Living Organic, On The Cheap!

I was serving a brand new patient the other day and asked her if she eats a mostly organic diet. She reported that she finds it tough to make ends meet and that eating organically often feels outside of her reach most times. I smiled and replied, “I’m going to write a blog for you and share with you how I once fed our family of four for less than $100.00 per week on organic food.”

I’ll take you back over ten years ago, both of my kids were currently attending a private Waldorf school. My husband, Jeff and I had recently finished our four year medical degrees and were embarking on our postgraduate research at the time. We estimated that about $35,000 per annum was going out the door for about 3.5 years to educate the four of us. We were also still building our Clinic as we were just 5 years into our practice and we were working on our thesis and books simultaneously. To say the least, money was extremely tight.

While my kids were growing up, we had several boarders and international students live with us. My kids often bunked together when they were little because a fellow Heilkunst student/receptionist, Waldorf teacher, student from Madrid or Mexico was living with us for several months at a time. These folks became an intricate part of our family and would often help to make meals or watch the kids while we ran out to pick something up.

We lived on a farm on seven acres that we rented, where we leased land to city folks to grow their own food on. Folks would also rent a portion of the 7,000 square foot barn to paint in or practice music. We owned several horses of our own, and ran “Camp On The Farm” for local Waldorf and Homeschooled kids in the region for several weeks during the summer. The barn’s hay mow and our summer kitchen was great for them to do arts and crafts or to play in if it rained, but they mostly carried out spontaneous adventures on a portion of the two hundred surrounding acres. When they came in after being outside all day, they were hungry.

Now, I’d often been with patients, or I’d been studying all day. I only did either activities for several years unless I was weeding our gardens or shovelling manure; horse, chicken, duck, sheep or bunny poo was the other interesting side of my more sedentary life behind a desk. All this to say, I didn’t have gobs of time, let alone money, to be prepping meals.

Breakfast was our own farm fresh chicken or duck eggs. A bowl of homemade oatmeal with raw milk (we ran a 14 family raw milk co-op) or a shake made with fermented kefir and frozen blackberries picked in the Fall of last year with a raw egg and some hemp protein was a mainstay. Organic Bananas were always on hand as they’re cheap and can be easily cut up and added frozen to shakes, sliced on top of oatmeal or stirred into paleo muffins (made with almond and coconut flour … See Elana’s Pantry on-line recipes).

Our favorite snack was a dollop of almond butter, mixed with ½ a banana, a tablespoon of hemp seeds and a quick splash of real maple syrup. Another easy to make snack I made was homemade fruit leather from seconds (apples, strawberries, raspberries etc.) leftover at the healthfood store. I also made wild rhubarb compote with organic cane sugar. I canned all my own jams and jellies sweetened with apple juice and pectin.

On Sundays, we would cook together … all four of us. We ate a lot of crockpot spaghetti with beef, lamb, or turkey purchased from my friends who were local farmers way out of town with lower overhead. Burritos were a favourite. One of our farmer friend’s food was cheaper than the non-organic stuff at the grocery store. We’d go out and pick it up over an hour away when we went to get the milk from our cow share. We had two apartment sized chest freezers we got from Kijiji (like Craigslist).

The other crock pot had some form of soup. Squash was typical, and cheap. I peeled and diced it, adding carrots, sweet potatoes, a green apple, chicken or turkey stock (left over from pan drippings from a roast and frozen in little individual serving cups) and some curry. After it was cooked, I whizzed this all up with my hand blender.

Often a whole organic chicken went into the crock pot in the morning with celery, onions, carrots and dill (Martha Stewart knock off) and by supper we’d be peeling off chunks of hot meat with broth and vegetables into bowls while someone ran outside to harvest lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas and whatever else was ripe from our gardens for salad. If I was on the ball, there would be rice or kamut noodles for the soup.

One of our favourite meals is still chunks of stewing beef, onions, a ton of mushrooms, and a can of Guinness with some fresh thyme, sea salt and fresh ground pepper thickened with a bit of organic flour. This all served on champ, which is mashed potatoes with butter, cream and green onions. Yes, I come by the last name “McQuinn” honestly.

