How can I Buy Organic Food on a Budget?

A. B. Kelsey
A. B. Kelsey
Organic kiwis.
Organic kiwis.

Organic foods are becoming increasingly popular. While some consumers buy organic food to support farming practices that are environmentally friendly, many are simply attempting to reduce their exposure to chemicals. Organic foods usually have lower levels of pesticides, toxic metals, and other contaminants and are typically higher in the good stuff like antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. But shopping for organic food can cause some serious sticker shock. On average, you pay 50 percent extra for organic foods. Here are some tips on how to make buying organic a more affordable option.

A selection of organic vegetables.
A selection of organic vegetables.

First, remember that you don’t have to make all your grocery purchases organic. Focus on the produce with the highest pesticide levels when grown conventionally. According to the list put out by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), it is healthier to eat organic peaches, apples, apricots, bell peppers, berries, cherries, potatoes, pears, nectarines, lettuce, and spinach. For produce with lower pesticide levels, buying organic isn’t quite as crucial. You can save money by buying non-organic avocados, bananas, onions, pineapples, kiwis, broccoli, cauliflower, and corn. A good rule of thumb is if you don’t eat the skin, you don’t need to buy organic.

An organic apple.
An organic apple.

Second, become a localvore. Buying organic food on a budget becomes much easier if you attend farmer’s markets in your area and pick up seasonal produce. Fruits and vegetables found at farmer’s markets are generally the same price or even cheaper than those in the grocery store. When you find great deals, buy in bulk and freeze what you’re not going to use in the immediate future. If you attend the market around closing time, you might be able to buy produce at rock-bottom prices. Many sellers drastically slash their prices to avoid dragging their wares back home. Be sure to ask vendors if their items are organic since some of them may still be making the transition to organic farming.

Organic bananas.
Organic bananas.

Third, join the farm team. Another way you can add organic food to your diet while on a budget is to buy a share in a local community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. The money you spend for a share will go towards the farm’s operating expenses. In return, you’ll receive a weekly supply of produce during the upcoming harvest. The cost typically ranges from $300 to $500 for a full share, and some farms require you to work a few hours picking produce. But the savings can be substantial and organic food is usually tastier and healthier than store-bought fruits and veggies.

Organic foods, like cherries, may be healthier because they don't have high pesticide levels.
Organic foods, like cherries, may be healthier because they don't have high pesticide levels.

Fourth, become a member of your local co-op. A food co-op is typically a member-owned business that provides organic food and products to members at a discount after they pay a nominal membership fee. Co-op members who volunteer to work may get additional discounts on any products they buy.

Fifth, be prepared to buy organic food in bulk. Set up enough storage space in an area that is cool and dry for foods that can easily be stored for a few months. Some of the best items to buy in bulk include organic whole grains, beans, nuts and lentils. Your food co-op or health food store might offer a bulk-buying program, so be sure to ask about discounts.

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Discussion Comments

FirstBase

We don't belong to an organic food depot or co-op but we have a really great neighborhood group - we share the "fruits" of our labors!

My next-door neighbor grows rosemary, lemons and limes. I have a papaya tree and avocado tree that are doing really well. My neighbor across the street has an orange and a mango tree.

This definitely helps our fruit budget, and we still end up giving fruit away to other neighbors because the trees are so full, we can't possibly eat it all!

chrysalis

I don't have to be knocked over the head to understand the benefits of organic food but the cost of organic produce really stresses me out.

What I do is buy the BOGO (Buy One, Get One Free) items that are available every week, saving money that way. This gives me a little more room in my budget to buy the organic fruits and veggies I want.

rosequartz

Organic food stores are rare where I live. The prices for organic fruits and vegetables are pretty outrageous in comparison with regular produce in my local grocery store. I have to be picky and only buy organic foods that I know my family won't waste.

We eat tons of strawberries and blueberries and since we eat the skins, I believe it's important that they are organically grown.

Budget your money and don't buy what you won't eat.

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    • Organic kiwis.
      Organic kiwis.
    • A selection of organic vegetables.
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      A selection of organic vegetables.
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