Category Archives: Self Reliance

Can a suburban lot be profitable as a farm? Pt 1

Can a suburban lot be profitable as a farm? To quote one of my mentors, Jack Spirko from TSP, “It depends”. We have been doing the homesteading, and farm for over three years now and can share some insight.  What is your definition of profitable? Making income from your labor, to turn a profit? What money you take in is larger than what you put into your farm, just the farm? If your definition of profitable just applying to the farming activities or to the property, cars, debts etc? Is this your full time job? There is significant different between homesteading, and farming. Someone may just think you sell what you produce; sell the overage, or just double what you did for yourself. This is not the case.

We have to make some assumptions, and parameters. First, let’s assume a 0.2 typical suburban lot, with no home owners association (HOA), no restrictions on land use, you are in a suburban area close to a major city (less than 1 hr), are in USDA zone 4 or higher, and have no solar blockages to your growing area. I know that is a lot of assumptions. But we have to start somewhere.

Next, is this your only source of income? Is this supplemental? If this is your only source of income, you need to look at your monthly and yearly expenditures. Are your vehicles paid off? Do you have a mortgage? Do you have other debts such as student loans, credit cards? How much are your taxes?

Let’s assume you have a $100,000 home, and pay $1,000/mo mortgage, insurance, utilities etc. This means you have to bring in at minimum $1,000 per month in sales just to have a place to grow. Have expenses, not eating off your property, then you have to make that much more. So, in this scenario, it is highly unlikely that you can be profitable, and live off what you make on your property. It is not impossible but, you would have to be VERY creative, like rabbits and quail in your garage, aquaponics in your house, teach classes, consult, butcher your own meats, and that is just the beginning. You would have to work harder to be profitable on your suburban lot than you have ever worked before. But is IS possible. Expect to put in 100+ hour work weeks, and work all 7 days. Do not expect a vacation, because who would manage your farm and all that it entails while you are gone.

Second scenario, you have no mortgage, because either you were smart and paid it off, retired and finally got the monkey off your back, or for whatever reason. Can it be profitable? Most definitely, assuming the home assumptions are what we are basing things on.  Again, look at your monthly expenditures. Sometimes you may look at ways to reduce in order to not work as hard or in lean months. What are your taxes? You can grow produce, have fruit trees, rabbits, ducks, chickens for meat and eggs, ducks and then sell things like canned goods, jams, jellies, medicinal herbs. This may not work for every scenario. Some legal requirements state you have to make any prepared items in a commercial kitchen. Some will allow your own kitchen to be used provided it is inspected. Some don’t even go that far. Some areas will allow you to sell directly on “farm”, some require a farmers market. If butchering on “farm” you may not need inspection, but a farmers market requires the meat to be processed at a commercial facility. This is a definite possibility, and can be profitable.

Third scenario, you have a suburban lot, but no home on it. You are living in an apartment, but lease or rent the lot. Can you make enough on 0.2 acres to pay for everything? It depends; can you effectively cover all your expenses?  Rent community garden space, sell overage, local CSA, or farm market stand. All possibilities.

Getting into the details on how – The key, stacking functions, and making use of every single waste, resource, or product. The Native Americans had the right idea, of use every single part of something, let nothing goes to waste. I am going to cover what we have learned, and the pitfalls.

Rabbits take up very little room, and are heavy producers per square foot. You can have one buck, four does, and in a double stack configuration, have between 8-12 rabbits every week to butcher and sell in a 6’ x 14’ space. Whole rabbits can sell from $5/lb live weight to $40/lb cleaned and all organic/grass fed. Average weight of rabbit is 5lbs. Stack the function, and you can feed them weeds from gardens, grass from your neighbors lawn (providing they do not chemically treat it), and pruning from your vegetable patch.  You can sell the manure as fertilizer, use it yourself, add it to compost (sell the compost), put it in worm bins (sell the worms, compost, or worm tea).  If you tractor the rabbits you reduce any feed costs. You can also sell some of the better kits as potential breed stock to other farmers. Then you can also sell the pelts. You can tan them yourself and increase the price you get per pelt. If you have dogs, and you are butchering the rabbits you can feed them the innards. You can sell rabbits feet. The ears are sold as dog treats. Chickens will also pick the bones clean. You may have the initial investment of cages, feeding trays, shelter etc, but it can be easily recouped, provided you have a viable market for meat rabbits. While it is becoming more popular with the homesteading crowd, it hasn’t found its way into mainstream food sources. Some higher end restaurants, or restaurants specializing in locally grown or chemical free options may be a good place to sell your product.

