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How to feed yourself
How to raise chickens
Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. The maxim applies to eggs, too. You can go to the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Mullan Road and spend $1.18 for a dozen, or you can go to Quality Supply (2801 West Broadway) in the spring and spend as little as $1 for a baby hen that will grow up and lay way more than 12 eggs. The economics of chicken rearing is, of course, more complicated than that, but no doubt you can save money by tending to a backyard flock (especially if you're more likely to pay $4 for a dozen local, free-range eggs than $1.18 for Humpty Dumptys at a box store). Let's look at the numbers. Permits issued by the city of Missoula, which allows up to six hens, cost $15 annually. Coop materials and fencing can be had for probably as little as $50 at Home Resource (1515 Wyoming Street). A 50-pound bag of chicken feed goes for around $15 at Quality Supply (how long it lasts depends on how many hens you're feeding and the season.) Laying rates vary widely, but let's say a chicken in its prime lays two eggs every three days. If you have six hens, that's a dozen eggs every three days. So after a month you're stocked with about 120 eggs. Once you get past the upfront costs, it's conceivable that those 120 eggs would cost you just the $15 you paid for feed. That's compared to the $11.80 you'd spend for the same number of eggs at Wal-Mart. Not bad.
Keep in mind, though, that it's easy to spend much more in upfront costs. Some of those costs might make sense. For example, around these parts it's wise to raise cold-hardy breeds, like, say, Buff Orpingtons, which typically cost between $2 and $3 as chicks. Or, you can buy mature hens. Heather's Heritage Hens sells various cold-hardy breeds for between $15 and $25 each. Now, when doing chicken math make sure to consider the intangibles—like that having extra eggs is great for bartering, or for ingratiating yourself with your curmudgeonly neighbor.
How to use the Food Bank
Asking for help at the Missoula Food Bank (219 S. Third Street W.) can be a humbling experience, but luckily it's incredibly easy—and confidential—to sign up. Just follow four easy steps to get started: 1. Fill out a survey when you get to the store. The info helps the Food Bank better serve its customers, and any personal data is kept private. 2. Sit down with a volunteer to learn how the Food Bank works, and what other resources may be available to you. 3. Based on the number of people in your household, you'll learn what—and how much—you can stock up on. 4. You check out. Simple. A few other helpful notes: The Food Bank doesn't operate like your local Albertson's; you can only visit once a month and only stock up on a limited amount of grub. For more info, call 549-0543.
How to eat for free during football season
Even the football-averse have to admit that Griz season—September to November—opens untold doors in the free-eats department. Tailgates alone promise enough hot dogs, hamburgers and cookies to last from one Saturday to the next, provided you've got the charm and casual conversational skills to waltz into a drunken fan's good graces. But away games can present something of a problem...one that's easily remedied if you know where to look. Numerous bars in town, like Bodega, host the occasional Griz potluck for games of particular significance, like the annual Cat/Griz rivalry. If you want a sure bet, however, look no further than the often-overlooked Katie O'Keefe's Casino in Stephens Center. It's a quiet, unassuming joint most days of the year, a good place for great service and an open pool table. Football season is another story, one punctuated by barbecue baked beans and homemade fudge. Nearly every away game promises a spread that would put grandma's Thanksgiving to shame. Bringing a plate of fresh carrots or bag of Doritos as a sacrificial lamb might save you some disapproving looks, but we're all cheering for the same team, right?
How to wildcraft
Missoula's nearby grazing areas aren't exactly a well-kept secret. Any seasoned forager will tell you to hit up the Rattlesnake Wilderness for some tasty huckleberries or to scan past burns in the Bitterroot National Forest for morel mushrooms. But knowing where to look for nature's cost-free goodies isn't enough. You need to keep the ethical and personal health risks of wildcrafting in mind, lest you run afoul of toxicity of the karmic or physical variety. That's exactly why Meadowsweet Herbs (180 S. Third Street W.) offers summer classes in wildcrafting and the occasional herb walk for about $10 an hour—an expense that you could more than make up in subsequent grocery savings.
For owner Elaine Sheff, teaching the ethics of harvesting from the wild is one of Meadowsweet's growing priorities. "One of the things you need to remember before you go wildcrafting is the plants themselves," Sheff explained during a recent class in Greenough Park. "You're taking the plant or a part of the plant and making it tougher for that plant to survive."
