real food journey: part two

“Simplify, simplify, simplify,” penned the great Ralph Waldo Emerson in Walden.  It’s taken me four years of re-reading his book to get the irony behind that phrase:  If living what he was preaching, shouldn’t Ralph just command “Simplify”?  Say it once, and leave it at that?

There are times when I long to simplify, but instead find that I simplify, simplify, simplify.  Case in point:  Poor Big Friend came home the other evening to a kitchen battlefield where it appeared that all of the dishes, pans, and utensils in the house had fought, and lost, a bloody battle with a batch of homemade marinara sauce.  In the midst of battlefield chaos stood the General (me), shoulders deflated with the obvious loss and one sentence of surrender on her lips: “Why can’t we just get fast food?”

In one sense, making a switch to Real Food is simplifying.  It means cutting out preservatives, dyes, MSG, genetically modified ingredients, antibiotics and hormones in meat, the pasteurization and homogenization of my milk,  the long-haul trucker who carts produce from California warehouses to my Pennsylvania grocery store.  It’s simpler to buy direct from the farmer and make it myself composed of ingredients found in my pantry instead of some chemistry lab.  Real Food is simplifying.  But.

But.

Real Food is maybe closer to “simplify, simplify, simplify.”  I’m certainly making choices that I know are going to have a direct and significant impact on my family’s overall health.  But when I survey the kitchen carnage after attempting to convert my homegrown heirloom tomatoes into a freezeable quantity of spaghetti sauce while still juggling laundry, sweeping, dusting, errand running, table setting, and a toddler clinging to my thigh while squeaking a refrain of “up, up, up, up,” I think longingly of a simpler life.  (Order, drive thru, pick up bag of unhealthy “food”, and consume.  Dirty dishes?  Zero.)

So I guess what I’m saying is this:  Important things require work.  Real Food is work.  Important work.

Last week I wrote about some online resources that have helped motivate me through the frustrating, time-consuming stretches of my Real Food learning curve.  Check out Real Food Journey: Part One if you missed it.  This week, in addition to my self-effacing confession of kitchen meltdowns, I’ll explain how to shop and budget for Real Food.

Real Food by the Numbers

A lot of people believe switching to Real Food will be expensive but not time-consuming.  I find the opposite order to be true.  Time consuming, at first, but it slowly gets easier as I adapt.  Financially, sourcing and buying Real Food constitutes an equal financial investment as my previous grocery shopping methods.  As Little Friend would say, “Same-same.”

Full disclosure: For a family of three, I budget $400 a month for groceries and household expenses.  Some months we get by on $200-300, depending on what’s on my shopping list and how savvy I’ve been with using foods already stored in my house.  I also plan for seasonal variation in my food budget.  In the spring, I spend a larger chunk of my spring food budget to sign up for my CSA (community supported agriculture) that will deliver weekly farm-fresh baskets of fruits and veggies from May through November.  I buy my meats frozen and in bulk when local farmers “harvest” their animals in the fall.  The meats (chickens, turkeys, beef, and pork) ideally last through the winter and into the following summer.  That means in summer and winter, my food expenditures drop significantly.

I’ve also been stretching my culinary experience by making some useful food items from scratch: I’ve tackled a batch of yogurt, been (mostly) successful with ricotta cheese, and packed jars of  vanilla spiced-rum plums and basil-tomatoes into the back of my fridge.  By putting the time in myself (simplify, simplify, simplify), I get to keep some pennies in my wallet for later.

In Pittsburgh, CSAs typically cost between $250 and $500 a season, depending on the farm and size of share you require (most farmers offer some flexibility between small and large shares.)  45-50 pounds of grass-fed beef typically runs between $300 and $400.  When I’ve broken down the math on my meat purchases, my organic grass-fed beef is around $6/lb (whether it’s a pound of ground beef or filet mignon), free-range chickens come in at $3.99/lb, and pastured pork about $4/lb.  All are competitive prices with the natural meats being packaged and sold in my local grocery stores.

Can you shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s for Real Food?  Absolutely, and sometimes I do.  However, I’ve found other cost cutting resources that have tempted me away from the Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s circuit.  The following Real Food Resources list offers my favorite Pittsburgh providers of Real Foods.  (I make every attempt possible to keep my money filtering straight to local, independent businesses.)  Many of these farmers have websites through which you can contact them about shipping outside of the Pittsburgh area.

