What to Grow If You Are a New Gardener

Ah, it’s finally spring in Chicago! Or at least the ground is thawing out.

What I mean to say is it's time to start thinking about your garden. Yes, even if you've never gardened before.

What should you grow if you are a new gardener? Well, in my opinion, you should try growing what you like to eat! I understand that can feel a bit daunting, so I’ve put together a specific things that you’ll probably be able to grow successfully even if you’ve never grown anything before!

Don't know what to plant as a first time gardener? Try your hand at hot peppers!

OK, let’s go:

Green Beans - If you like to eat green beans, then you are in luck, because green beans grow like hot cakes in the Midwest. Follow the directions on the seed packet and you should be good to go. They are very prolific and hard to mess up. Just make sure you select “bush” varieties. Pop those seeds in the ground after June 1st!

Green Onions - It's hard to throw off these plants. They are natural pest deterrents, and they just keep growing, even if you ignore them for a while. They are sometimes referred to as bunching onions. You can start onions pretty much any time after the ground is thawed out. Go wild!

Herbs - Basil is a common beginner suggestion, and I would go along with that, but you might want to get it as a seedling/start*. Herbs like mint and oregano will come back year after year and will spread like wild, so only plant them in places where they will have room to expand or where you can keep them contained (like a big bucket or pot). Cilantro likes cooler weather and will quickly go to seed in the heat, so now is the best time to plant it, I promise.

Peppers - Sweet peppers, hot peppers, you name it. If you buy a plant that has been started for you, rather than attempting to start peppers from seed, they are relatively easy to grow. They don't require staking or pruning. They love to produce over and over again once it gets hot, like August/September. Peppers like warm soil, so wait until the first of June to plant them outside.

Peas - Peas are super easy to grow, but they like cool weather only. So, we should be planting peas like now. Which is to say you can plant them anytime after the ground thaws.

Sugar snap peas are a snap to grow, and great treat in your spring garden.

Salad greens - Salad Greens - lettuce, spinach, arugula, that sort of thing - come up quickly in the spring and stay with us for a while. If you like salad, they can be a good way to start growing now and get some food on the table before summer crops like green beans and peppers even go in the ground. You can plant this stuff as soon as the ground is thawed.

Most importantly, plants like their space - you know how seed packets list a recommended distance between seeds? Those recommendations are there for a reason. Follow those directions and your plants will thank you. Even if your garden looks a little barren or super spaced out while plants are growing, when roots and leaves have room to expand, it makes for better fruits and prevents disease. Remember this when you are putting plants in the ground!

(If you are uncertain about how many of a certain plant should fit in a space, this handy dandy square foot garden planner is a good resource.)

Have questions? You've got access to an urban farmer and horticulturist right here! Feel free to shoot me an email at sustainablyqueer@gmail.com.

*Seedling/start: People use these terms interchangeably to refer to plants that have been started from seeds in a greenhouse and are ready to be transplanted into the garden. Starts can be bought at hardware stores, plants sales, or greenhouses to help you avoid the difficult process of growing your own at home. Plants that are not grown from seedlings are either grown directly from seed (like green beans) or cuttings (like some herbs, try it with oregano.)

 

How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Three

Two years ago, in April, Kristl and I decided that it would be a good idea to start a blog about the way we live. A lot has changed in two years. If you are feeling like you could never live a more sustainable life, like it's too expensive or time consuming, consider that it took us almost three years living together to start living the way you see us today. Sustainable living takes a little while to get used to. It's a transition! So, in honor of Earth Day, we give you How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Three! (For the 2013 installment, click here, and for 2014's version, click here.) Last year, we used a system of colors, bold lettering, and strike-throughs to communicate what we had changed. Let's be real, it confused all of us more than it was worth. This year we are going to start from scratch, but follow the same pattern. So, if you go back to previous years, you'll be able to follow our progress pretty easily. If you don't, you'll still get the picture.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Cleaning almost exclusively with products derived from white vinegar or Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap Baby Mild
  • Using rags instead of paper towels - When appropriate, which is most of the time except for when pets are involved
  • Buying post-consumer recycled paper products and recycled aluminum foil - We used to roast veggies on foil, but now we roast them on our Sil-Pat, which is easily cleaned and infinitely reusable, so we rarely use foil anymore.
  • Downsizing our apartment and purging in the process - We moved last summer and definitely got rid of furniture and lots of stuff we didn't need
  • Not buying anything we don't need, especially clothing, books, gadgets, etc
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible - The less you bring in, the less you have to recycle or trash
  • Still using the same homemade washable swiffer cloths, because they are totally reusable
  • Simplifying and organizing our stuff - We hired a personal organizer to work with us a couple times to streamline our stuff. Organizing and downsizing frees us from clutter and helps us focus on the things that matter.
  • Running full dishwasher and laundry loads to conserve water
  • Recycling, obviously - our building separates paper goods from containers, because we are a six-flat and have to contract our own recycling service. Thanks, Chicago.

