15 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.

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.  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.tv/content/Organics

2. Ease into organic.

Begin the transition to organic eating with some of your favorite foods.  “Pick a product or two that you decide you really notice a difference in taste and that really excites you,” says Katherine DiMatteo, a senior adviser with the Organic Trade Association.

Families with young children may want to start by buying organic baby food and dairy products.  “Whatever your kids eat the most of is where you start,” says Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association.

If you’re concerned about pesticides, you may want to substitute organic foods for conventional foods with the highest levels of pesticide residues. These include apples, apricots, peaches, pears, red raspberries, strawberries, spinach, peppers, celery and potatoes.

3. Be flexible.

To nab the best deals on organic foods you need to be a focused, yet flexible, shopper.  Always shop with a list but never be afraid to snap up a good bargain when you see one. Write “three vegetables” on your shopping list and then look around at store specials. Do the same for proteins and grains.  Use store discount fliers when planning your weekly menus. More mindful shopping can save you money.  Never ever buy an item that you don’t need just because it’s on sale or you have a coupon.

organic-produce4. 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.'”

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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 DiMatteo.

8. 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.”

9. Clip coupons.

Snatch up all the coupons for organic food that you can find. Check store fliers, the Sunday newspaper and even the inside of food packages. Organic foods sold under such brands as Cascadian Farm, Muir Glen and Amy’s often have coupons on the inside of their packages.
“If there are coupons offered, take them, use them,” DiMatteo says.

And don’t forget to look online.  Stonyfield Farm offers single-use e-coupons for its dairy products on its Web site.  At Mambo Sprouts’ site, you can sign up to receive coupons by mail for Boca burgers, calcium chocolates, broccoli sprouts, energy bars, and baking mix, among other organic products. Downloadable e-coupons are coming soon.  Keep in mind that not all retail stores accept online coupons. Before printing out a bunch of online coupons, you may want to make sure you can use the e-coupons at a grocer near you.

10. Mix and match.

There may be no single source for the organic foods you want at the prices you can afford. Be creative.

Join a co-op and shop at a local farmers’ market. Buy a share in a CSA program, join a buying club and shop the organic section at a conventional supermarket.  Shop sales at a natural foods store, plant a garden and order organic food online.  Ask your favorite organic restaurant or juice bar where they get their food. They may direct you to their distributor or let you piggyback off some of their orders.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.”

14. Rethink your food budget.

Free up more dollars for organic food by trimming the fat from your conventional food budget. Add up all the dollars you spend every month on food, including fast food meals, morning cups of coffee, bagels and even trips to vending machines. A small change in your eating habits could free up the money you need to buy the organic foods that you really want.

15. Grow your own.

If you’re really serious about garden-fresh organic produce, why not plant your own?  Seeds are available from companies such as Seeds of Change.  And Organic Kitchen has a big roundup of organic gardening tips.  Start small. Carrots, radishes and beets are easy to grow.  “Start slow,” Cool says. “Just do a few things at a time.”

Get tips on growing your own organic garden.

SOURCE: 17 tips for buying organic food on the cheap by Lucy Lazarony

Posted in Organic 101

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