3 Tips for Eating Organic On A Budget

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This topic is near and dear to my heart, for all those who feel defeated when they contemplate going sustainable or organic and believe they just can’t afford it (especially in this economy). There are many ways to achieve a goal, and I believe anything you really want to do begins with the earnest desire to do it.

I was just telling someone this week about how much more sustainable the food in our house is now than it was 6 years ago when I really started to go through my kitchen and throw garbage out, and was concerned about paying attention to where my food was coming from. Back then our family had a steady income, my husband was a programmer for a dental insurance company. He didn’t like his job, but felt he needed to stay so we could continue to pay our mortgage, other bills, and feed our family.

Now we are both self-employed. We own a solar installation/sales business (Treasure Valley Solar and 42solar.com – our online solar catalog) and green IT (TVS Green Tech – information technology). We are dedicated to finding energy efficiency solutions for people, as well as maintain and support computer systems for people that use smart technology and save money by utilizing the latest in efficient equipment. Oh, and I’m now getting paid to do nutrition/health writing for several remote clients, which is awesome. Our main business has been slow, and we’ve had periods of time with no paycheck (for months, in fact). But we have made it our goal to afford healthy food and made it our number one priority, period. It has been difficult, but so far the three of us (me, my husband, and 10-year-old son) have managed not to starve even once, and still for the most part, we are eating sustainably.

Ruth Ann Bowen is the cultivator of Nurturing Naturally, who along with co-founder Rebecca Wirtz, host an online community helping connect yesterday’s pantry to today’s kitchen. “We show people how to integrate modern day convenience with time-tested traditions of the past.” I was delighted to “meet” Ruth online just last week, and went to look at her web site, which I love. Together Ruth and Rebecca share advice and recipes focused on helping people get out of the fast lane and back in the kitchen…and garden.

I want to extend my thanks to Ruth Ann for offering to help me out this week when I’m on a writing project deadline (what Godsend!) and have no time for my blog, and also express how much I appreciate what she and Rebecca do for the sustainable food community. I hope you’ll enjoy this guest post that she graciously agreed to write for Agriculture Society. I promise to return the favor when I am less occupied…soon!

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“Organic food is so expensive!” That’s usually the first response we get when discussing the topic of organic food. We’ve spent many hours scouring and searching for organic deals and we’ve discovered these three tips for buying organic food on a budget. A few caveats, however, before we launch into our tips: First, we highly recommend frequenting your local farm markets for fresh produce. The quality is so much greater and we believe in fully supporting small farmers. Second, if you are able, grow your own garden! This is by far the cheapest way to feed your family nutrient dense, pesticide-free food. Third, when it comes to meat, we prefer buying a grass-fed cow from a local farm you trust. But knowing these aren’t an option for everyone, here are three ways we’ve found to enjoy a budget-friendly, organic household:

1. Think outside the grocery store.

Most large grocery stores feature an organic section these days. But many times, they aren’t the best place for deals. We’ve discovered stores like Big Lots http://www.biglots.com/ and Ollie’s http://www.olliesbargainoutlet.com/default.aspx carry a selection of organic products at greatly reduced prices. And we’ve been pleasantly surprised at the selection they offer including organic pasta, organic tea, organic cereal, organic soups, etc. all at great discounts.

Since discount stores won’t carry everything, check on-line for organic deals as well. We purchase quite at bit from Vitacost.com and we frequent a local organic food warehouse, Frankferd Farms who also features an online catalog.

2. Buy in Bulk

When you do find a good deal, buy in large quantities. There are two reasons for this: 1. To keep a good stock on hand (which is always a good idea), and 2. If you find a deal at a discount store, they may not carry that item again for awhile. These stores will buyout from manufacturers when they have overstocked on things, so get the bargain while you can. I have a friend who bought an entire box of the above-mentioned chicken stock and now I wish I had, too!

