’ll tell you what we don’t do:  we don’t shop that often.

 

Some families make a monthly shopping trip.

Younger couples, and those who drive to town for work, shop weekly or twice a month.

And then there are the rest of us.  When I was making the 120 mile round trip drive to work three times a week, I would shop when I wasn’t too tired after work.  But I’ve been out of the corporate world for two years now.

My first year without a corporate job, I shopped four times.  This year, we only went shopping for food twice.

Those who are unfamiliar with our lifestyle will comment, “Wow, you must be super organized and have a large vehicle to do all your shopping only a couple times a year.”  What they don’t realize is we have other ways of meeting our needs.

How And What We Don’t Buy…

We grow most of our produce.  It takes a lot of hard work and determination, but we do it.  We have a 70 day growing period.  That means for two months we are working intensely in our large garden.

We have a large garden, an orchard, a rotating pumpkin patch, and berry patches.  There are also a few things we grow inside in containers during the winter.

We grow most of our own herbs.  What we don’t grow, a friend brings us each fall when she comes to stay with us.

This wonderful widowed friend of mine leaves her homestead in the hands of her son in the fall, and travels here to visit and help me with my children as we make massive foraging trips.  She is a zone 7, and we do a great deal of trading during this visit.

We forage for what we can.  When foraging, we only get “hot ticket” items.  I know families that spend all day foraging for things like huckleberries, but honestly, if I’m not getting a gallon of berries an hour, it just isn’t worth my time.  I can’t spend five hours finding a cup of huckleberries.

We preserve like crazy.  We prioritize preserving in this order:  cold cellar, canning, dehydrating, freezing.

We raise and process our own animals.  Some years, if time permits, we hunt.  If we hunt, then we process less of our own animals.  This year we got enough elk that we did not process a cow.

We also have dual purpose chickens.  They provide meat and eggs.  We let them multiply naturally.  Some years we have more chickens (and thus eggs) than others.

We barter for pork and turkey right now.  I don’t like the thought of purchasing it at the stores now that the country of origin no longer has to be on the label.  If we don’t barter from a neighbor, we do without.  When we don’t hunt a particular year, we will also barter for bear, moose, deer, quail, etc.

We are gifted a lot of salmon and halibut.  We don’t have time to fish, but another family in the community that does not have farm animals does.  They gift us incredible fish (and we gift things back too, don’t worry).

We barter our honey and Havarti cheese.  There are sheep herders that come through here every year.  They ask to pass through our land (the parts we don’t farm), and in exchange they give us raw honey and Havarti.  I’m talking gallons of honey and the biggest brick of Havarti you’ve ever seen.

We are a small family farm.  After the harvest and before we sell, we take all that we need for our animals first.  I take our barley portion from this.

We don’t grow potatoes, but we help our farmer neighbors who grow potatoes commercially.  The Farmer helps them drive their windrower, and with mechanical difficulties.  Every year when they harvest, they let us glean in their fields for the tiny potatoes, and then they give us a year’s worth of potatoes.  We can also forage for purple potatoes around here too.

Things we don’t grow, barter for, or receive as gifts, that we don’t shop for come from our Amazon Prime account.  For those of you who don’t know, you can shop for many different groceries on Amazon, and with a prime account it doesn’t matter what you buy, it will ship to you free of charge within two days.

When I’m out of creamer, I can get online and order a bottle for $2 and it will be at my home in two days.  It’s $99 for membership each year, but I figure that’s just 4 shopping trips for me.  Four trips is 10 hours of driving and 4 entire days lost.  To me it’s worth the fee.

A few times a year I order coffee, coffee filters, creamer, and occasionally diapers (for Sundays.)  If I went shopping for these things each month, it would be 10 more trips to town each year—10 days30 hours in a car, plus the cost of 10 days of meals.  Totally worth it.  (Right now, they are having a free 30 day trial if you want to try this technique out. Affiliate link.)

This is also how I get any essential oils, toilet paper, and many other products I can’t (or don’t) provide for myself (but this article is only focusing on food).

What We Do Buy At The Stores

The groceries we get from town fit into four main categories.

First, we buy typical bulk products.  These include salts, sugar, flour, oats, peanut butter, vegetable oil, lemon juice (for canning), cream-of-soups, rice, some pastas, coconut oil, grape seed oil, and vinegar.

Second, we peruse for items that are on sale and in season during our trip and a few treats.  This is how we mix it up, and make sure we have different “treats.”

For example, it is always worth it to stock up on the cheapest chocolate you can find.  We love cooking with coconut and it is nearly always on sale during the pre-holiday season.

