There is a growing awareness in the United States of the connection between eating well and living well. Organic grocery stores are rampantly spreading across the United States. According to the USDA, 3 out of every 4 conventional grocery stores are now offering at least a few organic options for the selective consumer. In 2008 there were nearly 7 times as many acres certified for organic growing than in 1992. Unfortunately, this growth does not quite meet the demand, causing prices to steadily climb. This is making it more and more difficult for the average consumer to eat primarily organically grown produce – but don’t let all that discourage you. There are still plenty of ways to eat right and keep your budget tight.
Shop in Season
You may have noticed that peaches and cherries are only available during the summer months at your local grocery store and spaghetti squash is outrageously expensive during these same months. This has to do with the growing season of those items. Every fruit and vegetable on display in your favorite produce department has a season that it is naturally grown in. If you find this produce out of season, it generally means that it was either imported or grown in small quantities in a greenhouse. Both the shipping costs related to bringing in produce from the far-flung reaches of the world and the decreased supply associated with growing in small batches tend to drive prices through the roof. If you want to be thrifty with organic produce you have to learn to shop for what is being grown right now. That may mean learning to be a little flexible with the meal plan, but it also means being more in sync with the seasonal patterns of nature.
Shop at the Farmer’s Market
Have you been to your local farmer’s market lately? If your answer is no and you want to eat organic then you need to go there. While not every farmer at the market will have strictly organic offerings, many do offer at least some organic produce. In addition, if you have any questions about the produce you can ask the farmer that grew them – because he’s standing there selling the very produce that he grew nearby. Many times the larger farms present also provide some of the produce for the grocery stores in the area. However, buying direct from the source insures that you will be paying far less than what you would pay in the store. Some farmers even let you pay a flat rate to fill a bag with as much produce as you can fit in it.
Sign up for a CSA
The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model has been gaining huge popularity in recent years. The idea is simple: You buy a share (a.k.a. membership or subscription) at a local farm and then once the crops are harvested you begin receiving a box of produce every week. As a member of a CSA farm you are a more active participant in the production of your food. For example, the farmers often encourage a visit to the farm at least once a year in order to see where and how the food is grown. Many CSAs offer additional products as well, such as organic milk. In some states this is the only way to get raw milk. If you go through a lot of produce in a week it’s hard to beat buying from a CSA farm.
Buy What You Need and Store the Rest
One of the most common mistakes people make when deciding to eat organic produce is buying in huge quantities. In general, budgeting and frugality conjure up ideas of purchasing a week or two of groceries on-sale in order to fill the fridge and pantry. One of the benefits of organic produce is the lack of waxes and artificial preservatives. This benefit also means that the produce will spoil at a significantly faster rate. As such, the four boxes of strawberries and six bunches of spinach that you purchased on discount will spoil well before you get a chance to enjoy them all. This means to be frugal and buy organic it is prudent to adopt what is commonly referred to as the “European-style” of grocery shopping. This model of shopping suggests you shop everyday or every other day in order to ensure your produce is always fresh. It may seem that you are spending more money, but in reality you are just spending money more frequently. As long as you can keep your focus on the meals at hand you will have less spoiled produce, meaning you will be spending less for food in the long run.
The one exception to this rule is food that is easily stored. If there is an amazing deal on a particular variety of winter squash or root vegetables, don’t hesitate to stock up. Some of these can be stored for months in a cool, dark corner of your cabinets. The same goes for food that can be frozen. If your local farmer’s market has bunches of basil that they’re practically giving away, take as much as you can and make pesto that you can freeze and save for later. Just make sure you research how to store the particular vegetable. Basil, for example, will turn black in the freezer if there is not enough moisture around it to aid in the freezing process. If you’re into canning, stock up on peaches and make preserves. Above all be honest with yourself. If you are not actually going to use or preserve something it doesn’t matter how cheap it is – spoiled produce is wasted dollars.
Grow Your Own
Producing your own vegetables may seem a little ridiculous, but it’s not as hard as it sounds. Obviously anything you produce will not be USDA certified as organic, but this is really the only way to be absolutely aware of every part of the growing process. There is bound to be a nursery in your area that carries organic soil and fertilizers and you don’t have to have a garden, or even a backyard, to grow some of your own produce. Plenty of apartment patios have gardens containing some of the more expensive varieties of produce. Wheatgrass, for instance, can be quite expensive to buy at your organic grocer but extremely easy to grow at home, even inside with minimal sunlight, and can be harvested multiple times in its lifespan. Basil, cilantro, parsley, and especially mint grow like weeds once established. Obviously you should not rely on your container garden to sustain you through the winter but, if done right, it can be a fun and inexpensive way to compliment your other produce.