3. Check your cart

When discussing the price of organic food, take a look at your buying habits. Do you still have soda, chips, and canned soups in your cart? When organic food is just an add-on that’s when people see their grocery bill go up. Here’s a cost comparison of what approximately $20.00 could buy at our local western Pennsylvania supermarket, Giant Eagle:

Mainstream/Standard American Grocery Cart

6 pack of Coke in plastic bottles–$4.99
12 oz. Family Size (their description) Doritos–$3.99
4 pack Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup–$4.49
Giant Eagle brand diced peaches in juice (notice they didn’t say “syrup”)—2/$4.00
Edy’s Ice Cream (1.5 qt)–$3.33 (sale price)

TOTAL: $20.80

Organic Grocery Cart

Nature’s Basket 90% lean Ground Beef, 1 lb.—$4.72
Nature’s Basket Whole Chicken, 5.28 lb–$8.92
Organic Bartlett Pears, 1.92 lb–$2.48
Organic Red Delicious Apples, 1.52 lb.–$3.02
Organic Red Grapes, 2.22 lb.—$6.64

TOTAL: $21.06

Don’t just look at the dollar amount, though. Look at the actual items. The items in the organic cart are far more healthy and filling than soda and chips. So, if you have $20.00 to spend, why not spend it on healthier food that will fill you up? By ditching the soda, chips, ice cream, etc. you’ll find filling your cart with organic isn’t as expensive as once thought!

Finding organic food bargains is possible. And with these tips in hand, you’ll be on your way to a healthier body, slimmer waistline–and a fatter wallet–in no time.

Want more ideas for saving money on real food?

Is cheap food really cheap? The hidden costs of industrial food

Waste not, want not – tips for saving in the kitchen

Food budgets – using creativity and prioritizing for healthy eating

Sustainable farming – is it practical and can it feed us all?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday hop (this week featured on GNOWFLGLINS).

8 Comments

  • December 9, 2010 - 9:25 AM | Permalink

    Great article! SO very true! It is so much around where you shop not just what you buy. It is about mindfulness and not rushing. Thanks!

  • December 9, 2010 - 11:25 AM | Permalink

    great tips! I too find the best deals OUTSIDE of the grocery store; like bulk grains at the health food store; vegetables through a CSA or farmer’s market. And Costco has a lot of organic stuff these days.

  • December 9, 2010 - 11:31 AM | Permalink

    Buyers clubs work well if you have several like-minded people close by.

  • December 9, 2010 - 11:53 AM | Permalink

    Good information! I am always amazed at the number of people with soda, chips, sweets, and other junk food in their cart and yet they say organic fruits and veggies are too expensive to buy.

    -Brenda

  • Amber
    December 10, 2010 - 11:32 AM | Permalink

    I’m envious at you being able to buy an organic WHOLE chicken for less than $9! In my neck of the woods you are talking $4.99 a lb which comes out to about $20 for a whole chicken :-/

  • December 13, 2010 - 12:26 AM | Permalink

    Thank you for these wise words! ….great post and I was inspired at the last WAPF meetings to hear the bloggers speak and so I started a new one — on food!!! If you’re following S 510 — please stay posted on current status of S 510 and local food security. See my newest post at: http://resilientfarmsnourishingfoods.blogspot.com/2010/12/cultivating-regional-food-security-and.html
    Best, Gigi

  • December 21, 2010 - 1:14 PM | Permalink

    Great article! SO very true! It is so much around where you shop not just what you buy. It is about mindfulness and not rushing. Thanks!

  • triplel
    January 22, 2011 - 8:24 PM | Permalink

    hmm… is that really price for chicken and beef where you live? Organic ground beef where I live is, $6/lb and Chicken ~4/lb a four lb chicken might cost me $17. Those prices are pretty hefty considering my family of six, soon to be seven. Shopping around when you live in a really remote area is difficult like I do, especially since you have to factor gas cost in too. I joined a food buying club so I get deals on a lot of organic items, grains etc. But we do not order meat and the milk through the program comes in at $8/gal. I just can’t make the switch it seems to grassfed meats and dairy, I’m already spending a 1/3 of my income on food. That’s twice what the average american spends– we eat absolutely no processed food, we grind our own flour. I feel like I’m working really hard on this and yet everyone keeps saying you must do better, you are eating so unethically, yadda yadda yadda. What is a person really to do? Sure, gardening is a great option for those who can– we only have a few square feet available and so far my past two years of serious attempts have been utter failures– better luck to me this year. Gardening is hard!

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