Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bulk Food

In Bush Alaska, some of us do our shopping a bit differently than the rest of America. We do our best to buy enough basic groceries to last us 9 months time. The store in Brevig is actually pretty nice and supplies us with some basics like juice, frozen pizza, eggs, potatoes, etc. But there's not a lot of variety and it's a bit less expensive to buy it in Anchorage and ship it north. We end up buying from a couple different places.

First, in August, C.O. and I each take a grocery cart and walk up and down every aisle at Fred Meyer and estimate about how much of each product we'll use over the winter. We usually heap three carts worth of food and other basic supplies before we're done. Then, check out, bring our carts to customer service and have them ship it all to Brevig for us. Once upon time, we would box up all of it, go to the post office and ship it our selves but really, that's madness. Now we leave that to the experts. It costs 8% extra but is well worth it.

The other method of shopping is a service we just started using called, Span Alaska. They specialize in bulk food. They're like Sam's Club, but they deliver. We can't buy everything from them, since their selection is limited and we often don't need quite as much as they offer in a package (see photo below, oops, I over ordered on the Tabasco). But for some things, they're perfect. We use a lot of cereal, crackers, paper products, bacon, butter, chicken etc. So, we buy these sort of things from Span. These are photos of just SOME of our groceries for the coming winter.

Since we have so much food to store, we tend to squirrel it away in all kinds of odd places throughout the house. But it works. In fact, it's so handy that I think I'd prefer to buy this way even if we lived else where. One thing we've found is important to remember is to date the food when you buy it so you can use up last year's supply before cracking into the new stuff.


Soren said...

Looks like good practice for sailing around the world.

Erin said...

Ahhh... Span Alaska. We actually looked at ordering stuff from there THIS year! I miss the true bulk-shopping! We spend so much more $ with quick little stops at the store. A $5 trip always seems to turn into $50. We never did do very well with dating our food -- I'm pretty sure we left AK at the right time, as our spices were down right OLD. :-)

James and Charity said...

I've been waiting for this post!

You mention that you might like to shop this way even if you didn't live in bush Alaska. What are some of the benefits to shopping for 9 months at a time?


Rudstroms said...

@Charity, I like it because you always have the basics on hand. Less time at the grocery store, out and about etc. And it's usually a savings to buy in bulk and often less packaging, which is a good thing. (See Erin's comment too.)

James and Charity said...

I'm intrigued by this buying in bulk business. The time saving factor would be nice. What advice would you give to someone buying in bulk for 9 months or so? Do you guys by huge bags of flour, sugar, oats, etc?

Thanks! Charity

Nancy M. said...

This is very interesting. I can't imagine the planning involved. I guess you may save money in the long run since you don't go so often. It would be hard for me to have enough money to spend all at one time like that, though.

Jennifer said...

this is fascinating to me, because in June I forced myself to go 2 weeks without going to the store and I had a really hard time with it. I can't imagine how much food I would need to feed 6 people for 9 monhts. What do you do for meats and veggies? I see some canned and dried fruit, and just a little bit of tuna and canned veggies. Is that actually the amount you need for 9 months? My dh spent a summer in Alaska and would love to live there. I just can't imagine the cold and darkness.

Rudstroms said...

@nancy m. We actually can't afford it all at once. We split it up by ordering from SpanAlaska in the spring and shopping in Anchorage in the fall. We also put our fall shopping on the credit card and it takes a couple months to pay it off, but that's just the cost of doing business out here. We don't mind.

@jennifer Meat? My husband hunts and gets our red meat for the year by shooting a musk ox. We also can and freeze a lot of salmon in the fall. (Hopefully I'll have a post about that soon.) It is also possible to order frozen food through the mail (though it is more expensive). This year we ordered bacon & chicken this way.
Veggies? Frozen or canned is what we eat primarily. When we travel to Nome, Anchorage or larger villages we'll hand carry some fresh produce back with us for a special treat.

Jennifer said...

I was thinking that you probably hunted. My dad hunts and we are fortunate that he sends us some meat every few months. We get elk, deer and antelope. I do imagine fresh produce is hard to come by. It looks like you have a really good plan. How long have you lived there?

Barb J. said...

Sounds like an interesting concept and something to strive for, though giving up fresh produce and milk would be really hard.