REAL FOOD RESOURCES

Produce

Real Food Produce Concept: Buy from local, sustainable sources.  Organic is actually not always preferred.  Look for farmers who use natural fertilizers, no pesticides, and practice sustainable farming.

  • Mountain View Farm (High-Brix farming) – An Amish farm, Mountain View Farm offers produce and meats grown with all-natural fertilizers in nutrient dense soils.  No pesticides.  Free-range chicken and turkey.  Pastured pork.  Mountain View Farm frequents the North Side Farmer’s Market on Friday afternoons from 3:30 to 6:30 pm.
  • Cherry Valley Organics (organic farming) – A certified organic farm, Cherry Valley Organics offers high quality flowers, berries, herbs, and vegetables.  Cherry Valley can be found at the Sewickley Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings from 9 am to 1 pm.
  • Dillner Family Farms (sustainable farming) – Dillner Family Farm is a third-generation family owned farm.  Dillner’s offers high quality vegetables with an extended growing season from May through October.  The farm also has orchards and berry patches.  Dillner Family Farm has a large stand at the Sewickley Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings from 9 am to 1 pm.

Meats

Real Food Meats Concept: Buy animals that have led a life as God intended–in open air, pastured, and free.  Avoid animals treated with hormones and unnecessary antibiotics.

  • Beef: McElhaney Family Farm – Grass-fed, pastured beef.  Premium aged beef.  Orders for individual cuts of beef or packages can be placed via the farm website or in person at the Sewickley Farmer’s Market, Saturday mornings from 9 am to 1 pm.
  • Pork: Moon Family Farm – Pastured pork at great prices.  Do not miss the unparalleled thick-cut bacon!  Orders can be placed via the website or at the Sewickley Farmer’s Market, Saturday mornings from 9 am to 1 pm.
  • Lamb and Goat: Dream Thyme Farm Wide range of lamb and goat meat and fiber products.  Sewickley Farmer’s Market, Saturday mornings from 9 am to 1 pm.
  • Chicken: Dream Thyme Farm and Mountain View Farm – Free-range chickens from two great farms.  Dream Thyme Farm: Sewickley Farmer’s Market, Saturday mornings from 9 am to 1 pm.  Mountain View Farm (Amish family farm): North Side Farmer’s Market, Friday afternoons from 3:30 to 6:30 pm.
  • Turkey: Mountain View Farm – Free range birds from Amish family farm: North Side Farmer’s Market, Friday afternoons from 3:30 to 6:30 pm.

Fish

Real Foods Fish Concept: Fish, especially wild Alaskan salmon, provide an exceptionally rich source of Omega-3s.  Eat often!  (Read Nina Planck’s book Real Food: What We Eat and Why for the scoop on why fish farms are as bad as industrialized beef farms.  Ugh.)

  • Salmon: Alaska Wild Salmon Company – Fresh caught and frozen wild Alaskan salmon, thanks to the fisherman’s sister who lives locally in Pittsburgh.  Orders can be placed via the website or purchased in person at the Sewickley Farmer’s Market, Saturday mornings from 9 am to 1 pm.

Dairy

Real Foods Dairy Concept: Whole raw milk (unhomogenized and unpasteurized) is loaded with beneficial vitamins and good bacteria.  Next best is unhomogenized and low-temp pasteurized.  Different states have different laws about selling raw milk.  Currently in Pennsylvania, the retail sale of raw milk is legal.

  • Raw milk: Mountain View Farm – Orders placed and picked up from the North Side Farmer’s Market, Friday afternoons 3:30 pm – 6:30 pm.
  • Raw milk: White’s Farm – Available at the East End Food Co-op in Pittsburgh.
  • unhomogenized, low-temp pasteurized, pastured cows: Hartzler Family Dairy The cream rises to the top in this milk from artificial-hormone-free, pastured cows.  Milk can be purchased at the East End Food Co-op or ordered through Frankferd Farm Foods.
  • unhomogenized, low-temp pasteurized, grain-fed cows: Brunton’s DairyA family farm in Aliquippa, PA.  Milk and milk products can be purchased at the farm or a number of small markets throughout the Pittsburgh area.  (See website for locations.)

