Why Buy in Bulk
Food packaging is becoming increasingly problematic for the environment. The United Nations Foundation says that “more than 430 million tons of plastic are produced each year, two-thirds of which is cast aside as waste after just one use.” And according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “food and food packaging materials make up almost half of all municipal solid waste.”
Most food packaging ends up in the landfill or is carried away by wind and water into the environment. Plastic food packaging is especially problematic as it is either not recyclable or does not make it into the recycling in proper condition (empty, clean, and dry). Furthermore, plastic can only be recycled once, unlike metal and glass, and is energy-intensive to do so. Plastics often break down into smaller particles, called micro-plastics, which have been found all over the world, including the deepest trenches and the highest mountains. These are found in our air, water, and food, and, consequently, our own bodies, causing endocrine disruptions and other adverse health effects.
How to Be Part of the Solution
One way we can reduce packaging waste is by buying in bulk. Buying larger quantities may take some extra thought and planning, but once you get it down, it can not only reduce the waste you produce, it can also save you money and increase your food security. If you don’t have the space to store large quantities of food or are not able to use such a large quantity before the food spoils, you can split bulk purchases amongst friends, family, neighbors, and others in the community. Doing so may not only make your purchase more manageable, but also be an opportunity to connect with others and share ideas for how to use the food.
Common Types of Food Available in Bulk
There are many different types of food available in bulk, such as:
Legumes - beans, peanuts
Grains - wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, rye, millet, sorghum, Kernza
Seeds - flax, sunflower, pumpkin, wild rice, buckwheat, sesame, quinoa
Nuts - walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts
Tea and Herbs
Dried Fruit - cranberries, raisins, apricots, prunes
Sweetener - honey, maple syrup, sugar, stevia
Meat - can split a hog, cow, or ground meat from a butchered animal for example
Boxes/Trays of Fresh Fruit
Seed for sprouting
To see even more options, check out the bulk food items list from Dan & Becky's Market here:
Where to Buy
Local coops and natural foods stores can be a great resource for buying in bulk. Some stores will allow you to special order large quantities of what you may need. Stores may also have a bulk foods section offering unpackaged dry goods that you can dispense or scoop into a container or bag. Some places will even allow you to fill your own containers, like The Tare Market in the Twin Cities.
In Cokato, you can order many of the dry goods from Dan & Becky’s Market. Bulk quantities vary depending on the product, but many items such as beans or flour come in 25 or 50 lb compostable paper bags.
Not far from Dassel-Cokato, the Natural Food Co-op in Litchfield is another local source for ordering items in bulk. Product availability will be somewhat different than Dan & Becky’s.
Victory Produce in Cokato offers a variety of bulk seasonal produce as well as dairy products, honey, maple syrup, and more. You can request to be added to their list and Abby, the owner, will notify you when products are available to order.
Azure Standard is an online option for ordering in bulk. Local pickup is available at the New Life Assembly Church in Cokato. Orders can be placed within a certain window of time and are delivered periodically. You are expected to be present (with a few exceptions) for pickup times, which can vary and change depending on different factors such as truck availability and driving conditions.
For buying local meat and fresh produce, check out our Buy Local directory that lists producers in the Dassel-Cokato and surrounding area. With livestock producers, most often you can request to be added to a producer’s email list to be notified when it is time to put in an order. The Minnesota Grown website is another great source of information for finding growers and producers, and the Farm Direct Minnesota Facebook group features product posts from the farm people may be currently offering in different areas of Minnesota.
There are some steps and considerations to be made when splitting orders. The first step would be to talk with friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, or anyone else you think may be interested in splitting an order with you. If you are working with just one or two people, splitting order(s) may be pretty straightforward. Otherwise, someone with some organizational skills will need to put some effort into coordinating an order and answer the following questions:
Which products will you be splitting
Who will be buying what quantity and what will be the cost to each person
Where will the interested parties meet and split the orders
What will be the agreed upon method of payment
Remind everyone to bring their own containers unless you have extras to share.
Storage and Food Safety
Your storage method will depend on the type of food and for how long you intend to store it. Some foods of course keep longer than others. For a guide on food storage and safety, check out the following resources:
A Guide to Food Storage for Emergencies (Utah State University)
Tips for Long Term Food Storage (Colorado State University)
You may also opt for methods of preserving, such as canning, drying, curing, pickling, fermenting, freeze-drying, and freezing, that may extend the amount of time your food may be stored.
Check out our recorded presentations on Fermenting Vegetables with Medicinal Herbs, Canning, Dehydrating Food, Sustainable Pantry Strategies, and/or these food preservation basics videos from the University of Minnesota Extension.