Rabbit hutch 1 Rabbit hutch

In 0.2 acres you can have 5-10 fruit trees. This is in addition to a house, depending on the home size, providing you get the dwarf varieties. You will also want to prune them to optimize harvests, and maximize space. If you were to espalier the trees you can get even more to grow. This will give you a fruit crop to sell, or raw materials for baked goods, jams, jellies, fruit leathers. You could even sell trimmings or grafting from your trees. Trees could be generic apples, pears, cherries or you could try more exotic fruits pomegranate, fig, or the jujube (it does not produce candy). More people tend to buy what they know, and more chance to make what you need, but the rare varieties fetch a much heavier price. No chemicals or sprays get a higher premium, but more susceptible to disease and pests. Small orchards like a suburban postage size do not get plagued like the larger mono crop farms because of a greater biodiversity. If you have chickens, and ducks on your micro farm they are pest mangers in themselves. We will go into chicken in part 2.

Espalier 2 Espalier 3 Espalier espalier1

Herb Blurb – Yarrow

Achillea Millefolium (Yarrow)

Yarrow Diagram
Click for larger view

 

Yarrow, also called Soldiers Wound Wort has been in use since ancient Greece. Its name derives from Achilles who was rumored to use it on his soldiers to stop bleeding on the battlefield.  Yarrow was also used on the battlefield during the Civil War especially when supplies were sparse. Yarrow comes in a variety of colors including, white, yellow, red, pink and orange. Yarrow was used by Native Americans for a variety of issues all across the US.

Suggested uses

A tea made with yarrow is good to tread common colds and is said to help expel wastes through the pores. Mainly given as a blood purifier. Macerated and applied to wounds it can stop bleeding, and act as an antibacterial agent. Yarrow has been used for fever, common cold, hay fever, absence of menstruation, dysentery, diarrhea, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal (GI) tract discomfort, and to induce sweating.

https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/y/yarrow02.html

Parts to use

Stems, leaves and flowers, collected in the wild state, in August, when in flower.

yarrow
Click for larger view

How to use

Raw – Some people have found chewing the leaves will help alleviate a toothache. The flowers and young leaves can be added to salads.

Tea – Yarrow as a tea can help purify the blood and expel wastes through the pores.

Salve -Ointment – Highlanders of Scotland use a yarrow ointment on sheep for wound care

Macerated – taken in the field, macerate (chew, crush, grind) the leaves and apply directly on wounds to stop bleeding and reduce infection.

Bath – To stop bleeding of hemorrhoids, wounds, to alleviate cramps a bath using the macerated leaves or tincture from leaves.

Flavor additive – prior to using hops, yarrow was used to flavor beer. It was said that yarrow made the beer more potent.

Tincture – Alcohol (vodka) a tincture can be made to extract essential oils rather than drying the herb for later use.

Growing

Yarrow is a perennial here in the Midwest. It will self seed if allowed to. It prefers full sun and well drained soil but does well in many unfavorable conditions. It is a drought tolerant plant. Yarrow is a good companion plant as it attracts predatory wasps who prey on other pest insects as well as it attracts ladybugs and hoverflies.

Storage

Light is the enemy of medicinal herbs. Dried leaves, stems, and flowers should be stored in paper bag out of light. Tinctures should be stored in a dark glass container away from light. Sunlight is the worst as the UV will break down the compounds that are beneficial

Want to learn more come check out our herb class on August 23

Learn about more herbs

 

 

Medicinal Herb class this Saturday July 12th

Don’t forget the medicinal herb class this Saturday July 12th. We will be having our medicinal herb class and talk about the various plants and herbs you can grow here in Indiana as well as some preparations, storage techniques, and uses. Come join us. PLEASE RSVP at the link below so we know how many packets to print. As part of the tour you will receive a 60 page packet of the information covered.

