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Saving at the Co-op

First, the good news: after another long cold Wisconsin winter, local produce season has finally arrived! Now the bad news: winter will come again in just a few short months. It may seem early to be planning for winter, but for those looking to save a little dough and preserve some of the flavors of summer, now is the time to start thinking ahead.

There are many reasons to preserve summer produce: it allows you to enjoy a diversity of local produce all year long, it can help lessen your ecological footprint by reducing the food miles associated with your winter produce, and (at least for me), the work of harvesting, canning, freezing, dehydrating, and fermenting local produce is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things I do all summer.

When I started writing this article, I assumed that saving money was something that could be added to that list. Once I started doing the math, I was surprised to find that the savings are not always a sure bet. Food companies can sometimes use their efficiency of scale to outweigh any cost savings that come with DIY.

Which local foods can you preserve and actually save some money? Here are the highlights (and lowlights) of my research into the matter.

It’s worth noting that all of the pricing below is derived from typical in-season regular prices here at the Co-op. If you grow your own produce, you’ll almost always come out ahead. It’s also advantageous to shop our Owner Rewards sales, which offer significant savings on local produce. When they’re not on sale, most items are also eligible for a 10% case discount. If you’re interested in learning more about our case discount, see Customer Service for details.

Organic raw sauerkraut is hands-down the winner for the best value for time spent on DIY. Raw, organic sauerkraut retails at $8.99/16oz jar. Ferment it yourself and you’ll spend about $1.50 for the same amount.

Frozen organic strawberries and peaches come in at number two. If you buy them in the freezer aisle, you’ll pay $6.06/lb for non-local organic strawberries and peaches, but if you buy fresh organic or local Door County fruit at the Co-op and freeze it yourself, you’ll pay $3.50 or less per pound.

Frozen organic broccoli and green beans are a wash. You’ll pay roughly $2.70/lb for frozen (non-local) veggies, and about the same for fresh, local, organic veggies for DIY freezing. It’s a great idea to buy the local veggies when they’re on sale or pre-order a case—with the 10% case discount the cost per pound for local product comes down to around $2.43/lb.

Organic dill pickles, though much more delicious when homemade—turn out to be cheaper to buy unless you reuse your canning jar. To make dill pickle spears at home costs about $6.72/24oz including a new jar, or $5.72 without the jar. You can buy a 24oz jar of dill pickles at the Co-op for $5.99.

Organic strawberry jam is one that I assumed was cheaper to make at home, but it turns out not to be so. 16oz of DIY organic strawberry jam including a new jar costs about $7.36 to make ($5.60 without the jar), and you can purchase a 16.5oz jar of jam at the Co-op for only $5.49.

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