The Harvey family vowed not to spend a penny on food all year. One month in to "mission impossible", the Wanganui Chronicle checks out how they are coping

When someone gave the Harvey family a block of cheese on February 1, it was greeted with great excitement - it was the first time anyone in the family had tasted cheese for a month.

"The kids were really missing their cheese, but it didn't do them any harm to go without it," Lydia Harvey says.

Last year the Wanganui Chronicle brought you the story of Lydia Harvey, her husband Matt and their four children, who were attempting to spend no money on groceries for the whole of 2017.

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After their youngest child, Ashton, was diagnosed with coeliac disease at the age of three, Lydia and Matt began to think seriously about their lifestyle and the food their family was eating.

"I started wondering why our food was making him sick. And then I started asking questions - reading all the ingredients on packets and googling anything that I didn't understand. I realised that so much of what we eat isn't even proper food."

And the idea of spending no money on food for a year began when Lydia realised that the wages from her job in hospitality just covered the family's food bill.

Now, along with producing fruit, vegetables and eggs from their own garden, the couple acquire food through a type of bartering arrangement.

"My motto is that if you give freely, it will come back to you freely. We always have so much surplus, and we give what we have - fruit, vegetables, eggs, baking - and although we don't ask for anything in return, people are happy to give back to us," Lydia told the Chronicle last year.

Lydia Harvey says planning to spend no money on food for a year requires a lot of planning. Photo / Bevan Conley
Lydia Harvey says planning to spend no money on food for a year requires a lot of planning. Photo / Bevan Conley

One month in to the project, Lydia said with summer in full swing the family has been feasting on plenty of seasonal fruit and vegetables.

Although it hasn't been the best summer for the garden, she said they have had so much food they've been able to give much of it away to people who were struggling.

However, their "zero groceries" experiment got off to a shaky start when Lydia decided against stockpiling food on New Year's Eve - and then the family went on a day trip to Taupo.

"The kids were getting hungry and were nagging us for takeaways," she said.

"It would have been really easy to just stop and buy some chips, which is what we would have done in the past. The thing about spending no money on food is that you have to be really organised."

As well as growing food in their Gonville garden, the Harveys forage and barter for food. Lydia bakes for friends, who give her baking ingredients in return. Or she'll help someone with their garden in return for a share of the vegetables.

Lydia's daughter Kaya, 11 (left), and her cousin Summah Prior, 10, in the Harveys' vegetable garden. Photo / Bevan Conley
Lydia's daughter Kaya, 11 (left), and her cousin Summah Prior, 10, in the Harveys' vegetable garden. Photo / Bevan Conley

She believes in gifting food with no expectation of getting anything in return - although invariably people do find some way to give back to her.

She said a major positive from the experiment has been teaching other people how to cut down on their food bill. The family has saved so much by not buying groceries that they've had money to go away on summer holidays.

"The kids complain that they miss their noodles and their chips, but they've actually become quite good at foraging for food. It means they have to think about where their food is coming from - they can't just mindlessly open a packet of something."

But she admits she's nervous about how the family will cope during the coming winter and to that end she has been bottling and preserving as much fresh produce as she can.

Astonished by the generous gifts the family has received, Lydia says they haven't needed to buy toiletries at all during January thanks to an anonymous donation left on their doorstep - a box full of soap, shampoo, toilet paper, and so on.

The box contained a note saying, "I remember the time you helped me."