If you insist on taking the DIY approach, Sheff also offers a variety of illustrated guides catered specifically to wild foragers—you know, so you don't end up in the hospital with acute oops-I-ate-the-wrong-berry-osis.
How to wildcraft at thesis readings
Many university thesis readings have a very delicious side effect: good snacks. In particular, environmental studies graduate students, many of whom are "foodies" with a predilection for potlucks, serve up pretty good grub during their events. Creative writing MFA candidates, who like to make their readings into parties, splurge on food and drink, too. The best homemade dishes we've found include hot artichoke dip, raspberry coffee cake, canned local peppers and pickles, and elk sausage with local cheese, to name a few. And there's almost always beer and wine. It might be a trade-off—you have to sit through an hour or longer reading to reap the benefits of eating—but that's not so bad. Who knows, you might learn a thing or two. Remember, it's sort of a seasonal deal: May and June are prime reading times, as is winter break for students graduating in December. But you can find readings throughout the year if you do your homework—or if you scour our weekly calendar of events, where readings are often listed.
How to wildcraft during First Friday
Missoula's First Friday ArtWalk occurs more frequently than thesis readings, but finding quality noshing can be frustratingly difficult. The Missoula City-County Health Department has cracked down on many of the regular spreads—and free drinks—at local galleries. But exhibits inside dining establishments (The Catalyst Café, Bernice's Bakery, etc.) and shows at off-the-beaten-path venues (The Stensrud Building, The Ceretana, etc.) tend to turn up plenty of food and, sometimes, drinks. Check out the Indy's calendar of events before the first Friday of every month to scout out your hit list.
How to score free samples at the Good Food Store
If your body is your temple, you won't eat just anything no matter what your wallet tells you. In your world, food is meant to be an experience, not just a vehicle to keep you full from meal to meal. For those who can't always afford the best, but still enjoy top shelf cooking, the Good Food Store (1600 S. Third Street W.) gives out free samples on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. You can peruse the store and munch on homemade concoctions like lemon chicken noodles, nutty Kamut with feta and cilantro, pecorino cheese and free-range turkey sandwich chunks, plus random offerings of yerba mate, sweet potato chips and honey granola, without parting with a single penny.
How to score free samples at Costco
If you're less picky about your free samples, there's always Costco (3220 N. Reserve Street)—and we've perfected a way around the members-only access that thwarts most lowbaggers. If you're not willing to pay the store's annual $50 membership fee (which, by the way, can often pay for itself) and score one of those treasured membership cards, then you can skip by the front door guard by simply saying, "I'm just picking up a prescription." The pharmacy is available to non-members. Once you're in, it's an easy detour to as many as a dozen sampling stations offering everything from ice cream sandwiches to four cheese ravioli to chicken tenders.
How to eat free peanuts
What's better than a beer cup filled with beer? Well, for the down-and-out, how about a beer cup filled with all the free protein, iron and zinc needed to balance your diet? Most bars tend to charge for a side of peanuts, but there's no such scroogery at Red's Bar (217 Ryman Street), as evidenced by the constant crunch of peanut shells underfoot. The bartenders there will serve up a good helping of salted peanuts on request and keep 'em coming all night, making it just the kind of feast you might need if you skipped dinner (and lunch, and maybe breakfast) in the interests of funding a few drinks. And Red's isn't alone in generosity. Five Guys Burgers and Fries (820 East Broadway) always has a couple of bulk peanut boxes—complete with plastic scoop and paper bowl—on site for customers with insatiable munchies.
How to eat free popcorn
Quality Supply (2801 West Broadway) pops Jolly Time brand popcorn on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Fresh, delicious kernels smothered in oil and, according to the Jolly Time package, "butter flavored salt" are free and served in small brown paper bags between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
There's also plenty of free popcorn to be had at Missoula's two Ace Hardware locations (2301 Brooks Street, 905 East Broadway) every day of the week. It's not unusual for people to come into the stores simply to score a bag of popcorn, according to Ace staffer Kenna Llewellyn. In fact, they're not even stealthy about their intentions. "We don't care," assures Llewellyn.