On a recent grocery shopping trip, I had two content kiddos (for once) and decided to do some long-overdue price comparison. It’s been a while since we’ve purchase certain products from the store – primarily meat & dairy products – so I was curious how we matched up against things like conventional milk, organic milk, and yogurt.
While we don’t use money to pay for our milk (just blood, sweat & tears), we did purchase raw milk from another farm before we started milking at our place. We watch the commodity prices for milk (farmers are paid by the hundredweight, not by the gallon) and obviously we aren’t immune from production cost changes like the cost of hay, grain and replacement cows.
Still, we are removed enough because we sell all our products direct to consumer. That means we keep 100% of every food dollar spent unlike conventional commodity producers who, on average, keep 4 cents of every dollar spent. In general, economies of scale can help these farmers reduce costs to an extent, but the majority of the lost revenue is paid in tax dollars through the form of various subsidies.
This is the biggest reason food prices can seem so much lower than buying directly from a farmer. Most small farmers don’t qualify for the subsidies because they do not operate in a commodity/wholesale marketplace. Their growing practices are also in stark contrast to what is recommended by the USDA and its associated funds. Large-scale farms also have more access to cheap labor in the form of undocumented workers which allows them to keep labor costs low, while small farmers generally only employ themselves, some family members and/or strive to provide modest but living wages to their workers.
Back to my recent grocery store trip. Food prices are rising! Organic has always fetched a market premium but conventional prices are creeping up, as well. At our local Meijer (generally considered one of the cheaper grocery stores) conventional milk is $3/gallon and organic is $6.90/gallon – just 10 cents cheaper than our raw grassfed milk! Costs for milk by the half gallon is quite a bit more expensive: $3.70 for Meijer Organic & $4.70 for Horizon Organic, compared to our $3.50 per half gallon.
What really surprised me, though, were the yogurt prices! Yogurt has a one-to-one conversion from milk to finished product, meaning nothing is lost as waste in the process, unlike when cheese or butter are made. With our raw milk at $7/gallon, a quart of yogurt costs me $1.75. Conventional yogurt at our Meijer was, at the cheapest, $2.70/quart, and organic was $4/quart. By making my yogurt at home, I was shocked to see that I save us roughly $1-$2.25 per quart. Considering our family consumes around 6 quarts (1.5 gallons) of yogurt a week, that’s a cost savings of $6-$13.50 per week!
Greek yogurt was even more expensive – we love a slightly thicker, creamer style of yogurt but conventional Greek yogurts costs $5/quart and organic was $6.50/quart at the store. That means if I strain my yogurt using a cheesecloth bag to make it Greek-style (shown in photo at right), I’m saving $3.25 – $4.75 per quart ($19.50 – $28.50 per week)! Greek yogurt does give you the “waste” by-product of whey, which can be used for fermented drinks and in various recipes.
I remember when we first began buying local, whole foods and the common feeling of “sticker shock” compared to the conventional grocery store prices. I think the more we bought and/or produced our food (meat, veggies, fruit) in bulk and seasonally the more we saw the true cost savings. It can start with small, simple things like buying & freezing berries during the peak production season to maximize taste and quality and minimize cost. Or, buying bulk tomatoes and making batches of tomato sauce for the entire year. Bigger steps like buying half a pig, a quarter beef, or enough chickens for the entire year may take more cost and time to work towards.
I was pleasantly reminded that making my own yogurt from raw milk, even at $7/gallon, is still very cost effective for our family! We love hearing all the creative ways our customers are working their budget to include local foods & farmers so let us know what you do!
We have lots of pullet eggs available for $2.00/dozen on the farm and with your weekly milk delivery! Pullet eggs are the first eggs young hens start laying and are about 3/4 sized. They are still 100% non-GMO and free-range!
We also still have some extra pasture-raised chickens available for June, July & August – $4/bird deposit and $3.75/lb. 5 bird minimum per family.