Organic Food: Cheap Sources?
Cheap Organic Food
Many of us are interested in eating organically grown food, but often its price is prohibitive. How does one reconcile frugality and health? Must one sacrifice one for the other?
Tip for organic food buyer: How to save on money without sacrificing health. As a gluten intolerant and multiple chemical sensitivity patient, I know what it means to live on organic foods that are ridiculously overpriced.
One way to save money is to find five health food stores and compare the prices from each for organic foods, then shop with the two stores that offer the lowest price. Often, even health food stores have bins that sell half priced damaged or past holiday items and things no longer wanted. Search through those bins frequently as new things come up.
Buying in bulk and making your own breads, crackers and soups saves a lot, instead of buy individual prepackaged stuff. I have compromised by taking one can of organic soup and then adding fresh almond milk I made to make it into "creamy" non-dairy soup that is filling.
Shopping at local farmers markets that sell organic foods is better than health food stores.
I struggle everyday to make ends meet to fit my special diet. It's not easy and takes so much mental creativity in how to use up what we can eat.
There are some food coops, too, that if you volunteer so many hours you get some free health food products in exchange for your time/energy.
One last tip is to buy at a neat store called Trader Joe's that saves me a lot of money as they do no-frill advertising and keep their costs down and sell lots of chemical free and additive/coloring free foods.
I've never been inside a health food store that met all of my dietary needs, so I have to split three stores to stock up on what I use as my main staple.
Join a Co-Op
We also are very interested in eating organically whenever possible. In order to do this, we joined a food co-op. Through the co-op, we are able to buy organic foods for far less. Usually I only buy things when they are on sale and then I buy large quantities of them and store, dry, can or freeze them for use during the rest of the year. Yes, it does take extra room, but it is well worth it to clean out other clutter. I have been able to reduce our overall food budget despite my young sons eating more, and doing it with better quality of food. There are quite a few good food co-ops available. For instance, I am with a group affiliated with Northfarm. Ask around your area and see.
Avoid Prepackaged Foods
Wow! This is a topic close to my heart. As the mother of two children with asthma and allergies I want my family to eat foods that are not treated with pesticides and are as close to their natural state as possible. Unfortunately, on a budget, this is not always possible for my family.
My solution is twofold. First of all I try to purchase fruits, vegetables and juices at the local health food store. I feel that these things, which my children eat a lot of, are worth the extra cost for organic. Sometimes though the quality of these items is not high enough for my standards and I will purchase them at the regular grocery store but carefully wash and peel them. In the summer time it is very easy to grow our vegetables and then I know they are organically grown. I also have very good luck with local farmers markets and area farms that grow organically. Try to find out the local grower that supplies your health food store and see if they will sell direct.
Secondly, I try to avoid anything that is heavily processed or packaged at our area supermarket. Stick to the outside aisles where the fresh food is located. I like to make my own bread and with the aid of a bread machine (I make the dough in the machine but bake in the oven) do that quite often with good whole, organic grains from the health food store. We also try to eat a bean or rice meal a couple times a week to cut our meat consumption and expenses.
It is more expensive to buy the organic fruits and vegetables in my area But my children are healthy and rarely get sick, they are very fit and active and it just feels right!
You should get involved in a community supported agriculture (CSA) garden. For a fee, you can get fresh, organically grown produce six months of the year, from May through November. Fees depend on size of shares, family size, etc. You pick up your produce at the garden once or twice a week. CSAs are usually very committed to organic gardening procedures. The Biodynamic Farming Association has a web site and information on CSAs in your area.
A Number of Suggestions for Cheap Organic Food
If Jennifer lives near San Francisco, she should check out the Rainbow Grocery on Folsom, which sells organic, bulk staples as inexpensively as the regular items at regular stores.
In other cities, check to see if there is a grocery co-op. Such a store is likely to be much cheaper than a health food chain, like Whole Foods (boy, is that store expensive!).
