You often hear complaints about how expensive organic food is. And if you rely on lots of processed food products or measure value only by calories-per-dollar, then foods grown with chemicals or bioengineered or manufactured in factories might seem the best deal.
Why are organic foods priced higher than conventionally grown? Rest assured, the pricing’s not arbitrary. The fees organic farmers pay for certification are hefty and frequently go up. Operations are small, and special facilities are often needed. Organic is more time-consuming and not focused on the subsidized commodity crops at the heart of the modern, conventional food supply. (You can read more reasons for the cost differences here.)
Still, it’s entirely possible to eat organically even on a tight budget. Here are 10 ideas for keeping your food bill low without compromising your health:
- Plant a garden! Probably the cheapest way to have organic food is to grow your own. Mother Earth News has a great guide on growing organic food by crop. And if you rent or don’t have the space to garden, there are community gardens that offer space across the country.
- If you do grow a garden, consider using heritage seeds – seeds collected from harvested foods and saved for the next growing season. Doing so maintains trusted plant varieties and encourages diversity in our gardens.
- Prioritize and buy organics selectively. The Environmental Working Group provides a handy list of what it calls the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 – respectively, foods to buy only in organic form due to their tendency to retain pesticide residues and foods that are acceptable whether conventionally or organically grown.
- Buy whole foods – unprocessed grains, vegetables, fruits and meats. Whole foods have the most nutrition and give you more bang for your buck.
- Buy food in season. Seasonal food is usually cheaper and always better than off-season. There is greater nutrition per dollar than in the same product during the off-season.
- Stock up when there’s a sale. If the food is perishable, consider canning or freezing it for later use.
- Buy in bulk – not Sam’s Club bulk but things like grains, dried beans, seeds and nuts. Because you’re not paying for fancy labeling, packaging or marketing, you save money. And you also reduce your environmental footprint by using less disposable packaging. Many natural food stores allow you to bring in pre-weighed containers for shopping their bulk aisles, and they may even offer a discount at the register for bringing your own.
- Buy local. Support your local economy, help save the environment and get better and cheaper food by doing business with your friendly, neighborhood farmer. If the produce at the farmer’s market food isn’t marked as certified organic, it still may be organic, so don’t be afraid to ask! Remember that cost of certification is prohibitive, so some farmers may forgo certification. If these reasons don’t convince you, here are 10 more reasons to enjoy shopping locally.
- Sign up with a CSA, or community supported agriculture. You get local, seasonal food delivered to you or you can pick it up each month. This may not be significantly cheaper per product, but the vegetables are much fresher than you’ll find in a grocery store, which makes the actual nutrition far cheaper.
- Shop online. Is there an organic product you like, such as a sunflower seed butter? Try comparison shopping at your computer to see if you can get cheaper through the mail.
The important thing here is to eat food that is good for you and that you enjoy. You shouldn’t have to be wealthy in order to enjoy good, wholesome food.
Have tips of your own for eating healthfully on a budget? Share them in the comments!