Friday, July 1, 2011

Researching Bulk Food Options

My Grandparent's old freezer.
It will soon be the home of yummy meat. 


Uff-da! I enjoy scouring to find the right deal, but this one has been wicked complicated. I have a couple of favorite blogs that I read, and they have really great suggestions for where to get my staples in bulk. The problem was that after I filled up my cart with amazing deals, I found out the warehouses were based over near Washington state. The shipping was totally not worth it!

I have been looking for places to find grass-fed beef, chickens, nuts, kamut, arrowroot powder, butter, beeswax and coconut oil at more reasonable prices. There are a few other odds and ends that I would like to find, but these are the big items that are proving hard to find or when I find them, they are very expensive. It seems like they don't have great bulk food ordering options over here in New England.

So, if you live near western Massachusettes and are doing anything like I am, I hope this either helps you, you get a good laugh out of the run around I did, or you can give advice on some other options for healthy, real, bulk food on a serious budget.

Lets talk about Coconut Oil...

I did a lot of calling and searching on the internet. I called Guido's and the Berkshire Co-Op to see if they could work with me to buy in bulk. Basically no for the Co-Op grocery items (unless I pay a yearly membership fee) and yes for Guido's. I had a slightly comical conversation with the man that is in charge of bulk ordering at Guido's. He was really helpful and pleasant, but when I started giving him the few things I really wanted to make sure I could get from him, I threw him for a little bit of a loop.

I've been reading so many blogs by women who buy in bulk that I didn't realize it was still somewhat foreign to buy certain items in large quantities. My first inquiry was for a gallon of unrefined extra vergin coconut oil (buying a gallons worth in the small jars I buy now would cost me double compared to the price of a gallon online). His response was "I didn't know they came that big" so I politely said that they did and that they also come in 5 gallon buckets that would be way too much for me.

I was thinking that I wouldn't be able to get my bulk from him after he acted surprised by my requests, but then he said that he would see if he could get it anyway. I'm still waiting for a call back, but there is hope! If I bought coconut oil online, it would be from mountainroseherbs.com but I'm hoping to avoid the shipping cost.

Grass-fed Beef

When it comes to beef, the Co-Op meat man is awesome! He said he purchases a lot of sides and quarters from local farms and if I was going to buy a lot at once to store in the freezer anyway, that he could put something together at a good discount. Of course, I still need to actually do this to see what the discount is, but we are waiting for funds to role in before we really start planning the meat package. I can't wait to see what we come up with. He already has pretty good prices. Guido's had decent prices on a few beef items too, but had a lot fewer options than I expected, so I'll probably just stick to meat from the Co-Op.

Chickens

I haven't found a better price on chicken's than I found at Heydenrich Farm in NY. We were going to get their beef as well, but we think the Co-Op and Guido's would beat their price if we bought in bulk. Their chickens work out to be $2.50 - $3.33 per lb because each of their chickens is 4.5 - 6 lbs at $15 each. They aren't organic, but we did some research on the farm and are happy with what we know about how they take care of their animals. The chickens are out in the yard during the day and put in a barn at night. We can order them now, but couldn't pick them up until August, so if we need to buy a chicken, we'll probably buy local raised chicken for $4/lb at the Co-Op.

When I order from the farm, they can bring the chickens to Albany for me to pick up. The Farm is two hours away and Albany is only one, so I appreciated that too! As long as I buy at least four chickens from Heydenrich Farm, it will make up for the gas going to and from Albany. I'm hoping to buy at least 6 at a time, but we'll see how much room I have after I buy beef.

Grain

I searched online to make sure I want kamut and to figure out how to grind it. Freshly ground grain is so much better for us, and kamut is more nutritious than wheat and is a quarter of the price of the whole wheat flower I currently purchase. I was sold on grinding our own grain, but then I did the research on how to do it. The electric grinders are $250 but the hand mills are $30 and up. However, I read a post from a woman who used a handmill for years and she said it took her an hour to get about 8 cups. She said her 7 year old daughter tried to help, but could only get it 3 cranks. I don't see us buying a hand mill after that information, but if it were free, I would give it a try. I also read that if you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, you can buy a $100 attachment to grind grain, but we don't have a stand mixer, so that burst that bubble too.

Then I found the Blendtec. Did you hear the kitchen angels sing?? It would be the superhero appliance in my kitchen. Although it is even more than the electric grain mill, it would replace my blender, take up less space, and do everything and anything I would want it to. Lindsay at Passionate Homemaking had wonderful things to say about it. I look forward to grinding grain, making raw applesauce and tomatoe sauce in it! :-) Of course, my Blendtec is a ways away still. A very far ways away but we are keeping our eyes out on craigslist and ebay.

Butter and other good stuff

There are still a lot of things that seemed too expensive at either store. I know that Whole Foods had good prices on butter, but I'm not sure if we can justify a trip to Hadley. That is today's project: calling Whole Foods to see what bulk items I can get from them and then doing the math to see if it is is worth it to spend the gas getting there three or four times a year.

A "Surprise Adventure"

When Joel got home, he sat down with Noah while I told him all the excitement of the day and a surprise adventure we still needed to go on. Joel was right on board with me trying to find someone to buy bulk from, grinding our own grain and working on getting me a Blendtec. Seriously, I thanked him at least 20 times last night for being so good about all this craziness involved in finding the healthiest and best priced options in bulk. So after our chat, we got everyone in the house ready, and headed out to the Co-Op and Guido's with a notepad, list, and pen to do price comparisons (I'm sure they wished we bought things instead of roamed their isles but now that I know the prices, they'll both get business in different areas).

In the end, regardless of the fact that Guido's would help me get bulk, they are still cheaper when it comes to almonds, rice and other grains. I really do love the Co-Op atmosphere so much more, but for most of our shopping, I imagine it will be at Guido's (with the exception of meat).

After we finished price checking, we drove to a local dairy farm in Alford to get some raw milk for our first attempt at yogurt. This was so much fun and I'll be sure to write a blog post about it. We decided to start making our own yogurt because Noah has to eat full fat, plain yogurt every day to keep his weight up and that was costing us $3-$4 for 32oz. I made 64oz last night with raw milk for $3.50. There is no competition there! Homemade is the way to go when it comes to yogurt, and it is sooo easy! More on that to come.

A little bit at a time

We are at a place where we might be able to finally think about buying some of this more natural food because I might actually be finding it at cheaper prices than conventional food by buying it in bulk. If it really turns out to be cheaper in the long run, I don't see why we wouldn't implement bulk buying right now, but we are taking it one step at a time until we get all our ducks in a row. We first need to really understand the impact it will have on our monthly and yearly budget. We have recently been given the opportunity to pay down our debt faster and we are not going to jeopardize that blessing by jumping into this new adventure too early. For food, we enjoy a well stocked freezer from Angel Food Ministries.

Noah's frozen coconut milk mix, frozen rhubarb from
our friend's backyard, and lots of Angel Food!


So for the time being, I am happy and content with the new changes of homemade yogurt at half price and homemade bread when we want it. Gotta love it.

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