For vegetables, whatever you grow on your own can easily be organic. If you shop at farmers' markets, you may be able to get organic produce cheaper than at the store. Or, you may find farmers selling goods labelled as "unsprayed", which means that organic pest control is used, but the practices do not meet the technical definition of "organic". (In California, this definition is very strict).
You may find as you ask around that there are some products that are organic but are not labelled as such. Two California vineyards that I know of, Fetzer and Frog's Leap, grow their grapes organically, but do not label their bottles as such because organic wine has a bad reputation among wine snobs.
Finally, keep in mind that commercially grown fruits and vegetables are better for you than organic cookies!
Our Co-Op Helps
Yes, organic food is costly. You may want to join a food-coop. I am the president of one in my area. We order and receive our food from the Tucson Cooperative Warehouse. I am sure they can refer you to a food membership club in your area. Prices are much lower than health food store cost but it is up to the membership to run the ordering and distribution. I would be willing to give you ideas on what works the best and is the easiest. Tucson Cooperatives phone number is 520-884-9951. I know they serve California,Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. Give them a call, they are great to work with.
Source for Northwestern States
I read Jennifer's letter about organic food & thought I'd let her know about my source, which is a company called Azure Standard. They are out of Dufur Oregon & they deliver to 32 states. They are committed to providing their customers with whole & natural foods, including organic. I hope she lives in one of these areas. I have found them to be much cheaper than the health food stores or co-ops. I also have personally found that committing yourself to eating organic does not always come cheaply, a compromise I am willing to live with. I cannot put a price on my health. Anyway their phone number is (971) 200-8350.
Ask if there is a community garden in your area or maybe you could help to start one. Often there are people with land (who are just holding for investment) and would be happy to let a group farm it free of charge. In a community garden everyone contributes and then they divide the harvest.
Find someone with a local organic garden from which you could buy directly. Some larger cities have "farmers markets" during the summer and fall. Although the farmers may not be "organic", they often can recommend someone who is.
Check out the discount stores like McFrugals and Grocery Warehouses. I have found discontinued/over-run organic foods (like soups, pasta and grain based meals at both of these outlets. It is my personal belief that eating healthy (and this includes organics) saves on costly doctor bills and gives you more energy (thus making you more efficient and life more enjoyable). Also, supporting organic farmers has a long term positive effect on the health of the land and world.
Advice from an RN
I also would rather have organic produce to choose from, but it can be expensive. However, being an R.N., I think it would be more expensive in the long run not to eat them. Organic foods will be cheaper in the long run because if you do get ill, the hospitalization, chemotherapy, meds and so on, will take a physical, financial and emotional toll on you. But back to the question on finding reasonably priced organic foods. One thing you can do is grow your own. We grow our own peaches, plums, cherries, lemons, and limes. Fruit trees are simpler for me to grow than vegetables. Once planted, they bear fruit every year for me and they are the best tasting fruits I have tasted; certainly different from the supermarkets. Herbs can be easily grown and you can exchange your fruits for your neighbor's or friend's produce. Although I live in a suburb, my neighbors have grown watermelon,strawberries,cucumbers,and tomatoes (and I can't believe the size of these).
Also in the S.F. Bay Area we have local farmer markets that provide inexpensive organic produce, especially since many Asian farmers don't like to spend money on or use pesticides. We have large farmer's markets in S.F., Berkeley, and the San Jose Flea Market and even local ones which carry quite a selection of organic produce. Where we live we also have access to organic farms and you can buy directly from some of them. It's best to call around first. You can look in the yellow pages or organic food stores may have info of which farms they buy from. The chamber of commerce and local farmer's directories/brochures may also be of help. Some places you can even spend the day at a "U-Pick" farm for some family fun (but don't get carried away and pick too many buckets like we did one year- having too much fun). Note that you should call for the price before you go, because you may find some U-Pick places may even be more expensive than the grocery store!
