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How to Shop for Organic Foods Without Breaking Your Budget

Most of us would love to have a fridge full of fresh organic produce and meats. But because pesticide and hormone-free products often have a premium price tag, going organic can seem like a luxury for anyone on a tight budget. So how do you make sure the green on your table doesn't drain the green from your wallet?

Craig Minowa, environmental scientist with the Organic Consumers Association, has these tips: First, learn to buy big. Many health-food stores have bulk sections, and if you fill a bag with, say, organic cereal, you may end up paying less for it than you would for the nonorganic variety, since you're not paying for packaging costs. Second, form a buying club. If a bunch of people pool their grocery lists, they can often special-order directly with the store, he said, and that, in turn, can lead to much lower costs.

Another path to frugal but healthy shopping is to choose your battles carefully. If you can't afford to fill your entire shopping cart with organic food, you can still feel good about what you buy. Sarah Bratnober, communications director at the Organic Valley Family of Farms, advises following the 80/20 rule-80 percent of the benefits come from 20 percent of the purchases. Think about what your family eats the most of, then go from there. For example, if you have a choice between organic milk and organic mayonnaise, and your kids go through a gallon of milk in a week but only two tablespoons of mayo, go for the milk. Fruits and vegetables are also good choices, especially the ones your family eats lots of. And if you have the option, get into community-supported agriculture, where you own shares in a farm and get a share of whatever it produces.

Finally, buy fruits and vegetables in season and focus on what's easily available, says Barbara Houmann, spokeswoman for the Organic Trade Association. That way, she said, you may find that the prices are just about comparable with nonorganic fruits and veggies.

If you do manage to get more organic into your diet, you won't regret the extra effort. Organic produce isn't just healthy and better for the environment, it tastes better, too, according to Charles Benbrook, chief scientist for The Organic Center. And that flavor boost might just make it easier to convince your children to eat their veggies, or to introduce them to new foods.

As for cooking, Bratnober says some people are afraid to go organic because they think those products need special preparation. But no worries-she said that the cooking process is exactly the same as it is for regular groceries. There is one caveat: While most organic items, like produce and milk, have a similar shelf-life to their nonorganic counterparts, bear in mind that organic breads and pastries tend to go bad faster than nonorganic baked goods because of the lack of preservatives.

So there you have it. Organic and affordable in the same sentence. Who would have thought?

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post Jul 7 2008, 10:28 PM

Great article, thanks for the info. I share other tips too in my class Organic & Naturing Living: how to transition. For more info visit

post Jul 7 2008, 11:33 PM

I believe the cheapest way to shop is to buy local inexpensive cuts of organic meat, organic dairy, organic vegetables, fruit, nuts and whole grains. We can do without the packaged items which are the most expensive to buy and also have a large carbon footprint from transportation and packaging. It takes some creativity but it can be done.

post Jul 8 2008, 01:30 AM


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post Jul 8 2008, 12:11 PM

Use sprouts! Very cheap and easy to grow.

Don't throw food away. The amount of food that is wasted, when I came across some statistics, is totally shocking. If I have any salad or vegetables left over, I make a blender salad -- put it all in the blender with seasoning and a bit of liquid and make a novel gazpacho with some preserving spices like cayenne, black pepper, rosemary -- all the herbs and spices that are being explored as natural preservatives.

Also, years ago, an environmentalist/researcher said the average family could grow enough vegetables in one bedroom of a house through the winter. With a small greenhouse, even on a balcony, if you're serious about growing food, you could grow some of your own. I haven't put this one to the test yet, however.

Apparently, (recent investigation reported variously) the transportation of foods is not the biggest part of the carbon footprint, but the production of them, particularly animal-based agriculture. Local is good, but some foods travel very well with regards to carbon footprint, particularly dry goods -- tea, spices, other dried things. The water is removed where they are produced and you add it back in to consume the food. More research needed on how items are dried. I find sun-dried fruits and am working on finding sun-dried teas, rare and expensive right now, but start asking for them. Even expensive tea is not that expensive at 20 to 40 cents per cup, given the health benefit, the ease of preparation, and in the case of some countries, the benefit to growers.

Also, the minimums for wholesale purchase of just about anything are not too high. Simply by-pass the supermarkets, do a little research on wholesalers in your area.

Eliminate packaged foods as much as possible.

post Jul 8 2008, 01:12 PM

I try to buy organic produce and meat whenever possible. Money is getting tighter these days with soaring gas prices and increase in food prices.

Wellness Resourc...
post Today, 12:54 PM

I have become aware that many people are on very limited budgets - I do mean LIMITED -- They balk at organic produce prices. Some of these people do not even eat fresh fruits and veggies.
There are a couple of suggestions I offer them.

In my community classes, I offer:
1) EWG's list of "THE DIRTY DOZEN" - (actually list of almost 50) the most heavily sprayed fruits and vegetables. I recommend that folks buy organic for the Dirty Dozen (or however far down the list they want to go). For some folks just putting something green in their mouth is a major accomplishment. The "Dirty Dozen" recommendation is a gentle start.
2) Some local farmer's markets are starting to take food stamps. Shop local - support'short transport' and retention of nutrients that locally grown crops offer.

I found that there is a "transition period"; first getting folks to eat fresh produce -- and helping them to take the first baby steps to purchasing organic. I used to have a 'purist' attitude. That just doesn't work -- . People must be offered a gentle transition. Once they taste the difference they start to change to more organic on their own as able.