10 Tips for Buying Organic Food on a Budget
Do you enjoy buying organic food but find you're turned off by the price? If you're willing to do some creative shopping and cooking, you can enjoy the freshness and goodness of organic foods without breaking your food budget. Step one is giving up your dependence on conventional supermarkets. Limiting yourself to the organic section or natural foods section of your local grocer is a great way to pay too much for your more wholesome food selections. These days there are tons of places to buy organic foods. Besides the supermarkets, you can find them in health food stores, specialty stores, co-ops, gourmet delis, farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture programs and convenience stores.
If you don't shop around, there's a good chance you'll pay too much for your organic food selections. And while most folks are willing to pay a little more for organic food, few people can afford to pay sky-high prices week in and week out. And let's face it, organic food can be quite expensive. A $1 conventional food item could cost twice as much in the organic version. Or you could pay a whole lot less for an organic goody - maybe just a few cents more than the conventional price. Much depends on the food item, where you live, where you're shopping and the growing season.
"If you live in a place like California you're lucky, because organic produce and conventional produce are very close in price," says Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. Organic fruits, vegetables and grains are grown without most conventional pesticides and without fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients. Organic meat and dairy products are free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Many food shoppers are willing to pay a little more for organic food simply because they know their superior nutrition and like the taste. "You can taste the difference," Cummins says. "Fresh, local organic is the ultimate."
1. Do some research.
You may have a lot more choices for organic food in your community than you realize. All it takes is a little research to find out. Organic associations and organizations in your state are good places to start. Just type the name of your state and the word "organic" into a search engine and see what pops up. Make sure you check out http://www.foodmatters.com/search/?q=organic
2. Shop at farmers' markets.
Farmers' markets are great sources of fresh local produce. A just-picked tomato from a local farm tastes better than a tomato that's traveled thousands of miles before reaching a supermarket shelf. "It's going to be cheaper and fresher at a farmers' market," Cummins says. If you don't see a sign saying the produce is organic, be sure to ask. Some farmers may be making the transition to organic farming however have not got the full certified approval yet. The key to landing good deals at farmers' markets is to ask lots of questions. Ask about misshapen produce that you may be able to buy at a discount. Ask about discounts for buying in bulk. "Always ask what tastes the best. They know. They'll tell you," says Jesse Ziff Cool, author of "Your Organic Kitchen: The Essential Guide to Selecting and Cooking Organic Foods." "They're going to pick up a melon and say, 'Taste this.'"
3. Buy a share in a community-supported agriculture program.
When you buy a share in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, you pay a portion of a local farm's operating expenses. In return, you receive weekly boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables in the upcoming harvest. "You can't get it any fresher. You're getting it straight from the farm, sometimes picked that morning," says Ruth Katz, executive director of Just Food in New York City. "It's usually organic and it's much more delicious because it's so fresh. And you're supporting local farms." A share in a CSA costs about $300 to $400 upfront for a 24- to 26-week growing season. Many CSA programs accept weekly or monthly payments, and you may be able to buy a half-share rather than a whole share. Check websites such as Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, and LocalHarvest to find a CSA near you.
4. Join a co-op.
A food cooperative is a member-owned business that provides groceries and other products to its members at a discount. Many of the products lining the shelves of co-ops are organic and much of the produce comes from local family farms. Joining a co-op is often as easy as signing up and paying some dues. Co-op members that volunteer to work may get additional discounts on any products they buy. To find a co-op near you, check out Web sites such as Cooperative Grocer and LocalHarvest. If there's no co-op in your area, you can always start your own. A brochure from Cooperative Grocers' Information Network shows you how.
5. Join a buying club.
A buying club is a great way to get the organic food you want on the cheap. In a buying club, you may be able to get 30 percent to 40 percent off the retail price. Buying-club members purchase food and other organic products in bulk and then split the stash. "These buying clubs are the best-kept secrets in America," Cummins says. Ask a co-op near you about starting a buying club with your friends and neighbors. Some co-op grocers will let you order right from their store. Ask a local natural food store where they get their stuff and then contact the distributor directly. "Some distributors deliver to individuals or groups of individuals who have a minimum amount of an order," says Katherine DiMatteo, a senior adviser with the Organic Trade Association.
6. Buy in bulk.
Whether you're shopping at a natural foods store, supermarket or co-op, buying in bulk is a great way to stretch your food dollar. For beans, grains, lentils and nuts, head straight for the bulk containers. Just make sure you have a cool, dry place in your kitchen to store your dry goods for a few months. You can save on storage space by splitting your stash with a friend. Be sure to bring your calculator along on any bulk shopping run. Not every item you can buy in bulk is worth the bother. Do the math.
7. Buy big in-season.
The absolute best time to buy an organic fruit or vegetable is at the peak of its growing season. "As the season progresses there's more produce and the price has a tendency to shift downward, sometimes dramatically," DiMatteo says. "That's the best time to buy." And that's the best time to buy big. Load up on all your favorite organic fruits and veggies at dirt-cheap prices. This is also a great time to bargain at a local farmers' market. You may be able to nudge prices down even further by buying in bulk from a local farmer. It never hurts to ask. If they have to move produce that day, you might get bulk orders at a discount. You can either share your bounty with friends and family or keep it all and freeze your leftovers.
