Buying organic foods doesn’t have to be expensive or hard to do. In fact, with more stores carrying organic products, it’s becoming a little easier to find, these days. We’ve listed a few ways to find and obtain organic foods without breaking the bank.
Grow Your Own Organic Produce
Try your local farmers’ market, where you are likely to find organic items available for considerably less than what you pay in the grocery stores. Going to the farmers’ market is a great habit to get into anyway, since you’ll find wonderful fresh foods and you will help sustain local farmers.
In certain areas, the farmers’ market is open year-round, and features many seasonal festivals spotlighting everything from strawberries to crawfish. Even in areas that require a drive 25 minutes to the farmers’ market, the money saved on produce bought to make your own salads and the quality of the produce makes the effort very cost-effective.
Farmers’ markets are also a great way to teach kids about farming and what goes into producing the food they eat. You might also consider growing your own organic produce next spring. If you live in a condo with a balcony roughly the size of a refrigerator, you can still manage to grow cucumbers in hanging baskets, leaf lettuce in an old dishpan, loads of herbs, and cherry tomatoes and peppers in pots. Check your local library for books on container gardening, and ask friends if they might want to join in and split seed packages. This, too, is a great project in which to involve kids.
Join (or Start) an Organic Produce Co-op
Buy from a produce wholesaler (the same one that delivers to the local health food stores). Watch for the trucks and look them up online. Decide what kinds of produce to order and how often. Get others involved in the purchase as a membership and If you have enough membership interest, order a case of that particular produce, and when the produce comes, sort it out amongst your members. Use last time’s produce boxes, and write everyone’s names on them and sort into them, using the standing order each member has placed. It helps to have your members’ standing orders be a range (i.e. 6-10 apples), because the cases aren’t always the same quantities from week to week.
Use MS Excel to fill in everyone’s bill (because you may not know the exact price until the produce comes with an invoice). Mark each item up only 10% (as opposed to the store’s 40-50%), and the extra money gets split between those who sort that week, as a credit off of their bill. You can also require that every member put in a deposit, which you can keep in a separate checking account, just for this co-op. Then, write a check when the produce is delivered each produce day, and the members pay for their produce upon pickup, which replenishes the bank account.
Fifteen to twenty members is a good sized group, as it seems to be enough people to get full cases of most items you’ll want. It does take a good bit of time organizing, but it’s well worth it. Every once in a while, check at the grocery store to compare to their organic prices, and you may find that you’ve saved about 30%. The long-term benefits to your family’s health make organics worth it, and they’ll eat more fruits and veggies this way, because they are delivered on a regular basis. You can do meal planning around what’s coming on produce day.
Talk to the Farmers
If you go to green markets where you can actually discuss with farmers, try to find small farmers whose agricultural practices you agree with, but who may not have an organic certification and the price premium that goes with it. Certification is long and expensive, and many small producers won’t take the trouble of getting certified, even if they use ecological farming practices.
Stick to Whole Foods
Stick primarily to unprocessed foods. The price of prepared organic food (dry cereals, frozen meals, crackers, etc.) is steep, but if you eat mostly whole foods (veggies, fruits, grains, beans, meats, etc.), you will save money. You may invest a little more in prep and cooking, but you will save money and be serving healthy foods to your family. And cook simply. If you are serving the best and freshest foods, they often don’t need much adornment.
Try to link up with local farmers who grow organic food and buy directly from them. They are often families who are trying to get by just like you are and would be happy to help out like-minded folks, maybe even bartering for your purchases. The organic items you buy in the store cost more because of the packaging, shipping and so on. If you can buy local, you avoid all that unnecessary cost.
Find a Local CSA
Try to join a food co-operative or buy a “share” of a farm through community supported agriculture (CSA). You get delicious, healthy, organic food at a reasonable cost and help local farmers as well! You can find a local CSA at LocalHarvest or post an ad on Organic Market Classifieds.
eBay has many sellers who offer organic products. “Googling” whatever product you’re searching for (no dairy or perishable products of course) to find your best price is always a good option.
Make Wise Choices
Sprouting seeds is a fun and economical way to stretch your organic budget. Seed sprouting kits range widely in price or you can make one from easily available items. There are wonderful websites devoted to the subject. Children love this do-it-yourself project. Begin with good, organic seed. A little seed goes a long way!
When you cannot afford organic, it is important to make wise choices when purchasing produce. For a list of the worst and best choices for non-organic foods, visit Food News.
Simplify Your Menu
The key to organic is to simplify your menu first. Figure out what your family likes, or can live without, and go from there. Consider a garden to get the much needed tomatoes, green peppers, spinach, etc. in order to make the favorites for the family. Then learn to can and freeze your food properly. Consider canning the best recycling ever! Get canning equipment for next to nothing by just asking around, and maybe can with a friend to make it “less painful.”
Give up “convenience” foods, especially in the organic health food section. Mac and cheese el natural can’t be rationalized when making it from scratch is way better for you and just as easy. Invest in simplified cookbooks that break it down to the basics, such as Moosewood Classics, Cheap, Fast, Good, Miserly Meals, and the indispensable Less is More Cookbook. These offer a wide range of menus and simple ingredients.
The biggest challenge most find in organics is dairy. Some have a hard time buying $4 gallons of milk or $6 chunk of cheese. Therefore, analyze your use of these ingredients and add water to whole milk, make your own yogurt, and change your attitude on good cheese (it’s worth it to spend the $6). In the end, you’ll no longer spend money on cereal (make your own granola), junk food, or convenience food, so then you can afford a good, better tasting chunk of cheese.