Giving supermarkets the cold shoulder

Annette and the artichoke problem

Here’s an idea – spend less time inside supermarkets and more doing the good things in life.  Like digging over the vege garden, or scratching a cat’s chin.

I’ve never been fond of supermarkets, but I seemed to spend a lot of my time inside the noisy places; hunting for groceries, standing in queues and then saying, no, I don’t have Fly Buys.

Not any more.  For three months now, we’ve changed our habits and are trying to visit the supermarket only once a month.

It’s all the fault of Philippa Stevenson, she of Tamahere Forum.  Over a cuppa one recent wintry morning, she told us that’s what she did and it was utterly wonderful.  I told her she was nuts, and responded we wouldn’t be able to go for longer than a week.

But then I thought about it. We were constantly calling in at Rototuna on the way home to pick up one or four things.  At least every second day, if not sometimes twice a day.

We have a goodly sized pantry, stocked with tins and rice and all those things one needs in an emergency, such as bars of Lindt chocolate.

We buy our flour in bulk, because I like to bake bread and cakes, and we eat a lot of our own homemade pasta.  Sugar, too, is bought in bulk.  Tea we buy loose in lovely 2kg wooden boxes from Wrightsons, and it lasts months and months.

In summer we grow as much of our own vegetables as we can; we’re almost self-sufficient when it comes to garlic.  And our seven magnificent hens were just starting to lay eggs again.

Sylvie, the magnificent

Maybe we could give it a go.  After all, the husband’s grandmother took her horse and cart into town to stock up on the essentials for a thriving family of five.  And I bet she wasn’t going in every other day.

Philippa then added the clincher – she was saving money.  She was more organised, more self-sufficient, eating better and the money she and Leo allocated for supermarkets was building up.

We sat down and wrote a list of what we needed and then some, and toddled off to town.  Within days we’d run woefully short of kitty food and completely out of washing up liquid.  Gritting my teeth I dashed into a supermarket on the way home and bought them.

The second time we were better, and by the third, almost splendid.  I now have compiled a Masterlist on the computer, which I print out and take round the aisles with me.

Some things are exempt – milk, coffee and fresh fruit and vegetables.  And we tend to buy our meat from the Frankton butcher, again about once a month, or from the Farmers’ Market.

But from now on, we’re going to be serious about growing or swapping our own vegetables, and making do with what we’ve got.   We’ll try to eat what’s in season, and grown locally.

Clif, from the Hamilton Farmers' Market, in chatting mode

Some ideas

  • Go to Farmers’ Markets for produce the way it should be, grown by the people who sell it and natter with you while you choose it.  The Tamahere Market is once a month, on the third Saturday of each month. The Hamilton Farmers’ Market runs every Sunday in the Sonning carpark on River Rd.  Both sell a huge range of the freshest fruit and vegetables and many treats besides.
  •  Swap produce with friends and neighbours.  We can grow artichokes like anything, but are rubbish at Brussels sprouts.  Why not share the harvest?
  •  Check out Ooooby (Out of our own back yard), an on-line network for people into growing their own vegetables and fruit, and swapping it with virtual strangers (who probably become friends.)  A group now operates in Hamilton.  You can also share self-raised seedlings, gardening tips and recipes.
  •  Visit the produce table at 29 Claude St.  This is the brainchild of Judy and Rod McDonald.  A few years ago these community-minded folk popped a table on to their frontage and put whatever excess veges and fruit they have on to it.  Neighbours and passing strangers are invited to help themselves, and to add their own.  It’s been hugely successful  and works a treat (and look for a story soon on this in Number 8 Network.)
  •  Consider setting up your own produce table.  Maybe ask the local school if you can set a table up to swap food with other parents.

Now is the time to get out into that garden, spring having truly sprung.  Mind you, looking out the window at the pelting rain – maybe a cup of tea, a cat and a gardening book is in order.

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15 thoughts on “Giving supermarkets the cold shoulder

  • September 18, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Goodonyer for spreading the word. What I began as a way to avoid the clutches of the super clever supermarketers has proved to have many benefits. As you mention there are the savings in time and money but I also seem to becoming immune to advertising blandishments. When seen seldom all those packets screaming for my attention from the shelves look downright ridiculous. Pah! As a wise person once said, do most of your shopping around the outer edge of the supermarket – that’s where all the fresh stuff is – and venture down the aisles for the packet stuff only rarely. Packaged food makers are selling the packages – the food component is negligible.