 

Medicinal herbs you can grow here in the Midwest

Saturday, Jul 12, 2014, 10:00 AM

Wolf-Beach Farms
8418 Chickasaw Ct

3 Gardener/Homesteader Attending

During the last tour people asked for a medicinal herb class and now we are ready. 57 herbs will be discussed that we have growing currently or are in the process of growing, and can be cultivated here in Indiana. The majority of herbs will be discussed are also available to see on the property, some we have grown in the past and we will discuss (O…

Check out this Meetup →

Medicinal Herb Class Preview

I wanted people to get a feel for what to expect in the Medicinal Herb Class Preview, with handouts from the class. This is just one page, and is only the text. There are 56 other plants and bonus materials. We will be discussing in more details during the tour. What we have experienced, and touring through all what is growing while on site.  We will also have live plants for sale, fresh you pick cuttings, dried plants,  and more. Touch,  and smell some different preparations, ask questions, get answers. Disclaimer, we are not medical practitioners, and we are only conveying information we have learned, and have been using as a family.  Seek your own information before using any medicinal herbs.

Calendula– We will also have a chart in the handout of actual pictures of plants from out place.

RSVP – please use this link to RSVP so we know how many packets to put together. You can also prepay online.

What’s new this year update with pictures

2014 has proven to be our biggest push into self-sufficiency and experimentation yet. I believe with all the prior years combined, this year still has us doing more new experiments and new additions. This is just a portion of what we have going on. This doesn’t include urban food plot project, building a “tiny” house and furnishings, recycled pallet projects, normal vegetable gardening, classes, medicinal herbs, food storage, podcasts etc.  Want to learn more on the podcast…check out 2 Midwest Guys.

Rabbits

This year we started breeding meat rabbits to supplement our meat and protein supply. Two does have had kits and out of 15 rabbits 6 have survived. We are giving the does one more chance before culling them.  We are hoping for 6+ kits per litter,  ideally 9+ kits per litter with little to no losses. We are waiting on our 3rd doe to kit. We have been supplementing the pellets with yard waste mainly in the form of weeds and grass clippings from when we do mow. 2 years ago we seeded our lawn with alfalfa and clover and now are able to benefit from that. By supplementing with yard “wastes” we have greatly reduced our dependency on pellets.  The rabbits seem to prefer the fresh greens over pellets, and we feed less, and the pellets are more of a back up to feeding them.

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Ducks

Ducks were another new addition this year, and so far have been somewhat a love hate relationship. They refuse to eat duck food, and instead prefer fish food. Looking at the protein content of the chick starter/grower it is 18% protein, and the fish food was 38% protein. This fact, is probably why they are almost full grown in 3 months time. They have eaten all of my water plants, my lilies, my cat tails, my reeds, my duckweed, my Azolla. They have eaten everything, which resulted in an algae bloom, and we now have green water. We added snails to the system to help clean the waste and water. They ate those too. They ate all the leaves and bark off my willow trees I was hoping to help clean the water. They ate ½ of the goldfish in the pond. So far no duck eggs, if they keep this up, we will be eating them and marking it up as a lesson learned. On a positive note, in the last two weeks they have moved into the vegetable garden away from my pond (it could use a break). They have eaten and trampled the majority of the weeds and seem to have left my vegetables alone. If they keep this up, there may be hope for them. If not, Duck, it’s what’s for dinner.

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New aquaponics design

The new design took the 400 gal in ground pond, and added a 35 foot creek, a radial filter, and 8 grow beds bringing the system to roughly 5000 gallons. The new design has had some setbacks, mainly the ducks and my own issue of adjusting the pH. We are working through some of the issues, and hopefully it will start to recover. I have some ultra concentrated bacteria on its way and we will see how that works. The frog pond and plant nursery is doing much better. The frog pond, which was once my main aquaponics, is doing well with more frogs showing up, and I am now using it as a trellis, and plant nursery. The benefit, no ducks. I finally caught “Gigantor” and now have a new nemesis now that the Gigantor challenge has been met. Chipmunks.

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Sun chokes aka Jerusalem Artichokes

Sun chokes are a new addition for us this year. They have tubers similar to potatoes, and a sunflower like top. The tops can be fed to livestock, and the tubers can be cooked and eaten. The preferred method seems to be fried like fried potatoes. The sun chokes seem to be doing well. We won’t know how well until harvest later this fall. We plan on harvesting ½ and leaving ½ for next year.  On our tour to Brambleberry Farm we are planning on getting a different variety, Purple chokes.