One year we had a bumper zucchini crop. No kidding, the zukes were the size of our legs. We groaned each time my daughter picked another one and brought it in the house. We were giving them away to patients strong enough to carry these monsters to their car. I made dozens of paleo zucchini breads and froze them. We had a massive crab apple tree on the property as well that we often made into jellies. One Fall my daughter found a plum tree that was mind-blowing but that darn tree only fruited once even though I whispered sweet nothings to it every Spring!

We grew raspberries and foraged for wild strawberries and blueberries as well. We often went to pick our own fruit at local farms. Blackberries were wildly plentiful and we knew all the best spots on public lands. We’d even take the cat with us in a gunny sack as he hated when the kids left him at home, so off he’d come to pick berries too. Silly old Oliver.

I also harvested dandelion leaves, sorrel, lamb’s quarters, wild spinach and wild raspberry leaf for tea. I also loved Chaga mushroom from wild birch trees for a really nourishing tea high in antioxidants. You can look it up if you like keeping in mind that you need to know what you’re doing when foraging for mushrooms as some can be lethal if you’re not careful.

We also loved to make our own candles out of beeswax. Both of my children can knit and my daughter could crochet anything you could imagine while on long drives in the car. All of our clothes were bought second hand from the thrift store. Funny as I still love to shop this way as I can’t justify spending over $15 for a new outfit! That’s just me!

I’ve learned to milk goats more recently, and cows when I was younger, and always appreciated that my family comes from the largest dairy community in Canada. These life skills have served me well all these 50+ years. Last summer, I connected with an herbalist in my local town who offered nature walks on her property to show us even more wild foods that can be harvested and prepared into amazing meals that don’t cost a dime. I love pine needle tea which has more vitamin C than some fruits! Who knew?! Yes, even these foods can be found in urban centres or in places not too far off the beaten path.

If you’re an urban dweller reading this and you think my granola lifestyle is beyond your scope or imagination, I know lots of city folk who’ve traded their skills as IT specialists by setting up a website for a local farmer looking to sell their goat’s milk soap. It is brilliant to have a skill that you can work on the basis of trade for. I’ve traded Heilkunst Medicine sessions for massages, live blood analysis, bowen therapy, reiki, chiropractic care, music lessons, art lessons, horse riding lessons, and even organic food.

My 90 year old Scottish grandmother on my Mom’s side has prepared food for a single Dad and his family for a decade or more. Last year, she was still making a few thousand dollars selling handmade dishcloths, jams and pickles at a local hospital bazaar. We Scottish Canadians are cheap and very resourceful. It seems that it runs in my family!

I feel that we are going to come into some interesting times ahead, moving away from traditional economic systems. Bitcoin, trading our skills for food, services and resources are going to come more into vogue and necessity. Personally, I’d prefer to have these relationships plumbed with my local food providers and know how to effectively live off-grid before I have to out of necessity. Emergency preparedness websites in North America are recommended two to three months of water and food supplies stored in your basement. That is a fairly long time!

The next thing I want to learn is how to set snares and hunt for larger game. I already know how to fish and gut a trout since they were plentiful in the streams we used to farm on when I was a kid. I’m also pretty handy with a rifle as the bloody gophers used to dig holes on our fields where the horses grazed. I never tried eating a gopher though!

When I was first deciding what values and ethics I wanted to raise my own kids with, I decided that they were pretty close to how I’d been raised. Have a close kinship with nature, be thankful for what you have, treat your neighbors with compassion as you never know when you’ll need to rely on each other, make sure you can make a living without the use of electricity and gadgets, and eat as close to the way God intended, in season, and through the hands of those who love and care about you. Never eat the crap from a box or fast food establishment. Trust your gut in all things and always stop to gaze at a sunset. That, basically, is how I live organic, and also on the cheap … which, really, makes me feel incredibly resourceful and also very rich!

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