Projects related to self-care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo - Works like a charm
  • Using homemade deodorant - We finally settled on a recipe we really like
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil
  • Using Chinese medicine/chiropractic/massage/Reiki/nutritional supplements in addition to Western medicine to keep us healthy - It would be weird if we didn't use alternative medicine, Kristl is an acupuncturist, after all.
  • Using Oral Wellness HealThy Mouth Oil and EarthPaste to clean our teeth - No cavities and no added sweeteners.
  • Daily meditation practice, exercise, and reading - Healthy body, healthy brain.
  • Eating "Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition" for good health - See our blog about How We Eat
  • Using eco-friendly, reusable menstrual products 

Projects related to food:

  • Making at least one batch of bone broth in the pressure cooker per week - Gives the crock pot competition
  • Saving bacon fat and using it to cook other things - Butter and avocado oil tend to be our go-to fats these days, but bacon fat comes free with the bacon, so we totally use it.
  • Meal planning for the week, and buying groceries based off the plan - Helps us keep in our budget and limit food waste.
  • Planning large meals or doubling recipes that we can divide them out over 2-3 days so that we don't have to cook every day
  • We carbonate our own water with our Soda Stream and add lemon or lime to it - Our days of making syrups, infused liquors, and shrubs are pretty much over.
  • We definitely make mustard from scratch
  • We make our own mayo with the immersion blender - Keep an eye out for a video on that trick!
  • We cook 95% of our own meals - Try this at home, but remember, it took us a while to get to this point.
  • Participate in True Nature's meat and egg co-op  - $5/dozen for pastured eggs? Yes, please.
  • Participate in C&D Farm's meat co-op delivery - Part of a wedding gift that just keeps on giving
  • Buy produce from farmer's market or local farms in season
  • Buy local food and local products because we care about local business - See these posts for our restaurant and local products recommendations

Projects of the miscellaneous variety:

  • Not buying cable - It's really easy now, because one of the things we sold when we moved was our TV.
  • Making our own gifts - Much like Christmas 2013, we didn't spend too much on gifts for 2014. We would rather have good experiences with our friends and family than get things for and from them. When a gift is appropriate, we'll make it.
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw food
  • Using backyard (and maybe community garden) to grow food - We missed out on our old community garden plot this year, but not to worry, there are always locations to grow vegetables. Rachel has plenty of offers on the table and she's making plans.
  • Using mason jars for storage - We cut back on our random glass jar collection when we moved. Now we mostly use Mason jars and it does us just fine.
  • Worm composting - We didn't do the best job of worm composting on our own, but our current living situation pays someone to worm compost in the basement. So we totally take advantage of that service our building offers.
  • Budgeting with You Need A Budget (YNAB) - Our commitment to use YNAB keeps us on budget and honest about the money we have coming in and going out. Confused how this relates to sustainability? Sustainability is all about using resources wisely. Money is a resource, and if you are using your money wisely, that will allow you to use your other resources in a sustainable manner. (And if you use the link above, you save 10% off the purchase price!)
  • Donating to people and projects that are actively working to make the world a better place - If you want to play along, we have some suggestions
  • Working at home/within walking distance of home - This is a transition that has made the next point possible
  • Living CAR FREE - We sold our car almost two months ago, and have adjusted just fine. We use the CTA more, we signed up for Enterprise CarShare, and we just bought Rachel a new bike to help with the transition. However, day to day, unless we are getting a huge load of groceries or going way out of our neighborhood, we don't really notice the difference. The best part is we don't have to worry about parking, street cleaning, city stickers, insurance, etc.

There you have it, our lives in sustainability this year! There are probably things we do that we don't realize. We are in deep, folks!