Figs

Fig is a new fruit for us this year. After our purple peach didn’t make it over the winter (we did get a bunch of seedlings started), we wanted another tree in the area. The fig we got from Brambleberry Farm is doing very well. Once the tree is more established we plan on taking cuttings and propagating more trees from the mother plant. I remember having a fig tree as a child in Louisiana.

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Ground Nuts

Ground nuts are something we got on a whim, and another new addition this year. At first we didn’t think they would grow but after a few weeks we have now begun seeing vines growing and climbing. No progress as to what is going on under the ground. Once they are ready to harvest it supposedly is another protein source. We may hold a few back to propagate next year if they do well.

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Tilapia

Tilapia were a new addition to the aquaponics portion of our operation. We have had goldfish, catfish, bluegill, redear, tadpoles, and crawfish. We got ours locally as 40 fingerlings from Blue Note Hatchery. All 40 survived, however, 2 met tragic ends on my part while moving a pump. They are growing strong and getting big. I am not sure if they will make it to the big pond or not. I am not sure about the ducks and the tilapia. Either the fish need to be much bigger or I may put them in a 275 gal tank for grow out. I did notice that our temperatures inside the house were not warm enough for them and I had to add supplemental heat to keep the water 70-80 degrees. Once I did this they started eating like the ravenous hoard.

Amaranth

Amaranth is a grain alternative. The varieties we got are native to South and Central America but will grow well here in the warmer summer months.  We actually have a native variety here in Indiana and the local farmers call it pigweed. Pigweed has become almost immune to most commercial sprays. Family members who are involved with large scale agriculture have stated it is becoming a real problem. The two varieties we got were both for appearance, yield, and hardiness.  This is another plant we will harvest ½ for use, and the other ½ will go for seed stock for the following year.

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Elderberry

We picked up 2 elderberry plants from Brambleberry farm when Dustin and I went down for our 2 Midwest Guys tour. We have an open tour June 7th which is THIS Saturday. They are still in the pots as we were babying them and wanted to make sure good and hardy before putting into the ground. That is a project for this week. You need two different plant varieties to pollinate unless you have a wild one in your area. This is sometimes the case with people in rural areas. This will be used as a food and a medicinal once we start getting fruit.

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Gumi Berry

The Gumi berry is still a little sad and we are not putting it out in the “General Population” until it is a bit bigger. The “wee one” will likely trample it. This is a nitrogen fixer, as well as a food producer. I will take pictures on Saturday of what it is supposed to look like when grown.

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Goji Berry

While the goji isn’t new (we had it last year) apparently the ducks seem to like the leaves and ate it down to the ground. We may be starting back a year on this one. We protected them, and see if that helps. If not it will have to find a new location. This is more a warning, ducks will eat your goji, and well anything else that is green.

Hops

While the hops aren’t new I wanted to share how well they are doing this year. We now have a living privacy wall and shaded area just from the hops vines

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Canning pineapple

Canning isn’t something new to us, but we tried canning fresh pineapple this year.  Aldi had a great deal of $0.89 per pineapple. We bought a bunch and made dehydrated fruit snacks, canned a bunch and even from some of the waste material made fresh pineapple juice. Each pineapple yielded about 1 ½ quart of pineapple, and ½ cup of juice.  Cheaper than buying canned pineapple in the store, I controlled what goes into them, I got bonus of 5 quarts of juice, and feed for animals. I took the woody centers that are not fit to eat, and ran through my food mill. Collected the juice and fed the pulp to the chickens. I cut as close as I could to the outer peel, and any “eyes” I cut out and ran through the juicer. Anything the chickens wouldn’t eat, went to the worms and compost. You can actually regrow pineapple from the tops.  While I am a big fan of this, I don’t have the indoor space to keep it over winter, and was a bit more work than I wanted to do moving it in and out. When we get a better greenhouse this may be an option.  This is something to look out for of eating and buying within season. If you can find a good deal on something if at a farmer’s market, store, or even your own back yard, find ways to preserve it and stock up.

