Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some tips to save money shopping for organic food

The more we hear about our food and the entire food production industry, the more a lot of us start to get scared. Buying more organic food is a great option to protect both your family's health and the health of the planet, but it can be very expensive. It is, however, very possible to eat more organic food without breaking the budget by implementing some simple (and some less simple) strategies.

  • Eat less meat and dairy. Probably the easiest way to save money shopping for organic food is to eat less meat and dairy - a proposition that isn't very appealing to most people. Meat and dairy, however, have some of the highest concentrations of any food we buy, and also tend to have the biggest price differential between conventional and organic. It doesn't make sense to feed your family organic carrots and conventional hamburgers, but it also isn't viable for many families to eat organic, grass fed beef every night. The best thing to do is to shoot for a balance. Consider having more meatless meals, so that you can afford to splurge on the organic stuff when you do eat meat, or at least to switch one meat meal a month to organic.

  • Join a CSA. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. It is basically a system where customers by a "share" in a farm's produce for a season. Members pay upfront, giving farmers much needed startup capital, and in turn often get first pick of the produce for the rest of the season. This can be (although isn't always) the most affordable way to buy local, organic food. Check out Local Harvest to see if there is a CSA in your area.

  • Look beyond Whole Paycheck. Most local grocery stores, and even Walmart, offer organic food these days. Ethical issues aside, shopping at these larger stores can be a great way to save money while still getting organic.

  • Buy in bulk. Natural food stores and some grocery stores often have bulk bins for grains, fruit, and some other products. Generally this is less expensive than buying the same organic products pre-packaged.

  • Cook more from scratch. While organic Oreos or organic mac and cheese can be very appealing, try to focus on buying whole, unprocessed organic products and creating your own meals from them. This will save you money and be healthier (and probably more fun!)

  • Use coupons. Whether or not you are a coupon queen, you can probably benefit from organic food coupons. Because organic food companies tend to be smaller, they don't often have coupons in the Sunday paper because they are very pricey to run. About Frugal Living has a great list of organic coupons that you can print or request online, but go ahead and try emailing any organic company you enjoy. The smaller companies are much more likely to mail coupons directly to you if you ask for them. Also, Go organic for Earth Day and Mambo Sprouts both offer booklets with coupons for a number of different brands of organic food.

  • Focus your organic dollars. If you have read much about organic food, you've probably heard of the dirty dozen, the twelve most pesticide-ridden products. If you can't afford to buy everything organic, focus on them. Also, consider changing your eating patterns. Some foods are much less expensive in their organic form than others. Eating more carrots and fewer apples, for example, could save you a ton of money.


Anonymous said...

It's better to get grass-fed and grass-finished beef (typically labeled "grass-fed" for short) than it is to get organic, because organic meat can still have been raised in unhealthy ways. It does make a difference in food quality.

Also, Whole Paycheck isn't the only option for organic food. There are smaller, local stores in many areas of the country, and there are farmers' markets. The ethical issues really should not be "aside"--ignoring them is why so many people wind up broke, because even though they are willing to work, there's no market for them to get a fair wage or good treatment by their employers.

I've worked for Wal-Mart. And even when I was there I would rather that people had shopped somewhere else. I watched a mom 'n' pop grocery in my grandparents' hometown go under because the venerable town fathers decided we MUST put in a Dollar General right next door to him. The owner was a friend of ours, and frequently extended store credit to the needy, something Dollar General does not do.

Be careful that cheap doesn't mean miserly.