HOMEGROWN Life: What We Learned From Our Year Without Groceries

| 10/24/2011 1:51:00 PM

Tags: farm, farmers market, food, goats, groceries, harvest, urban, year, Farm Aid and Homegrown.org,

 I can’t believe it’s been a year now since we started our year without groceries. We learned a lot in that year. We are definitely healthier, but also we’re happier. Our relationship with each other is stronger as we’ve had to learn how to really work well together.

When we first decided to do a year without buying food from the grocery store, convenience stores, box stores or restaurants we thought the challenge was going to be really difficult. And it kind of started out that way. We had difficulties getting local milk, even though we live near a lot of dairies, and our goats hadn’t been bred yet so we had to wait for them to start producing. We had an order on part of a steer that almost didn’t come in, and our first monthly co-op order was missed.

But as time continued onward we started to get into the groove of things. After a lot of research I had found a milk delivery service that actually came to my town. We made do that first month without our co-op order and the steer finally came in. We visited the farmers’ market every Saturday and if something came up and we couldn’t make our local one, we were able to always find another one in a nearby town that we could go to. Our little urban farm started to become more productive and eventually we were able to provide all of our own dairy from our two goats.

We met a lot of great small family farmers and built relationships with them. They answered our questions, gave us tours, and we relied on them for our food. We learned that you don’t have to produce your own food to give up the grocery store, you just have to get out there and meet the people that do produce your food. Not to mention that we saved money on food while buying higher quality products.

About 6 months into our year we realized that it was pretty easy and that we wanted to have more of a challenge. We decided to go the last three months of our challenge without buying any food. We would have to rely on what our little lot could provide us along with anything we had on the shelf.


We were so far behind on planting due to Mother Nature refusing to cooperate that I was worried we wouldn’t have anything to eat fresh. We got lucky and our first big harvest was the day we started the three month challenge. For those first few weeks we were limited to cucumbers, green beans and zucchini. That was probably the hardest part of the challenge – having such a limited diet. And because of our less than stellar weather during the first part of the year, our fruit trees were a complete failure.

On the plus side though we learned first hand what we should have in storage in case of emergencies. We also developed a bartering system with friends which helped strengthen our community.

After a year of being free from grocery stores we decided to continue this journey indefinitely but we’ll allow ourselves one restaurant visit a month. We met a lot of great people along the way and we learned a lot about ourselves.


 Rachel Dog Island Farm 

1/15/2014 8:18:20 AM

I was surprised that you are allowed animals where you live. It's nice to see you go to the farmers market but where I live it's only open late summer to early fall.I read the other comments about raising chicken for eggs and to pay for themselves warning they will not pay for themselves. I have around 70 of them come winter I was only getting about 9 eggs a day, so between lack of daylight and molting don't plan on an egg from every chicken every day of the year. The reason to have them is so you know what you are eating.

1/14/2014 11:05:53 AM

grax.mccoar, clearly being 3 years late you weren't really up-to-date with what we did and what the rules were. We weren't buying *food* from grocery stores like Safeway, Raleys, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, etc. We weren't buying *food* at drug stores, convenience stores, box stores, restaurants, etc. We weren't shopping at what you would think of as a "co-op." It wasn't brick and mortar, it was a buying club made up of few people that bought directly from the source (I suppose I should have made that clearer) so as to save money by buying in bulk. Flour, sugar, etc. came right from the mill where it was produced. Feed stores sell feed for animals, not food for people. As for personal care items, I wasn't about to go a year without toilet paper (again, we were focusing on food with this project) but I did make a lot of other items - deodorant, soap, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc. - from scratch or bought them directly from the person that made them. Actually, I still do this. Homemade deodorant works much better than commercial stuff, commercial shampoo gives me ear infections, and I have skin reactions to most commercial laundry detergents.

1/14/2014 6:04:33 AM

My husband and I are 60. We've been growing some of our own veggies on about 1/4 of our 1 acre lot for 3o years now. However, for the past 3 years we decided to enlarge. I also went back to making almost everything homemade now, and back to the canning I did when we first moved here. We now have 2 large freezers in our garage, and a dehydrator, so we freeze and dehydrate as well. Starting in mid summer, I start gradually stocking up on canned goods, buying a few extra with each shopping trip, for our large pantry in the garage As a nurse, I've also been studying and growing medicinal herbs, for the pasts 3 years, and use them as a first response to minor injuries and sickness. I also used aloe ( on radiation burns); and Ginger root, and chamomile teas, for burn care, and symptomatic relief during my husband's cancer treatments 2 years ago. They were all excellent and I now have 5 large aloe plants I keep on hand. We've both lost considerable weight, yet, eat healthier, and feel better than we have in 30 years! As always, I keep my stack of Mother Earth News magazines close on hand, and they've been such a wonderful inspiration!