Containers and Shelf Life
You’ll want to consider the shelf life of a product and your potential rate of use when considering how much of a product to buy. Dried beans, for example, if stored properly in a cool, dry place in an air-tight container, can last over year or two; after that, the nutritional value can start to diminish. If you foresee yourself using a large amount of beans in that time, you might consider a larger quantity and container such as a 5 gallon bucket, or, a 3-gallon bucket, which you may be able to obtain at a local bakery. In Cokato, used 3-gallon buckets are offered for just $1 each, as they become available, just outside the bakery at the Marketplace. Air-tight “Gamma Seal” lids for larger buckets may be purchased from Dan & Becky’s Market, Runnings, or Menards.
For smaller quantities, there are many options. You can often find good-quality used containers at thrift stores and garage sales. Many food items from the grocery store come in higher grade plastic containers or glass that can be washed and reused, such as yogurt containers and sauce jars. Some restaurants that serve fish may allow you take (or purchase) and use their fish boxes, which are stackable and make for a good reusable container. These can also be purchased from a fish supplier.
Beans 3 Ways and Ideas for Uses
When it comes to eating sustainably, we recommend starting with the ingredients available to you and going from there. Try to be resourceful and use your imagination. Or, the internet has an ocean of recipes for most every type of food under the sun. There are countless ways to use and add flavor to any basic ingredient.
When I was a high schooler, I had the privilege of traveling to Mexico with my church youth group. For one night while we were there, we stayed in a small mountain village with a kind family. The family’s home was very humble, a two room house made of concrete with very few furnishings. The family did not speak English, and we spoke very limited Spanish, so we communicated very little with words, and we tried our best with charades. The mother made us a modest, but tasty, dinner that consisted of beans 3 ways and some meat, which was a treat. The meat was served in a tortilla made of beans, accompanied with some cooked beans (similar to our traditional baked beans) with a sweet drink made with, you guessed it, beans. Despite three of the items before us being made from beans, the tortilla, cooked beans, and the bean drink all had their own flavorings, so you did not tire of beans. This can be true of many staple foods; by varying the preparation and flavors, they can be consumed and experienced in many different ways so as to not burn out on a particular type of food. It can of course be good to switch it up between different base ingredients if possible, too. Variety is the spice of life, right?!
In my own experience of purchasing black beans in bulk, I've learned a variety of ways to use them:
cheesy baked black bean dip
black bean hummus
cowboy caviar (beans, tomatoes, corn, onions, peppers, lime juice, salt, yum!)
beans with a vinaigrette and herbs
bean muffins and pancakes (made with some added flour)
bean water popsicles (made with the thick water you get after cooking the beans, natural sweetener and other flavorings of choice. My kids say these taste like fudge or chocolate!)
thicken soups, stews, and sauces with bean water
beans added to soup
such as, black bean chili
rice and beans
seasoned beans on a salad or grain bowl
beans with roasted squash or sweet potatoes
beans added to a smoothie
cheesy beans (optionally with green onions and bacon)
bean bread (turns out nice and moist, like banana bread)
And here are some other ideas I look forward to trying:
black bean burgers
black bean ice cream
a sweet black bean milk tea
pressure canning beans for later use
A few notes on beans, first, don't be shy with the seasoning. Since beans are naturally starchy (a good starch that helps support your good gut bacteria), you'll typically need to add more flavor to make them tasty. Oftentimes, I'll also add a well-seasoned meat and/or pickled or fermented veggie to help flavor up a bean dish.
Also, beans can take a long time to cook, but using a pressure-cooker, like an Instant Pot, can sure speed up your cooking time. It's also a good idea to pre-soak your beans. This not only speeds up cooking time, but also makes them easier to digest (and much less gas-producing, if at all).
I typically make a big pot of beans one day a week and use them throughout the rest of the week. I do this with other base ingredients, like rice and yogurt, and having these ready-made saves a lot of time, which is especially appreciated on the busy weekdays. Just be sure to follow the proper food safety guidelines, especially when cooking larger batches that may take longer to use.
Also, it can be helpful to intentionally limit your purchases and focus on using what you have. As an exercise, you may want to try avoid purchasing food (or limit buying certain foods) for a week or a month. You will learn to be more resourceful and creative with what you have, and expand your skills and repertoire in the kitchen.
Buying in bulk can take more planning and creativity, but once you get the hang of it and make it a habit, the effort will be less noticeable and the rewards worth the while. Incorporating more intentionality and mindfulness into our food purchasing, prep, and eating habits is good for our planet, our co-inhabitants, ourselves, and generations to come. With change, it can help to start small and expand your efforts as you grow comfortable with each adjustment. Share what you learn with others, and maybe they will be interested to try as well. The seemingly small efforts of many can add up to make a big impact.
"Great acts are made up of small deeds." - Lao Tzu
"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples." - Mother Teresa