Sustainable living, especially in the city or on a small budget, is not a competition. It's not about keeping up with anyone; every little bit counts. Tell us what you are doing to live the sustainable lifestyle! Comment below or on our Earth Day post on Facebook

How We Eat: Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition

What you choose to eat or not eat in this time in history is probably one of the most confusing and baffling parts of life. This is true, especially, if you are interested in good health, animal or environmental welfare, or your pocketbook. If you are at a point in your life where you don't care about aforementioned concepts, by all means, skip to the next blog post. If figuring out the "best" way to eat is a constant internal conversation, stay and have that conversation with us for a bit. Let's talk about Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition. Kristl and I have come to this way of eating after struggling through thousands of dollars of mediocre restaurant food, easy convenience food, and home cooked food ranging from the lavish to the very simple. We have been those people who eat out every meal just because there is a restaurant they haven't tried. We have also eaten just potato chips and soda for dinner. Or brownies. And this isn't all like "in the past" either. In December, we definitely existed on nothing but white pizza for three days, and on Easter, we pigged out on candy (and then seriously suffered the consequences. Seriously.) No joke.

Those are the exceptions. Let's talk about the rule. The rule is we want to eat what makes us feel good. We don't particularly care about weight gain or loss, or packing on muscle. We do have some things to take into consideration. I have epilepsy, and my neurologist, who doesn't seem to care about my diet at all, will admit that limiting your sugar consumption is better for your brain. There are numerous studies to back this up. I can tell you, without the help of any studies, that sugar does not make my brain feel good. Sugar also tends to make Kristl's gallbladder issues act up. So, for the sake of feeling good, processed sugar gets the boot.

Ok, back to Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition. What does it mean? Why is it healthy? What can you feed us if we come over for dinner?!

If you think way back before globalization, before industrialization, people ate what was available to them on their farm, in their community, and what was in season. There weren't factories to break down the food into boxes, and then put it in your freezer so you could heat it up in your microwave. People were confronted with the whole cabbage, the whole chicken, whole food. Now, no one is suggesting that we all go back to subsistence farming. However, the closer you are to your producer, the fresher the product is likely to be (not always, but usually.) This is sustainable because you are supporting the local economy with your dollars, and giant trucks are not going as far to bring you delicious food.

Ok, these are our ideal standards:

  • For meat: Locally raised (five state radius), grass-fed, pastured (able to graze on grassland in appropriate weather), never treated with hormones, only given antibiotics in appropriate situations. Limit beef, and try to only cook with meat 3 days a week. Try to eat parts other than muscle.
  • For fish: Salmon should be wild caught from Pacific waters, small fish are almost always better, avoid farmed seafood, especially from Asia. Eat fish 1-2 times a week.
  • For eggs: Locally raised, grass-fed, pastured in season, organic feed otherwise. We eat as many eggs as we want.
  • Limit tofu, but fermented bean stuff, like tempeh is a-ok
  • Limit dried beans, only because they upset Kristl's stomach in large quantities, but see above, we are experimenting with tempeh
  • For dairy: We eat only grass-fed dairy products, and only whole fat (4%). This is a lot of Kerry Gold cheeses and Kalona cottage cheese and sour cream. Also, for butter we usually get Kerry Gold or Organic Valley Cultured. Grass fed is preferred, then organic local, then local, in that order. But we always want to avoid added hormones and antibiotics in our dairy.
  • Eat all the fermented food! This includes pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, yogurt, kefir, etc, etc, etc. If it's cultured, we want it. Good bacteria to the maximum. Anything is easier to digest with fermentation!
  • Consume bone broth daily. We make bone broth from bones left over from other dishes, and vegetable scraps. We do not necessarily consider bone broth a magical cure all, but there are lots of good minerals and collagen inside.
  • Eat 8-9 servings of locally grown vegetables a day. "Locally grown using sustainable practices" trumps "organic" from California/Mexico/Peru. If it is not the growing season, we check out the Environmental Working Group's Pesticide Residue Data (a la Dirty Dozen) and make an informed decision about buying organic. We do eat frozen organic green beans and peas, because they are frozen very fresh, contain no salt, and are a great value from Costco.
  • Eat nuts sparingly. Nuts are a great snack, and we enjoy a mixed nut butter called Nuttzo, but since few nuts are found locally we don't pig out on nuts.
  • Eat fruits sparingly. The sugar from fruit is still sugar, so we snack on vegetables over fruits, but we probably average about 1 fruit a day.
  • Limit natural sugars. We love honey and maple syrup, but they still give Rachel a little bit of brain fuzz, so we use them sparingly
  • Avoid processed goods. If it comes in a bag or a box, isn't in the same shape it was when it came off the plant, has more than five ingredients, contains alcohol, and/or includes preservatives, "natural flavors" or fake colors, you can bet it's not coming home with us.
  • Avoid processed sugar and alcohol. It makes us both sick and sad, but if processed sugar is as addictive as science says it is, then it probably makes a lot of people sick and sad. And Kristl is super allergic to alcohol. Womp.