On my last trip, rye flour was on clearance for $0.59 for a bag, so I got one.  A few sale items keeps the pantry interesting.

Third, there are items we could never get in our area.  These include citrus, pineapple, grapes and special items that result from a flopped garden for use.  On the year we lost all our tomato crop, we got a couple cases of canned tomatoes.  And occasionally when our cucumbers don’t do well, we buy pickles.

Fourth, we do some special orders.  For instance, we order 200 or more pounds of oranges each December.

If you were paying attention to what we actually do buy, you may have been surprised by a few items:

  • I don’t have the means to roll my own oats—so I buy them.
  • I don’t mill my own flour—even though we are wheat farmers. I hate cleaning the wheat.  If anyone knows a super way to clean it, let me know.  I have a mill, and don’t mind milling it myself—I just hate cleaning it.
  • I don’t make my own vinegar.
  • I don’t have the time to make all the pasta our family consumes.
  • Gallons of vegetable oil are for the cast iron, not our recipes.
  • I never bought sugar until I started canning everything. I have found it impossible to avoid if I choose to preserve as much of my own food as possible.
  • Yes, chocolate. Always buy chocolate.

Our family shopped for groceries only twice this last year. See how we did it, and get some tips on how you can cut down on your shopping trips too.

You Can Do This Too

Want to try implementing less shopping trips in your home?  Write this down.

  • Grow a garden this year.  (Read how here if you’ve never done this.)
  • Learn how and where to forage for edibles.
  • Preserve what you grow (or what you are able to buy on sale in bulk in season).
  • Barter away things you have an abundance of in exchange for things you would like.
  • Get produce from local farmers.
  • Go to Amazon and check out their free 30 day Prime membership for any groceries you need that would save you a trip to the store.  If it doesn’t work for you, cancel within your 30 days, and owe nothing.
  • When you do shop, shop in bulk as much as your home storage will allow.
  • Don’t forget a few treats that will keep your family satisfied, and thus away from the store.

Are you already doing things on this list?  What can you focus on this year to spend less time at the stores?

 

36 Comments

  1. Huckleberries certainly are a “treat” forage trip. We’d like to spend time just enjoying the mountains as hiking or camping but with wee ones it won’t happen for a while. So instead once a year we make a picnic out of it and try to teach the kids something. Last year we reviewed animal homes (such as nests vs. burrows).

    • Sounds like a fun trip 🙂

      • OK… we have a larger garden planned this year. Too busy remodeling last year. We have a HUGE weekly Farmer’s Market that I hope to buy a lot of produce from this year. Will plant our own potatoes, tom, cucum,peppers.
        Need to make a raspberry & blueberry area this year.
        Blackberries all over the place, so will gather them this year.
        Hopefully, we will have our chickens in spring!
        How is that for getting started? 🙂

  2. Great ideas! I only live 15 minutes from town, but with a large family I am looking for ways to not be out of the house so much! It takes a lot away from what gets done at home with being out and about so much. Some of that I can’t change, like my son who needs speech therapy, but I most certainly could consolidate my time out to make it work better. We have Amazon Prime so I should look into buying some of our stuff online! Great ideas, thank you for sharing them.

    Blessings,
    Kerri

    • I agree Kerri. I’ve never liked shopping much–there are just so many other things to do 🙂 .
      If you haven’t checked out the groceries Amazon offers, you’ll be amazed at what you find!

  3. Awesome advice! We shop monthly but hope to keep chipping away at that. We just moved so we’re sort of starting over garden and orchard wise but hopefully we’ll add a lot this spring. I love that you barter with your neighbors. We hope to do that as well as we get to know more people in the area. Community can be so helpful.

    • You are so correct! Our community is essential to our lifestyle. I read about people moving off-grid by themselves without the support of a community and it makes me reflect how diabolically different our lifestyle would be without our precious neighbors.
      What an exciting time for you Jordan–all the best as you get resettled.

  4. What a fantastic post! We do something similar but only when it comes to meat. I buy meat twice a year – when the big sales are going on. I vacuum seal up portions and anything that makes it to the one year mark is then pressure canned. It’s a really great cycle. I would love to be able to do more, too. working on it!

    • That’s an great strategy LeAnn. Processing 6 months of meat all at once is daunting task–you are quite a woman! Processing meat takes a huge chunk of time for us. I’d like to can more than I do–it’s one of my future goals.

  5. I take my hat off to you, I am in the process of planting out a new garden and planted out new trees. One thing that will help if you use your amazon account, is have a look at Swagbucks, if you have some spare time on your hands by answering surveys etc you can earn amazon vouchers. Which will save you more money on buying your groceries through Prime.

