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Tips on Making Organic Food More Affordable

17 tips for buying organic food on the cheap
By Lucy Lazarony ?

-- Posted: Sept. 1, 2004

Do you enjoy the taste of organic food but 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

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

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, convenience stores and even vending machines.

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.

"If you live in a place like California you're lucky, because organic
produce and conventional produce are very close in price," says Ronnie
Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association.

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 like the taste.

"You can taste the difference," Cummins says. "Fresh, local organic is the

When it comes to filling your cupboards with healthy organic food, being a
savvy shopper is absolutely paramount.

These 17 tips will show you how to track down affordable organic food near

1. Do some research.
2. Shop at farmers' markets.
3. Buy a share in a community-supported agriculture program.
4. Join a co-op.
5. Join a buying club.
6. Buy in bulk.
7. Buy big in-season.
8. In the off-season, buy preserved foods.
9. Embrace the big freeze.
10. Shop sales and house brands.
11. Clip coupons.
12. Grow your own.
13. Shop online.
14. Mix and match.
15. Be flexible.
16. Rethink your food budget.
17. Ease into organic.

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

And be sure to check out Web sites such as Organic Kitchen, Organic
Consumers Association and Eat Well Guide. They're chock-full of links and
information on organic foods and they allow you to search for organic food
sources in your local area.

2. 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.

The key to landing good deals at farmers' markets is to ask lots of
questions. Ask about seconds -- perfectly tasty but misshapen produce that
you may be able to buy at a discount. Ask about discounts for buying in
bulk. Ask how you can buy their produce when the market is closed.

"Always ask what tastes the best. They know. They'll tell you," says Jesse
Ziff Cool, author of "In Your Organic Kitchen: The Essential Guide to
Selecting and Cooking Organic Foods." "They're going to pick up a melon and
say, 'Taste this.'"

3. 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 for a 24- to 26-week growing
season. Many CSA programs accept monthly payments, and you may be able to
buy a half-share rather than a whole share.

Check Web sites such as Alternative Farming Systems, Food Routes and
LocalHarvest to find a CSA near you.

4. 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.

5. 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 Katherine DiMatteo, executive director
of the Organic Trade Association.

6. 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.

7. 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

"It never hurts to ask," says Gary Valen, director of operations at the
Glynwood Center. "Could I buy a dozen of those for $1 less? They need to
sell it that day."

You can either share your bounty with friends and family or keep it all and
freeze your leftovers.

8. In the off-season, buy preserved foods.
When the weather turns, turn to preserved foods. In the winter, steer clear
of high-priced, in-store produce and buy canned, frozen or dried organic
fruits and vegetables instead.

"Don't be afraid to use preserved foods during cold months," Cool says. "The
prices are usually better. The flavor is often better."

Cool, who lives in northern California, buys frozen organic peas, corn,
peaches and berries all winter long.

"I don't touch a tomato in my hand from November to the beginning of July. I
use canned. I use frozen berries all winter," Cool says.

"Frozen peas and frozen corn in the middle of winter are way better than
what's been shipped and has no flavor."

9. 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

"Buy it and freeze it," DiMatteo says. "That's a very economical way of
having that produce at a reasonable price year-round."

It's best to eat organic fruits and vegetables that you freeze on your own
within six months. For more information on freezing, canning, and drying
fruits and vegetables, check out tips from Just

10. Shop sales and house brands.
Grab store discount fliers at every opportunity. When an organic food you
like is marked down, stock up for less.

Shop the house brands. Any food with the word "organic" on its label has to
go through the same certification process regardless of its brand name.
Buying the house brand in stores such as Wild Oats, Safeway and Whole Foods
can save you money. And be sure to check out discount organic brands such as
Woodstock Farms and Gourmet Artisan.

11. 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 print out free e-coupons for organic bread,
beef, salad dressing, salsa, rice chips, dairy products, fruit juices and
even cheese pizzas. A coupon book is also available.

Make a $10 donation to the Organic Consumers Association and receive a
coupon book with $400 of potential savings on a wide range of organic items
including milk, bread, coffee, cocoa, rice cakes, frozen fruits and
vegetables, chicken, tea, chocolate and soap.

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.

12. 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. Just Food has a
tip sheet and a planning sheet for growing your own organic vegetable

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."

13. 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.

And be sure to check out this list of cyber-markets offering organic
products from Organic Kitchen.

"There are a lot of offerings online that will send you what you want,"
DiMatteo says. "Shop wisely."

14. 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

Shop sales at a natural foods store, plant a garden and order organic food

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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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," DiMatteo says.

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," Cummins says.

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.

For a complete list, see "Fresh Choices: More than 100 Easy Recipes for
Pure Food When You Can't Buy 100% Organic" at