That's our way of eating. That's the long and short of it. That's what keeps us healthy, makes us happy, and shines a little light on the world around us.

What I always tell people is that if it's not sustainable for you, then it's not going to be sustainable for the planet. If we had jumped in and tried to start eating this way when we started this blog two years ago, we would have started the week with an armful of vegetables and sunshine and ended the week with a bucket of frozen custard and shame.  The vegetables would have rotted, we would have wasted our money. We weren't ready then. Big changes don't necessarily happen overnight, and it often takes more than good intentions to push you in that direction.

The purpose of this post isn't to coerce you into adopting a Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition diet. Although, let me tell you, it is quite tasty. The purpose of this post is to demystify what these Sustainable Queers are doing over here and to inform you.

We'd like some company. We are essentially pinging the depths. We want to know if there's anyone out there who eats like us. Do you eat a lot of vegetables? Do you value local food? Do you geek out over fermented foods and making sustainable choices? Do you cook most of your own meals? Maybe you don't right now, but you could find yourself heading that direction... let us know in the comments.

Grocery Delivery Series: CarShare and Public Transit

To conclude our series on grocery delivery, we decided to go in a little bit of a different direction and "deliver" groceries to ourselves. This is a comparison of two weeks of groceries. One week we rented a car from Enterprise CarShare to go get groceries and this week Rachel went to the store via the Chicago Transit Authority. This was also our attempt at a control in this experiment, so when we wrap up for you, you can have a pretty good idea of how the different delivery options compare to getting your own groceries. For those of you who were hanging on for the CSA post, we are still planning on a future post about what to expect from a local CSA farm share in the Midwest, including a compare and contrast of some of the more popular Chicagoland CSAs. When we talked about selling the car, it was always part of our plan to join one of the car sharing programs in Chicago. Sometimes it just makes more sense to take a short trip in a car. Time, location, and even cost can often make using a car the most reasonable option. Conveniently, Enterprise and Zipcar both have cars within a couple blocks of where we live. Also, they both have plans that meet our needs, and they are competitively priced. We chose Enterprise because they have electric cars parked at Uncommon Ground Restaurant, and we wanted to have the option of using an electric car. I mean, we are Sustainably Queer after all.

Rockin' out with our carshare

 

In regards to the CTA, for those of you who live in the great City of Chicago, this is old hat, but if you don't, a ride one-way is $2.25. There is a Whole Foods in Evanston and a Whole Foods in Boystown that are about equidistant from the train. We tend to go to the store in Evanston because it is less busy and occasionally cheaper for some things. This week Rachel did the shopping by herself and so it only cost $4.50 to "deliver" the groceries, but she couldn't carry as much as we could have had we gone shopping together.

Grocery shopping for ourselves!

 

On to the groceries! Turns out, we spend way more on groceries when we are in the driver's seat. Our total at the Whole Foods from the CarShare trip was $90.58. Dude. What happened? Well, first off, we had friends over for pork tacos that Monday, and we got high quality pastured pork shoulder for that. That alone was $36.55. We aren't mad about making delicious pork tacos from relatively happy pigs, but that's an unusual expense. Take the (pork)fat off the top and we're down to $54.03. This is still a little high, but more in our typical range.

Here's the rest of the list:

3 Pears - $2.48

1 bunch Green Onions - $0.77

3 Avocados - $3.00

1 Yellow Onion - $0.67

1/2 lb Mushrooms - $2.99

Ginger Root - $0.51

1 Garlic Bulb - $0.55

5lb bag Carrots - $4.99

1 head Cauliflower - $4.99

1 lb Spring Mix Greens - $5.99

3 Baby Bok Choy - $1.01

Hungarian Paprika - $0.32

Soy Sauce - $2.99

Nutzo Nut Butter - $10.99

Green Salsa - $3.99

Cottage Cheese - $3.19

Ok, so obviously, we do not buy soy sauce, paprika, nut butter, or salsa every week. Great! Then, if we remove non produce items, we only spent $32.55, which is the lowest amount that we have spent on produce, specifically. So, really we didn't spend more. We were just stocking up on pantry items we were running out of. Also, other weeks, we had to make multiple trips to the store, and last week we didn't.