  6. Rosanna Caswell

    January 25, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    We grind our own wheat and have never cleaned it? Just curious why you think it should be cleaned, maybe we should be! I also do all my preserving/canning in honey as we have many beehives and it is readily available to us. I now prefer that to sugar that I used years ago 🙂

    • Rosanna, great question. As farmers, our wheat goes straight from the field to the grain bin. There is inevitably some straw, chaff, and weed seeds that gets in with it. Additionally, there are small pebbles and dirt that gets into the bin. As farmers, we sell our wheat before it is cleaned to elevators and from there it will eventually get cleaned if it will be sold for consumer use. We do not have the equipment to clean it, so we would have to do it by hand if we were going to use it for ourselves. (It’s fine to feed to animals.)
      If you are buying it from a farmer, it’s highly likely it’s not cleaned. If you are purchasing your wheat commercially, it’s already cleaned (or it better be!) and you don’t need to worry about a thing.
      The sugar we use is for jams and jellies. I use honey for everything else. I don’t buy pectin. If you have any recipes that make jams or jellies without pectin or sugar, then we could be friends…good ones…can I have your recipes Friend? 🙂

      • If you grow wheat then do you have clean wheat seed to plant in the fields in the spring? We grow wheat and just cleaned hundreds of bushels for planting later this year. I (liberate) some of the clean seed and bring enough from the bin into the house to do me for the year.

        • Hello fellow Farmer!
          This is an excellent idea. I “liberate” enough for our animals too 🙂 .
          Yes, we plant clean seeds. Keep in mind that since we have a super short season here, we are harvesting in August/September when snow is light. It’s a scramble to get it all in the bins dry. It stays binned all winter, and then it gets cleaned in the spring just before we plant. It goes straight from the elevator to the field since it is also a rush to get it planted. Without cleaning in the spring, I don’t know how we would deal with the weeds, and wouldn’t want to worry about the drills getting plugged up. So the short answer is yes, we plant it clean–but it doesn’t get cleaned until spring–and it bypasses the Farmer’s wife 🙂 .
          I’m also going to assume you don’t treat your seed when you clean it? 😉

          • I presume you are in the U.S. I live in Canada so I know all about short growing seasons lol! We clean our seed whenever we can-sometimes in winter and sometimes in the spring and no we never treat our seed. Maybe you could get to the field and “liberate” some seed from the truck before it gets planted, or bribe the truck driver to save you some.
            I love growing our own food try to get as little as possible from the store. I find it very satisfying to sit down to meals that were completely home grown!
            Love your blog!

          • Yes, we are, but close to Canada–we could be neighbors 🙂 . Our growing season is 70 days.
            You are completely right, I very well could meet my husband/brother-in-law at the field. In fact, I could insist that he just bring it home at night. (We don’t treat our seed either.) I need to do this. I have about 3 reasons why I don’t, but they really probably just come down to being excuses. I should do this. Thank you for encouraging me.
            I assume you have your seed cleaned, not you do it yourself. If you do it yourself, I would love to talk to you about your equipment (via email). We would love to clean our own.

          • There wasn’t any reply button to your last post so I’ll try this one.
            Wow 70 days is short! We usually get about 100 but not always.
            No we don’t clean our own grain. Local farmers got together quite a few years ago and they built a seed cleaning plant and we take any seed we have there to be cleaned. There was an old seed cleaner here when I first married into this crazy life but it’s long gone now. The only seed I clean here now are the beans or squash etc I plant in my garden. Last year I let lambs quarters go to seed and have been eating lots of them this winter.

          • Oh, that sounds nice. We eat our lambs quarters like spinach. But… I don’t know if we use that much. You are very resourceful!

  7. Ooo I love this idea!!! It’s a dream of mine. I hate grocery shopping!!!! Do you think the younger couples go to town frequently because of their age/mindeset or because they’re not as set up as the older ones in the community?

    • There are no places to rent here, so keep in mind that younger people live with their parents until they get married and move out. If they do move out, it’s into another home already on the homestead or the parents move out to build a new one and leave the now-adult child to the established home. So…the young people around here are already “set up” usually. Not many people around here come or go. (Seriously, I was the novelty for the first 10 years I was here.)
      For this area, I think there are a couple different reasons young people shop more often. First, we are 60 miles from town. I think younger people have a sense of adventure and a desire to “get out.” If you don’t want an agricultural job, you obtain work in town, and thus shop in town. Like I said, when I was making the 120 mile drive each day to and from work, I shopped a lot more often–weekly sometimes.
      I also think young people who are learning to manage their finances don’t often budget for fuel (I certainly didn’t). Fuel is one of those finances where you don’t “see” the money spent.
      For our area, I think they want to go to town.