8. Embrace the big freeze.
Your freezer is good for more than TV dinners and frozen pizzas. Just haggled a great deal on a whole bunch of organic fruits and vegetables? Freeze your luscious leftovers and pull them out as treats during the winter. "Buy it and freeze it," DiMatteo says. "That's a very economical way of having that produce at a reasonable price year-round."
9. Grow your own.
If you're really serious about garden-fresh organic produce, why not plant your own? Seeds are available from local seed saver community groups or healthfood stores. Start small. Carrots, radishes and beets are easy to grow. "Start slow," Cool says. "Just do a few things at a time."
10. Shop Online
Can't find a local source for the organic food you want? Don't give up. Hop online. You may be able to order the organic foods that you want online. The GreenPeople directory from the Organic Consumer Association is a good place to begin your online search for affordable organic foods. A roundup of additional organic directories is also available on the site. "There are a lot of offerings online that will send you what you want, at good prices" DiMatteo says. "Shop wisely."
The best thing about it is as you will be eating healthier, you'll be saving on your medical bills!
Please read on to find out more facts on Organic Foods:
Organic Food is More Nutritious
Organic food is much richer in vitamins, minerals and fibre and retains the levels of nutrients for longer. Switching to organic food will enable your body to be more resistant to disease as it will have higher levels of the essential nutrients it needs to fight off infection.
- Organic foods, especially raw or non-processed, contain higher levels of beta carotene, vitamins C, D and E, health-promoting polyphenols, cancer-fighting antioxidants and bio-flavonoids that help ward off heart disease.
- On the average, organic food is 25% more nutritious in terms of vitamins and minerals than products derived from industrial agriculture. Since on the average, organic food's shelf price is only 20% higher than chemical food, this makes it actually cheaper, gram for gram, than chemical food, even ignoring the astronomical hidden costs (damage to health, climate, environment, and government subsidies) of industrial food production. Levels of antioxidants in milk from organic cattle are between 50% and 80% higher than normal milk. Organic wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce have between 20% and 40% more nutrients than non-organic foods.
- Organic food contains qualitatively higher levels of essential minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, iron and chromium), that are severely depleted in chemical foods grown on pesticide and nitrate fertilizer-abused soil. UK and US government statistics indicate that levels of trace minerals in (non-organic) fruit and vegetables fell by up to 76% between 1940 and 1991.
Organic Food is Pure Food, Free of Chemical Additives
- Organic food doesn't contain food additives, flavor enhancers (like MSG), artificial sweeteners (like aspartame and high-fructose corn syrup), contaminants (like mercury) or preservatives (like sodium nitrate), that can cause health problems.
- Eating organic has the potential to lower the incidence of autism, learning disorders, diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease, allergies, osteoporosis, migraines, dementia, and hyperactivity.
Organic Food Is Safer
- Organic food doesn't contain pesticides. More than 400 chemical pesticides are routinely used in conventional farming and residues remain on non-organic food even after washing. Children are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposure. One class of pesticides, endocrine disruptors, are likely responsible for early puberty and breast cancer. Pesticides are linked to asthma and cancer.
- Organic food isn't genetically modified. Under organic standards, genetically modified (GM) crops and ingredients are prohibited.
- Organic animals aren't given drugs. Organic farming standards prohibit the use of antibiotics, growth hormones and genetically modified vaccines in farm animals. Hormone-laced beef and dairy consumption is correlated with increased rates of breast, testis and prostate cancers.
- Organic animals aren't fed animal remains or slaughterhouse waste, blood, or manure. Eating organic reduces the risks of CJD, the human version of mad cow disease, as well as Alzheimer's.
- Organic animals aren't fed arsenic.
- Organic animals aren't fed byproducts of corn ethanol production (which increases the rate of E. coli contamination).
- Organic crops aren't fertilized with toxic sewage sludge or coal waste, or irrigated with E. coli contaminated sewage water.
- Organic food isn't irradiated. Cats fed a diet of irradiated food got multiple sclerosis within 3-4 months.
- Organic food contains less illness-inducing bacteria. Organic chicken is free of salmonella and has a reduced incidence of campylobacter.
How to Identify Real Organic Food
Look for the USDA Organic Seal or the Words "Made With Organic Ingredients"
When you see the "USDA Organic" seal, you know that the food is at least 95% organic, does not contain genetically modified organisms, was not irradiated, and comes from a farm that:
- Employs positive soil building, conservation, manure management and crop rotation practices.
- Provides outdoor access and pasture for livestock.
- Refrains from antibiotic and hormone use in animals.
- Sustains animals on 100% organic feed.
- Keeps records of all operations.
- Is inspected annually by an accredited Third-Party Organic Certifier.