However, was this the most sustainable week? Our trip in the car cost us $17.06, and it also cost the atmosphere some burnt gasoline. Could we have gotten similar groceries and kept one more car off the road?

Here's a random picture of Rachel on the CTA.

Well, what did Rachel get when she went shopping solo on the train? Here's the run down:

1 Bunch Green Onions - $0.77

1 lb Spring Mix Greens - $5.99

2 Bunches Kale - $4.00

4 Pears - $2.84

1 Celery Crown - $2.01

5 lb bag Potatoes - $5.99

2 Jewel Yams - $5.10

2 Red Grapefruit - $3.17

1 Avocado - $1.50

4 Golden Beets - $7.12

Cottage Cheese - $4.69

The total for this trip was $44.22. Who knows why golden beets are so freaking expensive, but we will treasure them as we eat them. For traveling on her own and not having extra arms to carry things, Rachel actually didn't do too bad. The number and cost of produce items was slightly higher for this trip than the average. It's a tricky time of year for produce. Prices will go down once Midwest producers start putting out their own vegetables again.

We will use Enterprise CarShare again, it's a smart program and it certainly makes sense in a crowded urban environment. We will do a full review of it after we've used it a couple more times. I'm not sure that it will always make the most sense for us to use to run to the grocery store. Granted, taking the car only took us a little over an hour. It took Rachel two and a half hours on the train. Sometimes, time is money. Luckily for us, there are small grocery stores dotting our neighborhood and there is an Edgewater Whole Foods slated to open at the end of April. This will make it a lot easier for us to get groceries without having to worry about a vehicle at all.

What we are looking forward to most is the growing season and farmer's markets starting up again. Fresh local food trumps all when it comes to deliciousness, affordability, and sustainability - you've just got to know what you're looking for.

Let us know what you think of this series in the comments! Have you used grocery delivery or a carshare to get your groceries? What has your experience been? 

Grocery Delivery Series: Instacart

Saturday is our month-a-versary of selling our car, and I think we are really getting into the groove. There have been no tears, we've gotten a lot of quick rides from friends, our walking muscles are getting really strong, everything is going well. This week our grocery delivery option was Instacart and it was really cool.  

When we started this project, we told you we were going to show you a bunch a different options. The first week was Door to Door Organics, which had a specific vegetable box, for a specific day delivery, with optional add-ons. Week two, was Newleaf Natural Grocery, which only delivers produce, but it was a great variety for a great price. With Instacart, you have complete control over what you get AND what day you get it. In fact, depending on when you order, you can specify an approximate delivery time. That, my friends, is a lot of control.

 

In our zip code, Instacart will deliver to us from Whole Foods, Costco, Mariano's, Jewel, or Food4 Less. We chose Whole Foods because we are most familiar with their offerings, but in the future, it might be interesting to see how Instacart works for a different location, like Costco. (It seems like you don't need a Costco membership to order from them, so that's an interesting loophole.) When you select the store, you are presented with a list of items that available at the store. The Instacart inventory does not match the entire Whole Foods inventory, because it would be inefficient to inventory the entire store every day. However, if an item is not available on Instacart's list, you can request it, (add a picture and/or description) and if a bunch of people keep requesting the same thing, they will add the item to their list.

 

For example, we used Instacart once in February because there was a blizzard and we needed to go shopping. We wanted a rotisserie chicken, but it was not listed on their site. The shopper was able to find it, and delivered it to us just fine. This time, when I went to add it as a special item, it was already available. So, enough people have been requesting rotisserie chickens through Instacart that they decided to add it to their site as a regular offering. The system is working, people.

 

The other nice thing about Instacart is that you are not required to buy a specific box or bag. We were able to be more specific about what we wanted and we could plan better. We did not need to return to another store for vegetables later in the week, like we did the two previous weeks. If you eat fewer vegetables than we do, you would not need to order as many from Instacart. Hell, you could just order ten bags of tortilla chips if you wanted. And a rotisserie chicken. Whatever you are into.

 

In terms of cost, Instacart is pretty comparable to the the cost of the vegetables from Newleaf, but it is prorated for convenience: quicker delivery has a slightly more expensive delivery cost, but all delivery is same day. Although, if you just want to try it out, we will have a coupon code for $10 off at the end of the post. Their pricing is independent of the store you are buying from, I'm not exactly sure why. It could be because they keep their pricing consistent regionally and do not change pricing based on zip code or sales in stores. However, if you look at the prices listed below, most of the prices are the same as if we had just bought those items from the Whole Foods.

