Organic and Frugal?
Organic Foods for Less
10 Ways to Eat Organic on the Cheap
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
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.
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
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
My husband and I eat only organic food and these are the tips that help us save money:
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.
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 LocalHarvest.org/csa/
eBay has many sellers who offer organic. 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. Also if you have a Whole Foods store nearby, I can't recommend them too highly. My youngest daughter lives near one (about two hours from me) and when I visit her, I buy milk. A gallon of organic milk often costs less than a gallon of hormone-laced milk does at Wal-Mart!
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 FoodNews.org/walletguide.php
R. S. in Valdez, Alaska
I live in Royal Palm Beach (not to far from Boca) and almost exclusively buy organic foods for a family of three for about $150 to $200 every two weeks. Here is how I do it:
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."
I gave up "convenience" foods, especially in the organic health food section. I can't rationalize boxedmac and cheese when making it from scratch is way better 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 More-With-Less Cookbook. These are the most used books in my cupboard because of the wide range of menus and simple ingredients.
Do some research online for local co-ops. I found a co-op 30 minutes away that delivers once every month, so I order flour, rice, oats, herbs, and dried fruit in bulk and it gets delivered to my door. If I don't think I'll use everything, I call some friends to split the food. It's a lot of fun and saves money buying bulk organics.
The biggest challenge I've found in organics is dairy. I have a hard time buying $4 gallons of milk or $6 chunk of cheese. Therefore, I analyzed my use of these ingredients and decided to add water to my whole milk, make my own yogurt, and change my attitude on good cheese (it's worth it to spend the $6). In the end, I'm no longer spending money on cereal (I make my own fabulous granola), junk food, or convenience food, so then I can afford a good, better tasting chunk of cheese
I really struggle with this too! We want to serve our family the highest quality foods, but we also do not want to pay an arm and a leg for them. Here are some suggestions that I have used.
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