And the last thing that I can suggest is that there are also co-ops available where the produce is delivered to a certain drop-off point for everyone. You'll get a basket, for instance, of whatever is in season. The cheapest in grocery savings is to cook whatever is in season and best locally. At least then you know that, for instance, the strawberries are not flown in from another country (check labels) where we cannot be as stringent on the laws governing use of pesticides. I hope this information will be of some use to you! Wishing you a long and healthy life!
Ellen Marie S. of Antioch, CA
For My Kids and the Earth
Here is my solution to organic foods. I look for organic food for both my kids and the earth. I have found a few inexpensive ways to be able to get organic produce. First, grow your own. We do at our house we rent. You can also become involved in a organic farm where you pay in advance and then every week go by and pick up vegetables at the farm. If you like to garden, check out any community garden plots (where you rent a spot) and go ask them if they have an organic section and garden there. I have also worked at the local co-op. In addition to member prices, if you order by the case or bag (25 lbs. of organic oats that I recently bought) you get another 10% off. At our co-op, if you can spare 1 hour per week you earn another 10% off. This is great for grains. Even though I work full time, I go work 1 hour and then do my shopping after that. I have also started a price book. This takes time but if you have friends that are interested in similar items, maybe you can swap information. I have a small binder, write in the item, and at every store (California has some chain stores that carry organic items), health store or at the co-op, I write down the price. Then when I am looking for something I want, I refer to the book to check if it's a good price. I found the health food store by my home had a better price than a huge bag of organic flour ordered through the co-op. It pays to check around. It takes time to build up your price book, so don't overwork yourself. I do still work full time and I slowly add more to it. The more that do buy organically, the better the prices will become.
It's Worth the Extra Cost
First and foremost I would say to Jennifer that good health should always win out; I'd spend my last $100 on organic food and supplements!
We eat organic as much as possible, which means that despite the fact that I work over 40+ hours a week, I still grocery shop in more than one store. The grocery stores by us that carry the fresh organic produce charge more for the staples so I just buy the produce there and the staples at the cheaper store. At the cheaper store I usually also pick up conventional frozen veggies cause it's tough to find organic peas and beans and corn (make sure they are not from Mexico; they use the pesticides that we have banned here!)
There are co-ops such as the Purple Dragon that you can join whereby they deliver an assortment of organic fruits and veggies (you cannot choose, it's whatever they can best get, so you can't be picky!) The delivery is made to a PD host home and you pick up there and help sort the goods a few times a year.
If I spend twice as much on a bag of organic carrots ($1 versus .50,) it's well worth it; I cannot even eat non-organic carrots any more. For .50 I can't even get a cup of coffee, at least not in NY. Don't be too frugal in this area but if the organic broccoli is $4 I may not buy it that week; prices change with each week and month depending on the store so watch for those movements as well!
Just a Little Research
When we move into another area (We are Navy and constantly on the move), if I don't know anyone in the area then I call the National Cooperative Business Association in Washington DC. They can point you to the nearest Wholefoods Co-op, who is usually the cheapest in the area for whole and organic foods. Also the Organic Foods Association (website) can help you locate places that sell OFA certified and whole foods that sell in your area. Often it is just a matter of calling and or writing around to find out what is near.
Start a Neighborhood Exchange
Why not start a neighborhood or community exchange? Grow some food with the idea of exchanging with others who also grow organic and help each other. Maybe you could put in a patch of peppers and carrots and someone else could put in lettuce. Put up an ad on free post boards around town.
Take the Next Step
- Stop struggling to get ahead financially. Subscribe to our free weekly Surviving Tough Times newsletter aimed at helping you 'live better...for less'. Each issue features great ways to help you stretch your dollars and make the most of your resources. Subscribers get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist And What You Can Do About It for FREE!
- Discover savvy ways to trim the fat from your food budget by visiting the Dollar Stretcher Library.
Share your thoughts about this article with the editor.