 

Here is what we bought, all items are organic:

  • 1 lb 50/50 greens mix - $5.99
  • 5 lb bag of carrots - $4.99
  • 5 lb bag of yukon gold potatoes $5.99
  • 2 red bartlett pears - $1.58
  • 1 head cauliflower - $3.99
  • 1 orange bell pepper - $1.20
  • 2 celery crowns - $4.41
  • 3 garnet yams - $4.53
  • 1 head cabbage - $1.96
  • 1 yellow onion - $0.55
  • 1 red bell pepper - $1.20
  • 1 bag frozen chopped spinach - $1.99
  • 1 rotisserie chicken - $14.00
  • 2 Kalona cottage cheese - $9.38

Instacart Veggies

That brings us out to $61.76 total, but if you take out the chicken and the cheese, it's only $38.38. That's only three dollars more than what we spent at Newleaf, and it really did last us a week. We had a credit on our account from a mistake our shopper made the first time we used Instacart (remember, it was the crazy blizzard in February, I'm not mad about it), so our delivery was free. Typically, your delivery will cost you anywhere between $4 and $10, it just depends on how quickly you want your groceries and how much you are ordering.

 

So, while Instacart might seem completely luxurious, over-the-top, and something that only fancy people do, if you don't have a car, you want to get a lot of food for a party, or stock up on bulk food from Costco, the delivery fees are minimal in comparison to the payoff. Instacart doesn't waste resources either. If they have a lot of orders going from one location to a certain neighborhood, they will batch orders under one shopper. It saves gas to have one person to be driving for several households than for them all to be driving. It may not seem sustainable at face value, but it actually may be more sustainable than us all going shopping by ourselves.

 

How about you? Have you tried Instacart? Do you want to? This link will give you $10 off your first order. That's at least free delivery and maybe a free five pound bag of carrots, if you looking for a lot of carrots like us. If you are interested in reading our other grocery delivery reviews, you can read about Door to Door Organics here and learn about Newleaf Natural Grocery's Produce Box here.

 

 As always, feel free to drop us a line if you have any questions or comments. We'd love to hear if you think this series is helpful or if you have suggestions for future blog posts. Thanks for reading!

Grocery Delivery Series: Newleaf Natural Grocery

Most people would tell you that having options is important to grocery shopping. You need to know what you are eating, that the quality will be high, and that you will be able to get the ingredients you need. Choice, however, can be a double edged sword; too many decisions can make planning what you are going to eat a huge a hurdle to overcome. When you cook as much as we do, meal planning can be a bit of a chore if the only restrictions are "no processed foods and no added sugar." We often end up with decision fatigue. The Newleaf Natural Grocery Produce Box was a relief for us, because it took away all choice while still giving us great variety and quality.  

Newleaf Natural Grocery is located on Loyola Ave, within convenient walking distance of our house. This store is usually a nice place to swing through if we need more of something for a dish we're making or if we need a quick snack on the way to somewhere. It is very small. I think it may be the smallest grocery I have ever been inside, you do one loop around and that's it. The nice thing is that they pretty much have one of everything in that tiny store, and it seems like they run a pretty efficient ship.

 

A big part of Newleaf's business is their weekly organic vegetable and fruit delivery service. Each week they post of list of 8-9 vegetables and 5-6 fruits and then you can decide what type of box you want. There are small, medium, and large mixed boxes, just vegetable, just fruit, a half fruit box, and a raw box (which contains fewer starchy vegetables). If you are picking up directly from the store, you can choose which day (Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday). If you are getting home delivery, your delivery day depends on your location. They deliver as far south as Cermak, about as far west as Western (though you should look at the map), and as far north as Wilmette. Delivery costs $5. Boom!

 

We ordered the "just vegetable" box and a raw box, because you know we like a lot of produce, and we thought it would be cool to have a variety of fruits for a change. You pay in advance, so this cost us $35.

Ok, cool, so what did we get..

