This is the sixth post in our Co-op on a Budget series, which explores the different ways that we can shop co-op effectively and affordably. Also check out posts on shopping bulk, the Wedge Co-op vs. Cub Foods, Eastside Food Co-op vs. Rainbow, a class on eating economically, and Winter Eating for Locavores.
Since Pinterest and HGTV came into my life with a vengeance, I’ve become a serial Do-it-Yourselfer. I love craft and kitchen projects and am always searching for the next new thing to try. If there’s ever an opening for a professional “urban homesteader,” I’m guaranteed to be well qualified.
But matching my passion for projects with life on a budget can be tough sometimes. As fun as do-it-yourself can be, it doesn’t take long to run up a $50 bill buying supplies, new gadgets, or even the thrift-store junk that’s ready to be turned into treasure. I’ll be the first to admit that DIY can be just as pricey of a hobby as golf or photography.
For me, DIY isn’t all about saving money. Sometimes my projects are not necessarily about making things more affordably as they are about having more control over what I make and use in my home. Sometimes it’s about taking local raw ingredients to make something I can’t otherwise source locally. Sometimes it’s about the conversations I have with family and friends that start “Hey, you’ll never believe what I did this weekend...” But either way, if I can save some cash in the process my DIY pursuits are even better.
That’s where the co-op comes in. It’s my DIY headquarters for most things in the kitchen and here’s why: I can find the ingredients! The big-box store in my neighborhood either A) doesn’t carry the items I need. B) charges way more than the co-op does or C) the stuff has been on the shelf longer than the antique candlesticks I just restored.
I’m all about spending less time in the store and more time in the kitchen. By shopping at a place that can supply all the items I need, both for projects and for my day-to-day needs, I save time, gas, and stress, all of which also add up, indirectly, to monetary savings. In terms of more direct financial savings, with co-op shoppers’ higher demand for unique DIY ingredients (and the co-ops’ commitment to meeting customer needs), many co-ops can offer bulk or discounted prices than supermarkets or larger retailers. When I buy in bulk my treasured DIY dollars stretch farther; the items are usually priced cheaper than non-bulk and I can measure out exactly what I need for a project. No having to worry about using up the excess and my cupboards don’t fill up with years of leftover project supplies. Anything to make DIY a little more affordable.
Lastly, no respectable blog post about DIY projects would be complete without a few ideas for your next homesteading experiment. Here’s a few to try out the next time you’re headed to the co-op:
Specialty Spice Blends – For holiday gifts this year I made custom spice blends for family and friends. I used online recipes for inspiration, bought each spice in bulk at the co-op, and then mixed, bottled, and labeled them at home. Try these Pinterest boards for recipes: Spice Blends
Sauerkraut & Fermentation Projects – If you’re looking for local and organic produce to ferment before the farmers’ markets open, the co-op is the best place to start. Small-batch fermentation is one of the biggest trends in the food industry right now, and it started in homesteader’s kitchens. Co-ops have all the supplies you need to start fermenting on your own – and it won’t cost nearly as much as the gourmet menus and pre-made jars. Try SGT’s fermentation resources for simple recipes to get started.
Homemade Yogurt – If you’re like me and have a never-ending supply of yogurt and granola combinations, but hate throwing so many plastic containers away, then making yogurt from scratch might be worth a try. The key to homemade yogurt is active cultures. Most co-ops supply both powdered yogurt starter or a basic plain yogurt not crammed so full of chemicals and additives it can be used for starter. Try SGT’s recipe for yogurt made on the stovetop, or consider an electric yogurt maker for even better DIY results.
Cheese – If you’ve never made cheese in your own kitchen, I suggest you drop everything and head straight to the co-op for a cheese making kit. With the right supplies and a little reading, you’ll be a wow-ing your friends with fresh mozzarella, ricotta, cream cheeses, and more. Watch your co-op calendar for classes on DIY cheese making as well. They’re offered a few times a year at many of the Twin Cities co-ops.
Sprouts – A few years back, when I heard stories both regionally and nationally about people getting sick from contaminated sprouts, I was completely disappointed. I’m not a huge lettuce or greens eater, but will always take a hefty pile of fresh alfalfa or bean sprouts on my sandwiches and salads. Worried about the safety of store-bought sprouts, I decided to start sprouting on my own. Using some basic equipment (think a mason jar and knee-high panty hose) I started sprouting bulk seeds from Mississippi Market. SGT even has a basic sprouting guide to help jumpstart your own countertop germination!
Craft Cocktails – Most people’s minds don’t jump to their co-op when thinking about making homemade specialty cocktails. However SGT contributor Peter Groynom has been showcasing some unique homemade infusions and garnishes over the past few months – with ingredients readily available at your co-op. These are the best way to relax after a hard day of do-it-yourselfing!
Amy Sippl is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good, and Tasty. She grew up in rural Wisconsin, but now calls St. Paul her home. She writes about her successes and struggles to eat and grow local food on her blog: Minnesota Locavore. She writes the Great Grains series for SGT; her last non-grain post for us was Co-op on a Budget: Winter Eating for Locavores.