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Scything

Most people today don’t know what a scythe is. Think what the grim reaper carries. With the addition of the rabbits, and soon to add goats, we needed a way to get hay and feed to them cheap and easy. We didn’t have access to a mechanical way to cut, and bale pasture hay/weeds unless we paid someone to do it, and that just wasn’t in the cards. We did however have access to old fashion scythes. This is how people used to gut fields before machinery, on the cheap, just using your time and labor. I can tell you it was a workout, and while a bit sore, we both like the manual labor, and proving we can do it. I think we as a society have become too dependent on things that make life easy and another reason we have a weight problem as a nation. Before we invested in a new hand tool, and an expensive one at that ($200-500) we wanted to give it a try. We found some older (60 or so years) tools in my wife’s grandfathers barn. I researched how to clean, sharpen, and bring back these older pieces of technology to life. Calling around, I couldn’t find any stores locally that carried a scythe, let alone any parts or maintenance pieces. As with everything, I made do with what I had.  After cutting about 1/4 an acre in an hour or so I think we are hooked. We may get a few tips from Brambleberry Farm as Darren and Espri use the scythe a their place. We think with a little practice, and tips on our technique this may be a good solution. I already came up with a way to make a mini baler out of repurposed cat litter boxes.

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This blog has already become too long; I will have to write-up all the medicinal and culinary herbs later. Below is a list of all the new herbs we have added this year.  I will continue to put posts on the Herb Blurb page with more details on each herb as time goes on.

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Wormwood

Jewelweed

Ma-huang (Ephedra)

Witch Hazel

Prickly Pear

St Johns Wart

Motherwart

Tansey

Boneset

Horehound

Chickweed

Rose of Sharron

Apple mint

Garlic Chives

Comfrey

 

Suburban “farm” tour May 18th

Suburban “farm” tour. Come out and see what is possible on 0.2 acres of suburbia. We have ducks, chickens, 5000 gal outdoor aquaponics, 30 gallon indoor system, fruit trees, berry patches, edible landscaping, rabbits, grapes composting, vermicomposting, vertical gardening, rain harvesting, and medicinal herbs. The goats won’t be on property yet, but we will discuss different aspect of back yard goats as well.

In addition to covering all of the above and lessons learned through

We will cover how to use an A-Frame level for finding contours on your property as well as how to make an A-frame level.

Anti-chicken tractors

Where to find materials for cheap or free

We will talk and show different aspects of permaculture we are practicing.

Talk about the many ways to use a aquarium air pump to benefit your property.

Making and using compost tea

Possibly have a plant exchange as well (please if attending put what you will bring in the comments so others may benefit/trade)

Seem like a lot? We are only using about 40% of our 0.2 acres.

This is our home, and please respect we do not let the public in our home, so no public restrooms are available. You may also park in the drive as we will have moved our vehicles to accommodate you.

We can/do accept PayPal/credit debit cards. However cannot do both cash and electronic payments on the Meet-up space. Our PayPal ID is wolfbeachfarms@gmail.com and we use both Square and Paypal Credit/debit payments. Space is limited.

Start time is 1pm. If you need to make payments or otherwise, please show up a few minutes early. Estimated end time is 4pm

RSVP required. Please use this site.

 

Food shortages and prices may make you rethink homesteading

Many factors in both the US and overseas are beginning to affect food process. Food prices have steadily increased over the years yet there is more “food” being produced. When I say “food” not all of the food being produced is either consumable by humans or eaten here in the US.

Here in the Midwest and other locations the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) has taken its toll on pork farms. It is estimated that 10% of the pork production has been removed due to the illness. Removed defined as being either killed from the virus or killed to prevent further spread of the illness. Once a Confined Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) has been infected it spreads extremely fast. As a result pork and my beloved bacon prices will be increasing. Pork prices were already on the rise due to increased feed costs.

PEDV News

Across the globe droughts in some areas and flooding in others has played havoc with grain prices. The poor crop production is not only here but UK, Russia, Australia, and China.

Wheat Drought

Crops US

I know several larger scale farmers or people working the farms here in the US. Weather plays a big part on when you can plant, when you can harvest. Some days they are in the fields 20 hours a day or on a rotation to keep the equipment running 24 hrs due to the weather window. The fields are too wet to get machinery out, or too much wind, or the ground is ground still frozen. This winter did not help many I know.