  8. We too grow/butcher some of our meat (rabbit, chicken, ducks, pork and sheep), all of our eggs and milk (goats). We’re only on an acre, so not growing grain, but we do have a young orchard with apple, banana, peach, apricot, fig, pomegranate, mulberry, mandarin, kumquat, jaboticoba, guava, barbados cherry, almond, pecan, avocado, moringa and bamboo plus a couple boxes for lettuce, garlic, onions, strawberries, blackberries, peppers, etc and a few spots in ground for potatoes.

    We still go to the store (big box and small farmers market) weekly while we’re getting gas. It’s only 4 miles away.

    I’ve been trying to buy more at once and we are trying to grow more so we don’t have to shop as often.

    • TJ–wow! It must be warm where you are, yes? You grow so much more than I ever could, and all on one acre? I am impressed. I’m am absolutely fascinated with how people are self-sufficient in small areas–you’re my hero. I don’t know where you are, but my experience in warmer climates, is that there is not much storage for food, and it’s harder to keep much at once–thus the need for more shopping trips.
      I often wonder if we had a grocery store to go to 4 miles away if we would make more trips…

  9. This is wonderful! We do a lot of similar things too, we only eat the meat we grow and butcher ourselves. We also garden year round. And of course, the chocolate! 🙂

    Thank you for linking this with the Art of Home-Making Mondays! :

  10. I used to shop once a month. The less you can go into the stores, the better! Maybe now that my baby is out of the toddler stage I can get back to growing some of our own foods here.

    • I agree completely. Even though we only went to a store twice last year, there were tiny things that weren’t on the list that got bought. The more trips, the more extras. They definitely add up!

  11. I love this! People look at me like I am nuts when I tell them I only shop monthly. It saves so much time and money because I’m not always looking at the “sales”! Thanks for adding this to From the Farm…everyone else loved it, too and it’s one of this week’s favorites! Hope to see you again this week.

  12. Growing up, we would go to town (1.5 hrs. each direction) about once/month-ish. People looked at us funny when we rolled up with 2-3 grocery carts. Now, we are about an hour out of town. I still work in town & typically go to the store about once per week for perishables. I put it off as long as possible as I don’t care to shop either. Our pantry and freezer serve most of our needs:) It is a different way of approaching it. You’ve done a great job of outlining the direction of thought.

    • Thank you Lady Locust.
      We initially cut down to once a month before cutting way down (baby steps). We still get some looks, but there are a lot of families in our area that shop the same place so they are used to seeing 2 carts coming to the checkout 🙂 .

  13. I would love to live this way! We only have 1/2 an acre, though. But, I am learning ways to get closer to that. I love not having to buy eggs, pork, or chicken at the grocery store.

  14. How do you have an orchard with only a 70 day grow cycle? Right now we are high desert western wyoming. I miss my michigan grow season

    • Hey Paula. We are high dessert SE Idaho, so we’re close!
      We only grow zone 4 trees, so there isn’t a ton of variety. We grow what is mostly native to this area when we can. And also, due to changes in the weather, we don’t always get fruit (or nuts). Some years it freezes before we get plums. Last year we didn’t get any apples. It’s always a risk, and we understand that.
      A “growing season” is defined from last average spring freeze to the first average fall freeze–which is 70 days here. However, as you know, when days are generally warm (even with moderate freezing) trees start to perk up and bloom. This can be months before that June 6 date. It also means if we get “hard freezes” after blooms then we don’t get fruit. It starts to freeze at night in August here, but they aren’t often hard enough to kill developing fruit like apples (plums to a lesser extent) which we don’t harvest until September or October–which are pretty cold months for us.
      A 70 day growing season is very important to think about with perennial vegetables in your garden. Trees are much tougher.

  15. Hi! It’s so nice to come across a farming blog that is northern with a short grow season. My season is about the same in interior Alaska. We too go to town about twice a year and anything we forgot we ask friends/family to pick up. ?
    Right now I help my in-laws with there large garden, hunt and fish for meat. We love eating what we grow. I hope to learn to grow more the next few years. This summer we are hoping to clear our property and start homesteading. ?

    • It’s such a wonderful and simpler life, isn’t it? I think it’s so wonderful that your in-laws have you to help them, and I pray you will do well clearing some of your own property to pursue the homestead life 🙂 .

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