Cheese

  • Goat Cheese: Riverview Dairy – North Side Farmer’s Market, Friday afternoons 3:30 pm – 6:30 pm; Sewickley Farmer’s Market, Saturday mornings from 9 am to 1 pm.
  • Raw Milk Cheese: Mountain View Farm – North Side Farmer’s Market, Friday afternoons 3:30 pm – 6:30 pm.

Fats

Real Food Fats Concept: Your great-grandma was right in choosing butter, lard, and bacon grease (from pastured pigs.)  So eat up!  Corn and soy based oils are actually detrimental to our health and should be tossed out right along with the canola oil.  In their place, reach for extra-virgin olive oil and the uber-healthy coconut oil.

Dry Goods

  • Frankferd Farm Foods – Order online for cooler, freezer, and grocery items.  Frankferd Farms offers some of my favorite products (7 Stars Dairy Yogurt, Hartzler Dairy unhomogenized milk, Misera farms free-range organic eggs) with shop from home convenience.  The catalog also includes bulk rates on rolled oats, a wide variety of flours, other dried goods, frozen vegetables, and healthy snacks.  Come to think of it, I haven’t found something the catalog doesn’t offer!

Farmers Markets

  • Sewickley Farmer’s Market: My first stop for beef, pork, and salmon vendors.  Also includes a great garlic selection from Enon Valley, breads from Mediterra bakery, pastas from Fontana Pasta, goat cheese from Riverview Dairy, farm produce and goat products from Dream Thyme Farm ,and my favorite CSA suppliers, Dillner Family Farm and Cherry Valley Organics.  Located in the parking lot of St. James’ Church in between Walnut and Broad Streets.  Saturday mornings May through November, 9 am to 1 pm.
  • North Side Farmer’s Market – My first stop for market shopping because of Mountain View Farms, my favorite Amish provider of raw milk, free-range eggs, turkey and chickens, pastured pork and excellent vegetables.  (Just bought gorgeous and creamy purple potatoes from them last week!)  Other vendors of note include a greek hot-food stand, a raw honey vendor, an orchard vendor with spectacular fruit, and an italian ice vendor ($1 per cup, which Little Friend greatly enjoys).  I’m new to this market, but quickly spending quite a bit of time there.  Located at Allegheny Commons in the North Side, Friday afternoons 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm.
  • Strip District – Pittsburgh’s only mostly organic farmer’s market, this market is a gourmand’s dream.  From locally harvested mushrooms, to free-range organic duck, to home spun yarn, to cooking demonstrations, and an occasional beehive display, this is a farmer’s market that goes above and beyond the typical fruit and veggie displays.  Located on Penn Avenue in the Strip District, Saturday mornings 9 am to 1 pm.

CSAs

  • Dillner Family Farms – My personal CSA of choice, so I’m a bit biased.  Excellent fruits and vegetables with frequent additional offerings tucked in the basket (breads, jams, salsas, etc.)  Dillner’s also offers additional items (eggs, chickens, larger quantities of veggies) that you can add on to your basic order.  Multiple drop-off sites throughout the Pittsburgh area.
  • Cherry Valley Organics – An extremely knowledgeable farm and top-notch produce provider, Cherry Valley Organics’ CSA allows you to customize your order each week.  All produce is non-GMO (genetically modified organism) with many heirloom varieties of vegetables, fruits, and even cut flowers. Multiple drop-off sites throughout the Pittsburgh area.
  • Slow Food Pittsburgh recommends some additional CSAs, all of which I’ve heard excellent things about from friends.  The list can be found here.

Natural Food Stores

  • Naturally Soergels – A small, family-run, but well-stocked allergen-free store (large gluten and dairy free selections).  If they don’t carry a product you’re looking for, Naturally Soergels will order it for you.  Great attention to detail, customer service, and product selection.  Located in Wexford, PA just off of interstate 79.
  • Right By Nature – A locally owned grocery store along the lines of Whole Foods.  RBN now offers online shopping.  Located in the Strip District on Smallman Street, RBN offers free parking.

This post has been shared with Wholesome Whole Foods.  Visit to find other great Real Food recipes and resources each Friday.

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3 Comments

  1. midnitechef said:

    “… Corn and soy based oils are actually detrimental to our health…”

    they get us everywhere, huh? I typically use olive oil or butter for most everything (cooking and baking), however I usually have a bottle of canola oil for really high temp cooking/frying (which isn’t the healthiest way to cook at home to begin with). I’ll stick to the EVOO.

    October 1, 2010
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