Finding Frugal Organics
Organic and Frugal?
I've come up with an interesting problem and would like your help and the help of those reading your wonderful Dollar Stretcher. Recently, I've decided that my family needs to eat organically, using foods that don't contain the pesticides, antibiotics, additives, preservatives, and food colorings you buy in the store (unknowingly, for sure). Buying organically, however, often flies in the face of frugality. At the grocery store, I was able to get a dozen free eggs because of a price war with other stores, but in that same store, I had to buy organic eggs at $2.99 a dozen. Store butter was $2.99 a pound, but organic butter was $4.99 a pound. I've started to explore other options (buying meat from a local farm that advertises antiobiotic free beef, chicken, etc.) and food coops, but the prices will definitely be higher than I'm used to paying--and no coupons either. Of course, I'll grow as many fresh vegetables as we can eat, can, and freeze, but my space is limited and I will have to supplement. Any suggestions from you or other organic using-but-frugal readers?
Boy can I sympathize! One of the ways I avoid expensive organic foodstuffs is to hunt for local uncertified organic fresh produce. My main source is the local flea market, but depending on where you live you can check out road side stands and farmers' markets (the latter they even have in large cities). You will have to get to know the vendors and ask them if they raise it themselves and how they do it. Many vendors at open markets are selling the same agribusiness produce you find in the stores, but some will be small farm, local growers, who are raising their produce organically simply because they are so small. I am able to get a wide selection of fruits and vegetables this way, and eggs as well. I have not been eating meat, but uncertified organic meat is out there too if you hunt for it. The drawback is, you won't find stuff out of season, so you will need to have a lot of storage to eat at these savings year round. For savings on grains, dried fruit, herbs & spices, and other items, I joined a food co-op. Some co-ops sell organic fresh produce, too.
First of all, congratulations to Jan T. for choosing organic foods for her family. Not only is she investing in the long term health of her loved ones, she is also protecting the health of our planet. In addition to the benefits she mentioned, certified organic food also does not contain any genetically modified organisms (GMO's). I have been buying mostly organic food for my family for years. It didn't happen overnight. Gradually, as more products became available and prices started to drop, I replaced items that were not organic with healthier alternatives.
There are several things that Jan can do to save money. If your local supermarket carries organic produce, watch for sales. I have seen organic broccoli for the same price as the stuff with the pesticides on it. Also, I have found that prices vary widely from store to store. I can get a dozen organic eggs in our local A&P for 1.99, but a D'Agostino's, a short distance away, charges at least a dollar more per dozen.
Also, the health food chain in our area often has better prices than the local supermarkets, especially when items are on sale. I have greatly reduced the amount of food that I buy in stores by joining a local "buying club". We get a delivery (to my driveway) once a month. There are coupons available for healthy food at www.mambosprouts.com. Take heart! I have found that as demand increases for organic produce the prices have been slowly approaching those of conventionally grown produce. Prices seem to me to be much better now than they were just five years ago.
Our chain grocery store, Albertson's in Missouri, carries the prepackaged frozen foods made by Amy's. I buy the frozen enchiladas (they are just like what my mom made in San Diego) and they go on sale and I buy in bulk and her Organic frozen burritos are the best. I was shocked to find such great TASTE in organic and priced low foods. I take them to work and save money each time I have one. Amy's makes great lasagnas and lots of other things too. You might want to try those.
I understand what you are saying about the costs of organic foods however I also feel very strongly that if you are frugal in all other aspects of your life, there is no reason why you should not make the commitment. You can still save money by purchasing items which don't need to be organic, for example, toilet paper, vinegar and baking soda to clean with, etc., at the chain stores and reap their price benefits. This is what my husband and I do. Then, we go to the local natural foods store to purchase organic veggies and fruits and other organic items.
Actually, our local tiny natural foods store has decent sale items each month and we stock up on those big-time for future months. And they offer a bin of tofu for which you bring your own container. This tofu is much cheaper than tofu in the big supermarkets. Actually, you can save A LOT of money if you are in a co-op. I once joined one at a Seventh-Day Adventist church and the savings were immense. All I had to do was work separating the items when the orders came in. This was actually great fun, akin to playing store as a child.
Organic foods are the way to go. You are doing a lot to ensure farm worker health and the health of your family as well as the health of the environment. I think that in the U.S. people get so accustomed to too-cheap food that it takes some rethinking to change patterns and do what is best for health, even if it costs more.
I have been attempting to buy organic foods for my family of 6 for quite awhile. You're so right that it can get expensive! It sounds like you're headed in the right area shopping with co-ops and growing your own when you can.
My first suggestion is to face the fact that pre-packaged items are a thing of the past. There are a great many cookbooks out there that can give you recipes for making your own mixes. They're great! You know exactly what goes into them and they work/taste just as good.
A tip that I learned a long time ago was, if you can't afford completely organic food, then look for foods marked "Kosher." You can usually tell kosher foods by a "U" in a circle, or perhaps just simply a "K" on the front of the label. The standards are much higher than the government allows on residues. And you'll never run into genetically engineered foods.
We happen to be ranchers in a rural area about an hour outside of a major metropolitan area. Your best bet would be to find a small town where you can buy directly from small farmers who don't have the large commercial production. Our local feed store sells eggs for $1.00 per dozen, and we have made arrangements with them to sell 1/2's and 1/4's of steers for minimal costs and soon hope to sell ground beef online.
Some things to watch for in your "organic" choices: there is no standard definition of organic. There are now a few certifying organizations that have their own sets of rules. You'll need to decide exactly what "going organic" means to you.
For us, we don't use any artificial hormones in our cattle and we make careful feed selections to avoid an artificial protein they put in some cattle feed. We don't do it because we want to be organic, but because we believe that is the best thing for our cattle.
We do, however, fertilize our hay with commercial fertilizer, which some would consider a violation of completely organic production. The other thing to watch for is the current controversy over the safety of organic produce. An article in a Farmland newspaper we received just last week quoted a study from the University of Georgia that compared organically grown lettuce and brussel sprouts to vegetables produced conventionally. "Researchers found that non-organic lettuce had 1,000 E. coli cells per gram, but the organic alternative had 100,000." Organic farmers use animal manure, which contains some of the deadliest bacteria around, as a primary source of fertilizer. Once again, your best bet is to seek out small farmers who have more control over their produce. Buying directly from the producer should garner a great savings over grocery store organic prices and these farmers have the opportunity to be more careful about what they produce.
Tammy S. in Lexington, TX
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