3 bags of green beans

2 bunches of collards

2 heads of lettuce

2 bunches of carrots

1 pound of strawberries

4 small onions

2 bunches of broccoli

2 apples

1 1/4lb blackberries

1 avocado

3 oranges

2 tangerines

New Leaf Veggies

Hey, that's not a bad collection of produce. That's the selection from last week, this is what people got this week. Also, it was a lot more fruit than we have been eating, so consequently, we are still working on the fruit well into this week. Everything was ready on time when I went to pick it up on Tuesday. It was all fresh and well packaged. Kristl noted something we haven't seen in months: the lettuce still had dirt on it! Don't freak out, this is pretty cool. It probably passed through fewer hands than most of the very "clean" lettuce we've been eating all winter. This was oddly comforting and made the lettuce seem a little healthier, even if it wasn't. (Dirt = bacteria = probably not a bad thing if you're eating it.)

 

Since we didn't have to decide what vegetables were going to buy, we just made up our meal plan from what we were given. We got meat from C&D Family Farms (also delivered to our door, on Saturday, more on that in a future blog post), and picked up dairy and other items from Morse Fresh Market, which is less than 1/2 a mile a way. Suddenly this whole carless grocery shopping thing is looking a lot less difficult. We bought potatoes, cabbage, and a giant sweet potato for about $10 later in the week, but that was all the produce we added on. We still have green beans and onions. It means the Newleaf Produce Box stocked us up pretty well. If you aren't eating a lot of vegetables, you will probably be fine with the small ($15) or medium($25.50) box. It's really affordable!

 

Who would we recommend this option to?

 

  • Anyone who wants home delivery within Newleaf's delivery area (you do have to meet this requirement)
  • People with decision fatigue around vegetable and fruit choice, who want variety without hassle
  • People on a budget; this food delivery option is very affordable
  • Anyone who wants to support the little guy, Newleaf is a small business and they source from small businesses
  • Anyone who wants to eat local in the growing season, they get vegetables from Fat Blossom Farm and fruit from Seedling Orchard

The other nice thing about the Newleaf Produce Box is that there isn't a long term commitment. You can get it once to try it out, like we did, or you can set up a recurring order to happen every week. It's up to you! Once you have made the transition to prioritizing local food, and sustainably grown produce, finding simple solutions like this is such a relief. Kristl and I are definitely going to supplement our winter diet with the occasional Newleaf Produce Box from now on.

 

So far, this grocery delivery series is making Kristl and me feel like the Ultimate Queens of Produce. We just sit around and produce comes to us. Next week's review features Instacart, which makes you feel super fancy, because they deliver same day and you can get pretty much whatever you want from wherever you want (a slight overstatement). If you missed our review of Door to Door Organics from last week, you can read about it here, and if you want to try it out be sure to contact us for an awesome Door to Door discount code!

 

Grocery Delivery Series: Door to Door Organics

Welcome to week 1 of our Grocery Delivery Series! Today we are featuring Door to Door Organics. The concept here is very simple. First, you choose a type (all vegetable, all fruit, or mixed) and size (bitty, small, medium, or large) of box. Then you are given delivery day options based on your location. You can customize your box with up to five substitutions, and then you can buy additional items from Door to Door if you need. They have a variety of fruits, vegetables, local meats, dairy, eggs, and pantry items. There's even a sale section! Or you can just get your box. You confirm the box, and then it shows up on your doorstep on the appointed day, ta da! This process will happen every week (or every other week, depending on what you choose) indefinitely, but if you want to go on vacation or stop getting deliveries, just put your account on hold. EASY! Door to Door Vegetables

 

Our box was delivered on Monday, 3/2/15. Let's look at what we got:

 

Medium Veggie Box Contents

We ordered a medium veggie box and it contained 1 lb of rainbow carrots, 4 bananas, 1 red bell pepper, 2 pieces of ginger root, 1 green cabbage, 1 cauliflower, 1 bunch of red chard, 1 cucumber, 3 yellow onions, 1 OrganicGirl 50/50! blend, 2 d'Anjou pears, and 2 lbs of regular carrots. We used all five of our substitutions when we ordered, and definitely liked not being locked into getting things we didn't want or already had enough of. One really cool feature is that you can set account preferences - if you have an allergy or just hate a certain item, add it to the list and Door to Door will automatically swap it out for you. You can also add things that you would like more of. Talk about customizable!

Additional Items Screenshot

This second screen shot is of things we added on, because the medium veggie box was just not enough for us. We added another cauliflower, a whole chicken, a bunch of kale, a bunch of broccoli, another cabbage, and another container of mixed greens. These additions brought our total to $76.93. The chicken alone was $13.99, which is a pretty competitive price for a 4 lb organic chicken (full disclosure, it was on sale).

