Switching to a Farm To Table Grocery Lifestyle

So part of growing up and being an adult is being able to feed yourself. Most of us don’t make wise decisions when we try to feed ourselves during our formidable years being out on our own.

But once you’ve put on your big boy/girl pants, and you realize you can’t subsist off of fast food, junk food, and protein shakes, you realize you need to know how to cook for yourself.

Once you’ve come to that realization, you are going to want to have good ingredients so your food doesn’t taste like a butt.

But what exactly are good ingredients?

You can just go to your grocery store and buy whatever they are shelling out to you. But, you also are giving up your right to choose where your produce, dairy, bread, and meat come from.

Not only are you giving up your right to choose, you are foregoing your right to decide whether you want your food to have harmful chemicals or bacteria in them unbeknownst to you (i.e. antibiotics, GMOs, hormones, or harmful bacteria).

So now you’ve decided you want to pursue something that isn’t just your local grocery store. You want high quality ingredients, but you’re not some millionaire, you’re on a budget. You could try and shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and the other healthy stores of the ilk, but you might be shelling out an arm and leg to get those quality ingredients.

That’s what was happening to me back in 2012, I was spending $150.00 a week between Harris Teeter and Costco to feed just two people. My fiancée & I realized we needed a better solution. We started looking into CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), but I wasn’t too keen on having to deal with boatloads of produce all year long. This is not to say that CSAs are bad or not worth it, but it didn’t make sense for us, being just two people.

Luckily in 2012, at the same time I was shelling out the dolla bills for my groceries, Friends & Farms was formed. I’ve been saving over $70.00 a week by switching to this program.

What is Friends & Farms?

Friends & Farms in the News (2014)

Friends & Farms in the News (2013)

What they do for you, is every week they give you a basket that varies on your preference in size (how many people you’re feeding). In that basket, you not only get fresh seasonal fruits & veggies, you also get locally-sourced protein (eggs, beef, chicken, pork, and seafood), dairy (cheese, milk, butter, etc.), and bread from a local bakery.

They prepare a basket for you and then you come to one of their various pick up locations and pick it up. They have pick up locations all over Maryland ranging from Howard County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, and Anne Arundel County.

So how do you get/pay for this service? You have a plethora of options to choose from. If you are unsure about joining, they have a sample basket program for you to try. It’s only about $50 or $60 and it lets you experience the service for a week without signing up.

You also might say to yourself, “I don’t want to do this year round though.” Well, you can also sign up for their weekly program, where you just pay for each week and when you want to opt out, you simply let them know.

I pay by quarter and it is totally worth it for me. I cook obviously, so it’s worth it for me. My cooking has improved and has become healthier as a result of this switch. I do the two person basket and opt out of bread. That’s the nice thing about this program; if you have ANY dietary or taste restrictions they will tailor your basket to you. No change is too small for them, they will customize your basket with you, so that you are happy every week. For instance, if you hate beets (like I do) you can opt out and get something else. Or if you can’t have pork or shellfish, they will give you something else (like extra chicken or beef).

The quality of their ingredients is really incredible. The meat and chicken really is so good that I can’t go back to buying the stuff at the grocery store anymore. It can be slightly more expensive for the meats but, you are getting such a higher quality I’m okay with eating less.

The super unique thing about them too is that you get seafood, cheese, and bread too. The seafood is unreal, and is usually caught the day before you get your basket. The cheese is all locally sourced and tastes better than anything you can buy at the store.

Joining Friends & Farms doesn’t mean you will never have to go to the grocery store again. But it will significantly cut down on the number of trips you make and what you buy there. I only really go to buy paper products or a specific condiment or ingredient I need for something. The 2 person basket I get is usually enough for 2 or 3 meals for the week. You can also always get more stuff a la carte from their market via their website or via email, and those items will be waiting for you in your weekly basket.

With this all said, I decided to sit down with Friends & Farms Business Development Leader, Collin Morstein and ask him a few questions.

What’s the difference between FF and a CSA?

We source from about 50 sustainable farms and producers throughout the year, whereas most CSAs pull from one or two farms. Having a diversified supply chain allows us to source a variety of foods each week and minimizes the risk for our customers. Additionally, it allows us to plan ahead and build baskets with a coherent mix of foods. For example, this week we’re doing a chili basket complete with locally-sourced ground beef, poblano peppers, jalapenos, garlic, onions, cilantro and cheddar cheese.

What’s the biggest recommendation you have for new customers?

I’d recommend allotting some time each week to cook. Fresh produce is perishable and requires a bit of planning ahead. Set aside an hour once or twice a week to prep food for days to come – it’ll go a long way towards getting the most value out of your basket.

What’s your most popular package?

Our most popular package is the Small basket for two people. That basket contains two protein selections (beef, pork, poultry and/or seafood), produce, dairy, eggs and bread.

Is all your stuff GMO free, organic or antibiotic free? Just explain the reasoning, for the general public.

We work very hard to ensure our growers aren’t planting GMO seeds. When it comes to organic, you are likely aware that organic does not mean pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide free. Because of this, we like to leave the choice of production system up to the farmer based on their location characteristics, soils, micro-climate, and crops. Farmers often know what works best in their particular situation. Some crops, like stone fruits, are very difficult to raise in this area using organic production practices. If we limited ourselves to organic producers, this would mean no peaches, nectarines, and apricots in our baskets. We also believe that some of the pesticides allowed by the NSOB may be more harmful for the local environment than their conventional counterparts. For instance, a broad spectrum organic pesticide may kill off the offending insects as well as the beneficial insects we want to encourage. In some of these situations, a more specific conventional pesticide would target just the problem without the externalities.

What’s your favorite thing about FF?

My favorite part about my job is that I’m encouraged to think about food all day. That’s really an ideal situation for me. Also, as we grow (pun intended) we can begin to have a substantial impact on our local businesses (farms, bakers, watermen, cheesemakers etc.). That feels even better.

From a product standpoint, I’d say the seafood is our biggest strength. We buy whole fish and have it sliced the morning of each pick up. You simply can’t get it fresher.

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