The hard winter for many here in the US has also hit the tropical crops such as avocados, oranges, lemons and limes. Florida was hit hard by colder than normal temperatures and as a result the orange crops will be affected. For example the number of dropped fruit has increased due to the colder than normal winter, but another problem is facing Florida. A virus spread by an insect is hitting the citrus production hard.
Citrus Production by State

Citrus Virus

California is in a world all its own. While it once was the breadbasket of America this year it may be the cause of food price increases. The drought, and lack of snowfall in the mountains (supplies much of the water to the growing valley) has caused some municipalities to turn off the water to orchards and farmland. The drought is not only impacting the fruits and vegetables but also beef, and dairy. California once a major exporter of dairy products to the rest of the world, many ranchers are now sending in the herds for slaughter because it is simply too costly to feed them during the drought.

California

The food issues are also affecting alcohol production. Hard cider breweries are having a harder time keeping up with demand. Due to lack of heirloom verities and increased demand Cider production may feel the hit as well.

Cider

When you add in the political tensions between the US and other countries where agriculture is a significant export you are looking at all around food increases not only here in the US but across the world. Then add to that the continual erosion of the US dollar, the mismanagement by our government of our debt, and our problematic monetary system and we are looking at massive price increases over the next couple of years.

What does all this gloom and doom about food prices, poor yields, and droughts have to do with permaculture? EVERYTHING! These problems go to show that our current food production system is unsustainable and this is just the tip of the iceberg. You can reduce your food bills and dependency on what is placed in front of you claiming to be edible. Grow your own. You can do this even if you have only an apartment and now windows. Stop growing lawns and treating with mass amounts of chemicals and fertilizers so that you have a “green carpet”. You are doing more harm than good. What does green carpet do for you? Absolutely nothing. Even if you were growing it to feed to animals, you have contaminated it to the point it is toxic to keep out weeds and make sure it stays green. Permaculture is a method to not only produce for your family but can also be a supplemental income source.

This year our family has made the biggest leap into food production expansion than we ever have before, due mainly to what we see happening here in the US and the world. We are getting dairy goats because we cannot afford to pay $6-8 per gallon of milk that we estimate will be coming in the near future. We have been tracking prices of the food we purchase, and a 5lb bag of cheese went from $8.99 2 years ago to $15.99 recently. If prices like this continue we cannot afford to still eat like we have and cook from scratch. Having dairy goats, eliminates the need to purchase, cheeses (we like many different kinds cheddar, cottage cheese, hard cheese, cheese sticks, ricotta etc), butter, yogurts, milk, sour cream, and ice-cream. Add to that the ability to use the goat milk to make soaps and lotions and that is a huge reduction. We can now control what goes into each of these products and we are independent of the price increases. We are adding amaranth to our crops to reduce grain needs. We have expanded from our own yard, to using two other growing spaces so that we will be able to have an abundance.

Price Basket

USDA food prices over the years

When you look at the prices week to week it may only go up a few pennies. Not enough for many to recognize. But when you start looking over the years there are some massive differences. I am in my mid 30’s and I can remember gas under $1.00/gal, bread under $1.00/loaf and being in amazement when a grocery cart full of food was less than $100.00, and to go over $100 meant that we were having a big party, or cookout. Today the same cart will run $3-400. While we only shop every 2-3 months we still only spend around $250 for a family of 6. Why, because we cook from scratch, grow and make much of our own food. We want to see our grocery bill be less than $100 every 3 months if possible. This is NOT unreasonable if you eat seasonally, cook from scratch, and produce much of your own food? I have heard every excuse you are coming up with, because I have said them myself. “I don’t have time, I don’t know how, it takes too long, etc, etc.”. This is utter BS. Turn the TV off, get off the couch, stop going out to eat so much, and eat real food vs. junk that is pre-made out of a box. I was exactly there a few years ago and can tell you it can be done. It isn’t overnight, it is one step at a time, and it can only lead to good things.

I wanted to say thank you to my friend “Cedar” from Down to the Roots magazine and “Cedar News Service” (inside Joke for the TSP audience) who highlights all the issues relating to food prices and shortages. Without her, I would be unaware of all that is going on outside my small world.