How to use your Tax Refund to Support Local Food

It’s that time of year again – tax time. Yes, filing your 1040 is a pain. For some, it means finally having to pay the piper, and it’s not a fun time of year. But for the vast majority of Americans, completing it actually means a refund is coming. According to bankrate.com nearly 8 out of 10 U.S. filers will get a refund, and the average refund in 2019 is $1,949. Many families use this windfall to splurge on consumer items like electronics, designer shoes, or a shiny new patio set. Others earmark these monies for entertainment such as theme-park tickets, baseball games, and airfare to far off places. This year, consider keeping your money in the local community by patronizing your local farmers and food producers.

By now, most everyone reading this knows about the myriad benefits of supporting local farmers and food systems, so I won’t belabor the point with more statistics. (Consider reading this and this for more on that topic.) What I can say is that the most common limiting factors I often hear from people about why they don’t patronize local food as much as they want are: cash-on-hand and budgeting for larger, bulk purchases. Though like I said before, many families are facing a refund from Uncle Sam this time of year! If your family is among those expecting a windfall, here are 3 things you can do with all or some of your refund to support local food:

1. Commit to shopping at your local Farmers’ Market.

Farmers’ Markets are a great way of getting in touch with your local food scene. Oftentimes, not only can you purchase fresh, local, and artisanal foods on the spot, you can also meet the farmers, get to know more about their practices, and learn about other buying programs they may have beyond the retail setting of the market. Since most vendors only accept cash at the market (thankfully, this is slowly changing) consider converting some of your tax refund to cash and set it aside with your grocery budget, earmarked “Farmers’ Market”. Bring it with you each time you come to the market to spend on things like eggs, meat, produce, jams, etc. There’s nothing worse than having to turn down that beautiful grass-fed ribeye for tonight’s cookout because you ran through your pocket money on 2 dozen eggs, a quart of honey, some flowers, and a bushel of vine ripened canning tomatoes before you walked by the meat booth! If you can connect with a good, local farmers’ market, you’ll soon find you are able to do most of your grocery shopping in one weekend stop. Other than packaged, processed staples, farmers markets often offer more of what’s on your grocery list than you might think!

2. Use it for deposits on bulk meat purchases.

Speaking of meat, a great way to feed your family nutrient-dense, humanely-raised, integrity protein is to source it from a local farmer who you can get to know and trust. It used to be commonplace for Mom to order a half beef, a whole hog, and 50 broilers to put in the freezer for the year. This makes meal planning easy because you can “shop” out of your freezer; we all know cooking at home is healthier and saves money to boot. Plus, imagine the feeling of pride your farmer gets when he’s raising not just livestock, but “Mary’s steer,” or “Brian’s hog.” Most farmers require a deposit to reserve your beef, pork, or other large purchase. The idea is that in order to lock in your reservation and get a big discount (often up 30% or more over the retail price) customers need to have some skin in the game too. This can be difficult for some families to budget for ahead of time, regardless of the overall savings and quality. Consider using some of your refund to put a deposit down with that local farmer you have been wanting to buy from; you won’t regret it.

3. Join a CSA or Buying Club

Another great way to support a local farm is to buy into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or Buying Club. Typically, these programs ask for upfront money early in the season to project customer demand, and help cash-flow the production expenses such as seed, feed, fuel, processing, packaging, etc. that are required before there is any product to sell. In return, for CSAs, the customers receive a “share” of the harvest, or a predetermined sized box of meat or produce throughout the season. Buying Clubs differ slightly in that they oftentimes have no set price, and not set “menu” items. On our farm, for example, our members pre-pay any amount of money they choose, based on how much they think they might spend at our farm throughout the year. It could be $100, $1,000, $5,000, whatever. In return for committing this money upfront (in our case, prior to May 31) the customer is automatically entitled to 10% bonus in the form of additional farm product. It’s a great way for folks to get even more value from their food dollar, and help keep the farmer growing food along the way. But, as with the bulk meat deposits, this requires the customer to put up a chunk of grocery money ahead of time. What better way to utilize your tax refund than to invest in your local farmers?

I hope you find these tips helpful as you consider where and how you “vote” with your dollars this year. Small, local farmers all across the fruited plain are excited for the production season. They are hoping to connect with more like-minded people and to build community through real relationships and real food. Remember too that each farm and each farmer are different in terms of their specific business model and sales outlets, so never hesitate to ask questions. I always encourage people to seek out foods and farms that align with their own personality and values.  As we like to say around here, “Life is complicated; simplify your food.”

Chris and Lauren Kiesz are regenerative, grass-based protein farmers. Together, they own and operate Yellow Hutch Farm in Braham, MN. For more information about their farm, what they raise, contact information, and other ways to follow along, visit www.yellowhutchfarm.com.

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