1/13/2014 1:16:17 PM

A co-op IS a grocery store. So is a feed store. Laundry supplies, personal care supplies, paper products, from where? If you don't buy it at a *grocery store*, but you buy the same products at the hardware or drugstore, what's the difference? Or do you live without toilet paper and washing of clothes for a year?

gordon deisting
3/11/2013 6:38:05 PM

As me and my little woman say to the WORLD " If you have a dream to build,DO IT".For time don't wait for no one.We have 4 acres of land here in northern Alberta Canada,And this summer I'm going to build up our dream to live on the farm that my father left me.Being 60 yrs of age that don't bother me none cause life is what you make it.It wonderful live it to the fullest with out having to live out of them big box stores.For I worked and saved what little money to invest into materials that needed to build the dream.We already have our cold room full of canned goods,fresh veggies,Chickens,and going to buy a steer for tame meat,And also We are hunters and trappers also.For the cold winds blow in the winter up here we still eat well.sure we do eat at restaurants but we do that when we visit the city for parts or other things.As for living of the land it is natural for us cause that is what "we" wanted.We grow our garden and flowers for beauty and also a small asparagus garden also we are "AGAINST" harsh products that not needed if you do it right.For Mother Earth News was a find that made us open our eyes and try to conserve.I'm going "green" also off the grid power wise.In floor wood heating,Also going to have a green house on the south side of the house connected which will be heated same as the house with Solar power.We want to grow a garden in the winter also.For we are used to the cold weather,one day cold and sunny the next.For if you don't like the weather here in Alberta just wait it will change in 5 minutes lol.As a "TRUE ALBERTAN" would say.There is alot of Farmer markets to deal at also flea markets also the internet to make it easier to live.Also I bought a little band mill to make lumber for barder and to make things with also.Also we watch the Farmer's Almanac.For city life is not in our genes,So much disarray of anger and violence drive by's,as the song said " the road goes on".It is nice to see people trying to live a better live.So,when you dream a dream build it and do it.

arthur marshall
3/11/2013 5:14:44 PM

Well done, that is my dream come true for you. One day I hope to convince my wife to move from Brooklyn NY to a place we can raise chickens and goats without bothering the neighbors, well done. Arthur

roxanne waller tucker
7/5/2012 9:17:13 PM

I would so do this if it wasn't for 7 children to feed. It would take a slower transition for us.

7/2/2012 2:56:38 PM

Well done. Very inspiring.This is what our forefathers did. and this is what we are doing in India. We do this through the seasons, in our villages and towns.

dana vann
11/7/2011 4:03:10 PM

WOW! I am more Inspired! A recent "incident" at the local "supermarket" coupled with the power outage we experienced here in NJ, forced us to really rethink our strategy in providing for our family during these strange times. I grow nearly everything in the raised garden beds my husband put together, and lettuce in containers in the basement during cold weather. (We're located in the "inner cities" as they say.) Having lost everything in our freezer we dropped HUNDREDS of $ in the supermarket, only to be told we could not load groceries into the car in front of the store -- WITH NO PARKING. All that being said, I vowed to get our groceries anywhere but supemarkets, get myr canning skills up to par, research ways to get milk and eggs without having to deal with this madness and expense. Not to mention being healthier. Peace to your family -- thanx for sharing and happy planting!

marci wedel
11/7/2011 3:42:15 PM

Good job! Good inspiration! I'd be very interested to know what you thought you should have in storage for emergencies. My partner and I recently moved to northern New Mexico off grid, and are about one hour from the nearest grocery store. I'm starting an indoor garden (you can't really grow much outside in this winter climate), and we're building a small hot house for use in spring. I'm learning about permaculture, hoping to use those concepts here for my new garden. Our goal is to become as self reliant as possible. Chickens will also join our menagerie in the spring for eggs and meat. I'm hoping to raise enough eggs to be able to sell some, to recoup expenses. We'll see, All in all, it is a grand adventure.

heather nowak
10/27/2011 12:28:54 PM

Great article, and very inspiring!! We're in suburban Altlanta and are nearly to the point where we don't need to buy veggies/fruit too. We also have 10 laying hens for the organic eggs. We'd love to be able to stop going to the store too. But I've always wondered how people handle non food items like TP, personal care items, clothes soap, and such. I'd love to see an article with suggestions on that.

sharon bruno
10/27/2011 4:44:07 AM

I admire you! You are doing what we all need to do to safeguard our future. More self-reliance. I'm in my 70's and if I could get my family to go along with it, I too would do this. I do manage to grow most of our vegetables.

linda osborne
10/25/2011 10:00:34 PM

This is awesome! My husband and I plan on doing the same thing in the near future. We will have different obstacles to overcome, but it is so inspiring to read about folks that are doing this and thriving. Thank you for a great article!

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