If you notice on the second screen shot that there is a "Credit" line item, that's because we had two missing items. We did not receive the rainbow carrots or the second cabbage we ordered. This didn't ruin our week or anything, but it was confusing. I almost missed it, too. Thankfully, customer support was very helpful, and they credited our account immediately when we notified them (to be clear, they didn't even charge our card for what they missed, which, in our opinion, is even better than getting an account credit).

Let's break it down. Who would be a good fit for Door to Door Organics?

  • You want to eat organic food
  • You have very little time or ability to grocery shop
  • You are trying to stick to a budget and want to avoid those impulse buys that jump in your cart when you go grocery shopping
  • You have somewhat predictable food needs

The food quality is high, the website is easy to navigate, the selections are above and beyond, and the produce boxes are pretty great. Not to mention, the local meat and dairy selections are impressive. Also, the packaging is all recyclable and reusable and you can leave it out at your next pickup for them to properly reuse or recycle. Yay for environmental friendliness!

Our order from Door to Door lasted us about 4 days. According to Door to Door, the medium veggie box should be enough for a "hearty vegetarian couple, or a family with a couple of veggie and fruit minded children." As we mentioned in the introduction to this series, we eat a LOT of produce. We found that the medium box was not nearly enough for us, but we also understand that our needs for produce are much different than the average person. Seriously, guys, we eat ALL. THE. VEGETABLES.  We did end up going to the store 4 times this week to supplement. I think our ideal will be one big grocery haul a week with 1-2 trips to supplement. Such is life when you only eat perishable foods, especially during the non-growing season. In order to get the freshest options, sometimes it's best to shop multiple times a week. Our next vegetable delivery will be on Tuesday, 3/10, with the Weekly Produce Box Program from Newleaf Natural Grocery in Rogers Park. Check out our Week Two Review here.

Have you tried Door to Door Organics? Did you have a good experience? Share your comments below! If you would like to try them out, email us at hello@sustainablyqueer.com for a discount code for $15 off! Yeah!

Grocery Delivery Series: Introduction

Last weekend, Kristl and I took the plunge and finally sold our little blue 2005 Hyundai. There wasn't anything particularly wrong with it, but our big goal this year is to aggressively pay down Kristl's student loan debt, so we're cutting the chaff. Plus, it wasn't the best for winter driving and we found that we were maybe using it once a week. It is pretty simple to transition to living car-free in Chicago, especially when you live as close to work and transit as we do. Of course, we're planning on blogging about our experience with being car-free, so you have that to look forward to! Our main difficulty with being car-free is figuring out how to do our grocery shopping. As part of our debt-reduction plan, we have agreed to only eat out once a month. You read that right - once a month. Combine that with the fact that we don't really eat very many processed foods and that adds up to a lot of perishable groceries. A whole lot.

In the growing season, we get our produce directly from a farm, a farmers market, or a CSA, but in the cooler months, we tend to go to Whole Foods, Costco, or our neighborhood grocery store. We are super lucky that we have 3 small, locally-0wned grocery stores within walking distance of our home that have a decent selection of local, organic foods, but they often don't have the amounts we need. We are not dye-in-the-wool Whole Foods groupies, but because we tend to choose organic for the majority of our produce, it is often the best option because they have quicker turnover. They tend to sell their produce more quickly, thus, the produce you see on the shelf has been restocked more recently than what you may see at a smaller store, even if they are coming from the same regional distributor.

A Whole Foods is opening very close to us at the end of April (hopefully!), which will be very convenient, but in the meantime, we are doing some interesting research into grocery delivery programs. We will review one each week in March, for our knowledge and yours.

Here is our planned schedule of reviews:

Each week we will post a new review and link it to the list above. We have done our best to choose 4 different types of grocery delivery options so that we can provide options for the vast majority of our readers. These options run the gamut from almost-immediate-gratification-someone-else-does-your-grocery-shopping-for-you  to hyperlocal, seasonal CSA. We will compare price points, ease of use, reliability, customer service, and quality of produce. We hope you're as excited as we are!

 

Farm Focus: Joe's Blues Blueberries

There's nothing like February in Chicago to make you dream about picking blueberries in the heat of July. The Sustainable Queers have just about run out of our personal supply of July blueberries, but we want to let you in on our secret blueberry patch.

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Making Mustard (again)

Fast forward to early 2015, and Kristl was reorganizing the kitchen two apartments later. She held up the two, still sizable, portions of mustard seeds, and decided to give it another go. We've been eating pretty wimpy store-bought mustard recently, so I was naturally in support of her efforts.

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