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How to Eat Organic on the Cheap - Sourcing Inexpensive Organic Produce

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 1

Busy Produce Market

Can you still be considered "frugal" if you buy organic food? 

Of course you can!

Just because something is labeled "organic" doesn't mean it has to expensive.  With a little determination and investigating, you too can lower the cost of your organic grocery bill.

Here are a few tips to help you:

Buy Online

Many non-perishables and sundry items can be bought online.  This has some great benefits – not only do you get it delivered straight to your house but you also save on gas and get to take your time shopping, which can save you some serious money.

Use Google to find an online store that has your favorite organic brands.  Just make sure to compare prices with shipping fees added in – many stores will inflate these fees to make up for their low prices.

Enjoy In-Season Fruits and Vegetables
Just Another Grocery Store

Different fruits and vegetables are available at different times of the year.  Typically, when produce is at its peak is also when it's cheapest.  Buy as much as you can afford and then freeze or can anything you can't eat right away.  If you need advice on how to process your surplus, there are many websites out there than can help you.

Join a Local Co-Op 

A food co-op is a grocery store that is owned by its consumers.  You will usually find the store full of natural and/or organic foods.  Some require you to buy a membership or at least volunteer to be able to shop there while others will allow anyone to shop there and provide discounts to members. 

Availability of products depends on the store.  Some have bulk bins of dried fruit, grain, or beans.  Others have large bags of flour or oats.  Your best bet is to do a quick walkthrough of a co-op before joining and see if the savings would be worth your time and money.

Attend Your Local Farmer's Market

Most communities hold farmer's markets once a week from spring to fall.  Farmers spread out their wares on tables in a parking lot or a field for consumers to peruse.  You'll not only find fruits and vegetables but there's also the possibility of cheese, eggs, jellies/jams, and preserved foods, all fresh from the farm.  Yum!

Another nameless produce market

Join a CSA

A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is where a farmer offers a "share" of his crop to you for a certain fee.  You pay at the beginning of the season and get a box of produce every week for 24 or 26 weeks depending on your area.  This can be an expensive but very viable option for those that don't have the time to garden. 

For those that may not be able to afford such luxuries, look into volunteering your time at the farm.  Some farmers let you exchange your time for produce – you get a half or full share if you're willing to weed or help them harvest for so many hours a week. 

You may also look into splitting a share with a family member or neighbor.  This could bring the costs down to a more manageable amount, especially for those that are single or have a family members who are not big veggie eaters.

Befriend Your Neighbors / Gardening Friends

You'd be amazed at the generosity of friends and neighbors when it comes to harvest time.  Many backyard farmers plant too much and are desperate to give away their homegrown veggies.  Others will trade produce for your time – no one likes to weed and an extra set of hands is always welcomed!

Hakone Garden, San Jose, CA
Plant a Garden

If you have the space and time, grow some of your own food.  Your time and patience will award you four-fold.  Best of all, you know exactly what went into the making of that produce.  Even if you can only do a planter box of lettuce and some herbs, every little bit helps!

If your space is small, you might want to look into Square Food Gardening, which advocates using combination of plants to make use of every inch of available garden space.  You'd be surprise at what you can do with a small 3' by 3' space.

Raise Your Own Animals

This goes along with the previous tip – if you have the space and the time, raising your own meat (rabbits, chickens, quail, etc) can save you so much money!   Of course, not many people have the space (or a lenient city housing code), so the next best thing is to….

Buy a Share of Meat

Just like you can buy a share in a farm, you can buy a share of cow, pig, sheep, turkey, or chicken.  Different ranchers have different rules and distributions but most provide certain share sizes (quarter, half or full) and subscription lengths (three, six or twelve month periods). 

Participating in a meat share gives you reassurance about where your meat is coming from.  You know the farmer and you can see how the animals are raised, which makes for a really, really cool field trip for young kids!

Grocery Shopping isn't that expensive
Don't Worry About Certifications

Official certification costs money – money that many smaller organic farmers can't afford.  This cheaper non-certified organic produce is just as healthy as the certified stuff.

To ensure you know what you're putting into your mouth, it's a good idea to get to know the farmer.  Don't be afraid to ask the man or woman inside the roadside stand how the zucchini on sale were grown.  You might just be surprised at what you find out! 

Be Inventive!

Buying what's on sale means some weeks you're going to have interesting combination of foods.  Now is the time to pull out your inner Iron Chef and figure out inventive ways to use what you have on hand to make a delicious meal for you and your family.  You'd be surprised at what you can make!

Be Flexible!

This is the most important tip of all – be flexible!  If you're planning an apple pie but you arrive at the store to find pears, not apples, on sale, then be willing to switch to a pear tart to save some money. 



Dec 6, 2011 11:38pm
Wonderful article. I especially like your idea to join a CSA.
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