    • September 19, 2011 at 6:54 am

      You are so right. Never thought about that particular cunning layout of supermarkets before. Power to the Philippa Shopping Stratagem!

  • September 19, 2011 at 10:00 am

    N8N staff know that they can has our brussels sprouts when they wish, until the supply runs out. (I can eat only so many at a time!)

    • September 19, 2011 at 10:11 am

      What do we want? Brussels! When do we want them? Brussels!

  • September 19, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Love it Annette, Must give it a go myself. I find myself doing just as you did in the past.
    Have these very helpful people staying at the moment, Elma is a WWOOFer (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) and Lori and Drew from America, they are with HelpExchange and to keep them satisfied with food find myself dropping into the supermarket frequently. Need to hatch up a scheme to buy fruit & vegies for a week instead of about every 3 days. Garden not producing quantities yet although the asparagus is poking its head through the soil yippee. Anyone for lovely fresh organic ASPARAGUS and chooky eggs!?

    • September 19, 2011 at 2:56 pm

      The trick is in the list. And then – of course, sharing garden fresh asparagus and eggs and silverbeet and oranges and lemons. More fun than going to the supermarket, as well. Said she who had to go to one today to buy dried fruit for the daughter’s 21st cake. Which is being baked tomorrow.

      We used to have WWOOFers here in Gordonton – made some wonderful friends from all over the world.

      Best of luck with your new plan!

  • September 19, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    O rly? If you’re trying to say you’ve eaten that lot you got last night – I don’t believe you!

    • September 19, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      Situation critical. Only two nights worth of Barry Brussels left. Send help!

  • September 19, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    What a fantastic idea! Not new I know, but a good reminder of ways we can not only save money, but time too! …and stress! I cringe at the thought of supermarket shopping – I literally have to psyche myself up beforehand for a quick and clever run through, otherwise I go into a shopping type of trance where I buy far more than I need and spend way too much money and time than is healthy.
    So my question is, how can I get to this once a month thing with hungry teenagers and both of parents working? Most of it seems manageable but I think we get tripped up with being huge bread and milk consumers – I suppose there is the freezer, but for a month? Would love some ideas here.

    PS: We have a famous lemon tree that delivers 365. Our other fruit trees are a little young just yet to share, but I will mention I picked 12 avocados this morning (and we were told it wouldn’t grow here). We currently have an abundance of parsley with a few young plants sprouting about – and would love some silverbeet. Fair trade?

    • September 19, 2011 at 9:27 pm

      I have a bread maker, and every four or so days for the last fairly longish time it’s been producing fresh, bread – the ingredients being only yeast, flour, salt, a little butter. No preservatives, emulsifiers or acidity regulators. Milk we pick up from one of those fruit and vege shops – less expensive than in the supermarket. The only cheese we get is Parmesan, or from the Gouda shop at Rototuna. We’re eating less meat, but what we do eat is better quality and gets put in the freezer.
      And, for the last month we’ve had one resident young adult and her young man about the house, and managed, more or less, to stick to the plan.
      Trading is the way to go. Um, as well as getting out into the garden which I really must do tomorrow!

  • September 20, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Bread is hard to keep up with even after the freezer seems brimming at the start of the month. I do find I buy extra along with milk and fruit (just not from the supermarket). We are pretty self-sufficient in veges – either fresh, or frozen and bottled when plentiful. I don’t have a breadmaker but have been thinking I’d try sourdough (as touted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of TV’s River Cottage fame). And we treat ourselves to specialty breads from the markets. It is hard with hungry teenagers but I met a mother of three teens who is also a once-a-month shopper so it obviously can be done. The goal – and challenge – is to stay out of the supermarket with its trance-inducing ways but not pay higher prices while doing so. And eat well and enjoyably, of course.

  • September 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Love this idea. I have know for some time that going to the supermarket is a bad idea. We have taken to shopping online and have been saving heaps all be it weekly. Our garden isn’t up to sustaining us all yet but we have managed to make our garlic last, had pesto just about all year and too much chutney. We go to our local veg shop for milk etc. Looking forward to trying the once a month idea – think we will need to clean up to make room. I guess bring the breadmaker out will clear a space 🙂

    • September 26, 2011 at 12:51 pm

      And make a List. It really makes a difference. (Anyone who wants a copy of my Master List, just yell out. And of course it can be tinkered with to suit all needs!)

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