Buying Organic Foods
Does anyone know how to save money on organic foods? I am very health conscious and have recently decided it was best for my two young daughters and me to make a real effort to eat foods without preservatives and hormones. Unfortunately, recent trips to local markets show how expensive it is to do just that. I had hoped Dollar Stretcher readers might have some advice on how to save money on organic/natural foods.
Jean K. in Boca Raton, FL
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 my area, the farmers’ market is open year-round, and features many seasonal festivals spotlighting everything from strawberries to mudbugs (crawfish). Even when I lived in an area that required me to drive 25 minutes to the farmers’ market, I found that the money I saved on the produce I bought to make my own salads (as opposed to spending $5.95 plus tax per salad per day at work) and the quality of the produce made 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 this spring. I once lived in a condo that had a balcony roughly the size of a refrigerator, yet I managed 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. My niece and nephew helped me plant all the seeds for my balcony garden, and then cheerfully raided the tomato and cucumber plants in our “air farm” (thus named because of the balcony location) at every visit.
Join (or Start) an Organic Produce Co-op
A friend and I run one out of her living room. We 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. We have semi-annual meetings to decide what kinds of produce to order and how often. We have about 15 members who give us a standing order for every two weeks. If we have enough membership interest, we order a case of that particular produce, and when the produce comes, we sort it out. We 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.
I use Excel to fill in everyone’s bill (because we don’t know the exact price until the produce comes with an invoice). We 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. I require that every member put in a deposit, which I keep in a separate checking account, just for this co-op. Then, I’m able to 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.
I found members using my son’s school newsletter and bulletin boards in schools and public buildings. Fifteen to twenty members is a good sized group, as everyone’s boxes fit in my friend’s living room for sorting, and it seems to be enough people to get full cases of most items we want. It does take a good bit of time organizing, but I think it’s well worth it. Every once in a while, I check at the grocery store to compare to their organic prices, and I’ve saved about 30%. I’m getting organic produce and paying conventional prices, though I admit that for a sale-watcher, conventional produce would likely be cheaper. But the long-term benefits to my family’s health make organics worth it to me. And we eat more fruits and veggies this way, because they are delivered on a regular basis, and I can do my meal planning around what’s coming on produce day. And, I’ve gotten to meet some wonderful people that I otherwise wouldn’t know.
Abbie in Michigan
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.
Catherine in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Stick to Whole Foods
My husband and I eat only organic food and these are the tips that help us save money:
· 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.
· Shop for fruits and veggies at you local farmers’ market and strive to eat only in-season produce. You will get superior produce, support your local farmers and save money. You could also look into buying a share from a local farm. How this works is for a small fee per week you receive a box of fresh produce and, depending on the farm, fruit. You must usually commit to a season (typically March through October here) and pick up your box each week from a pick up location. You don’t get to choose what you get though so you must learn how to be adventurous in the kitchen. For more information, Google “CSA farms.” Some farms are organic and some are not, so make sure you know what you are getting.
· Check out your local natural food store. In the past, I have avoided shopping at mine because I figured that it would be more expensive than buying from the big supermarket down the street (economies of scale and all), but I was wrong. Their prices are cheaper and they carry a much larger selection of organic and natural foods than the big supermarkets.
· Try the bulk bins. Many regular supermarkets have started carrying bulk organic items and your natural food store will probably have an even better selection. Rice, pasta, oatmeal, nuts, etc. are all there and at rock bottom prices.
· Check out Trader Joes. If you can find what you are looking for, you will almost always get the best price here. Go with a list and stick to it. Trader Joes is temptation city and it is easy to pick a few extra items that look good and end up spending more than you budgeted for.
· Another place to get rock bottom prices is your local Costco or Sams Club. The big warehouse stores are carrying more and more organic products and you can often get a great deal. In our area, eggs, canned tomatoes, milk, dog food (yes, our dog even eats organic food!) and environmentally friendly laundry soap are cheaper here than anywhere else.
· If you have the time, space, and desire, grow your own. Even a row of green beans or a couple of cherry tomato plants on your balcony can provide a lot of food for just a few dollar investment in a packet of seeds. If you can’t find organic seed in your area, just look on the Internet and you will find plenty of companies who sell at least some organic seed. You can also check out many great organic gardening books at your local library or check the Internet of organic growing tips.
· Look into joining a natural food co-op in your area. Members take advantage of the idea of bulk buying to get better prices on items. Google “food co-ops” for more information.
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! Find a local CSA at www.localharvest.org/csa/
eBay has many sellers who offer organic. http://www.netrition.com/ is another invaluable source. I suggest Googling whatever product you’re searching for (no dairy or perishable products of course) to find your best price.