Feeling the Pinch

Five miles. Uphill. Both ways. In the snow with bread wrappers in our boots…

You know the story. Chances are you heard it from your grandparents, if not your parents themselves. It was the tale of hard times, sacrifice, and, “… in my day candy only cost a nickel.” We were all told a variation of this story at times when we needed to buck up a little bit. It was a reminder of how much better we had it now than the generations before us.

The Great Depression saw families, my parents included, move from cities back to the farm to make ends meet. Resiliency during World War II encouraged home Victory Gardens and household hens to keep families in vegetables and eggs. Even during the relative peacetime of post-WWII/Cold War America my parents maintained a garden and kept canned goods on the basement shelves. They knew about hardship. They learned tough lessons through experience. And they were willing to share, if only we would listen.

I preface today’s blog with this story reminder because I’m about to sound like my father. I simply wasn’t ready to listen when I heard it from him years ago, but today it hits home more than I’d like. We’re definitely not all doom and gloom around here. Quite the opposite actually, but I’ve got to say we are certainly feeling the pinch of today’s economy here at the homestead.

Earlier this week I ran to the store to pick up some of our more commonly used staples. Everyday items of which we were running low. It was a short list. It contained none of the core necessities like meat, eggs, or milk. None of the items were “name brand” products. No animal feeds were purchased on this trip (they’re a separate grocery bill in their own right). It was literally a short list of miscellaneous goods such as olive oil, aluminum foil, coffee creamer, and laundry detergent. Granted I buy multiples of most of these to keep stocked in the larder, but this short list added up to $102.73!

Now maybe $102.73 doesn’t seem like all that much for groceries. And granted, if that was for everything we needed for a week it wouldn’t be all that bad. Pretty much on target for a weekly grocery bill pre-pandemic. But we live in a post-pandemic world and the cost of most things has risen sharply without a significant and corresponding increase in wages.

Take for instance olive oil. We use it for everything here on the homestead. Need to grease a skillet? Olive oil. Want to coat some potatoes before they go on the grill? Olive oil. Want to preserve some garlic scapes and make an infused oil for later use? Olive oil. Need to make a quick salad dressing? Olive… you get the idea.

A year ago, our typical off brand olive oil ran us approximately $1.85 per pint (1 pint 0.9 ounces to be exact). This week that same product was $2.85 for the same volume. That’s an increase of $1.00 per bottle, or 54%, since last year for the same product. 

Here is another example from a recent trip to the store. Our go to dog food, a name brand product, jumped from an average of $9.99 per box of 18 pouches to $15.99. All in the last year. That’s an increase of 60% per box! Granted, not every product has increased that much over the last year, but notable increases have become the norm more than the exception.

Let’s zoom out to a larger, nation-wide scale for just a moment. According to recent data from the American Farm Bureau Federation, proteins (the core component we build most of our meals around) rose noticeably since the summer of 2021. Ground beef saw the most significant increase, rising some 36% to $5.33 per pound since last year at this time. Steaks, chops, and chicken breasts also rose over this period, but not as sharply as ground beef. While some consumer products (strawberries, sliced cheese, and potato chips) were lower than last year, none of them compensate for the increases from 2021 prices or the pre-pandemic prices of common protein staples.

Now add in recent $5.00 per gallon fuel costs plus a host of other direct and indirect price increases (you don’t get me started on the cost to ship food thousands of miles to reach our tables, the impact of rising fertilizer costs crippling independent farmers, or the danger of supply bottlenecks in our inherently broken food systems putting us all at risk… but I digress), and I’m willing to bet we’re all feeling a pinch at some level. If you’re not feeling the pinch count yourself lucky. Food costs are rising and the threat of food insecurity looms increasingly on the horizon. These are the inconvenient facts that we face in 2022.

But today is not about preaching doom and gloom. Sure, I wanted to vent a little about the cost increases at the store. Who wouldn’t? More importantly, however, WE want to tell our story and share how we are coping with these challenges. We hope doing so will inspire others to practice resiliency and bolster a supportive local community.

Here are just a few examples of measures we’ve started here at the homestead to cope with rising costs and inflation. In the past year we’ve doubled the size of our gardens. Do we produce everything we need? No! Not even close. But we do supplement our meals with foods we’ve grown right outside our own door. We invested in a freezer and now purchase grass raised/grass finished beef directly from our neighbor. We save a considerable amount buying beef this way, even with the cost of the freezer and added electricity. We trade vegetables for eggs with another neighbor while waiting for our flock of chickens to begin laying. We purchase goods such as honey, homegrown garlic, and even fresh cut flowers from small local farms to support local growers and producers in our community. And we’ve invested in preserving that which we grow or source from local farmers.

So what is our message to you? What is today’s take away? Simply this:

Now is a perfect time to do what we can to alleviate some of these cost increases that are hitting us all in our home grocery budgets. Now is the time to look at how we can supplement our tables with goods grown right at home. Now is the time to purchase locally grown foods because they’re finally competitive with big grocery store products (plus fresh, local produce tastes so much better). And now is the time to begin your own, “Back in my day…” story to share with future generations.

We’re continuing to work on growing here. We hope you’ll follow along and grow with us!

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