The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Buying in bulk

Longevity of bulk foodsThe seemingless endless line of unrecyclable empty cocoa tins in the barn pushed me over the edge into buying in bulk.  The concept of bulk food makes ecological sense (cut down on packaging), emergency preparedness sense, and financial sense.  Still, it took me a month after considering bulk food before I actually made the leap --- here's why:

First I had to figure out what to buy, and how much. 
I've summarized how long various foods can be expected to last in the table to the left.  I decided to start out with a "small" amount of a few items for our first experiment, skipping the sugar and pasta which seem to cost the same in the grocery store as in bulk, any items which last less than six months, and items we don't use enough of to merit a bulk purchase.

We live at least an hour and a half's drive from the nearest bulk food store, so I initially considered buying online.  M
ost folks recommend Walton Feed for online bulk food, and their prices did indeed seem to be perfect.  However, once you load up your shopping cart and proceed to checkout you'll find out that shipping costs are as high as food costs.  Not my cup of tea!

Storing bulk foodInstead, I dropped by a Mennonite store while visiting Daddy in South Carolina last week, buying 50 pounds each of white, whole wheat, and bread flours, 25 pounds of rolled oats, and 13 pounds of cocoa to get us started.  I suspect that won't be enough of anything to last six months, but I also had to consider our very limited mouse-free and dry storage space.  After all, buying in bulk doesn't make sense if the extra food spoils or gets coated in mouse droppings!

Although my primary reason for buying in bulk was the packaging guilt, my wallet was pretty happy too.  I saved only a tiny bit on each bag of flour compared to grocery store prices, but knocked off nearly a third of my oats' price per pound and saved a whopping 55% on the cocoa.  I guess I can eat even more hot cocoa and chocolate cake in the months ahead....

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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