As our economic troubles deepen, Americans all over are cutting back. Before leaving organic food on the cutting room floor, try these strategies for reducing the cost of organic food. If you have any additional ideas, let us know in the comments!
Grow your own
It’s a long-term strategy, but growing your own food can be a good way to turn time into money. You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck for things like fruit trees and berry bushes that produce year after year. Highly producing plants like tomatoes, peppers, and zuchinni are also good. If you don’t have space for a garden outside, or you want to get started before it warms up, you can grow herbs in your kitchen.
Although not available everywhere, co-ops can be great ways to get cheap organic food. The National Cooperative Grocers Association has a map of stores, but there are many co-ops that aren’t part of the organization. Some co-ops will give a rebate at the end of profitable years. Others will give a discount if you volunteer for an hour or two a week or for paying a one-time membership fee. It’s worth checking out!
Coupons and sales
Organic food tends not to be used as a loss leader at grocery stores, but you can sometimes find coupons anyway. Check the website of organic brands that you buy (like Organic Prairie or Kashi) and see if they have any coupons. Our local co-op even puts their sale prices online, so that you can check for bargains easily.
Buy bulk basics
Instead of getting packaged foods, buy the ingredients and make your own. Pizza, for example, can cost $6 for a small frozen, $8 at a local restaurant, and $3 if you make it yourself! Bread and pasta are similarly cheap. If you can find a local store with bulk bins, you can usually get good deals on beans and rice as well. Some co-ops, ours included, even have bulk containers for shampoo and soap!
Join a CSA
This is pretty similar to buying in bulk, but a CSA can give you additional savings. Basically, you pay up front (or agree in advance to pay through the season) and in return you get a discount. If you’re a picky eater or plan to be gone some weekends, get a friend to join with you and split your CSA. We did this with Maggie’s parents and it worked well. Some places even have dairy, bread, or meat CSAs!
Visit the farmer’s market
In some places, the farmer’s market is significantly cheaper. Around here, it’s about the same, since our co-op buys from the same people who show up at the farmer’s market. Even here, though, there are bargains to be had. If you show up towards the end of market, farmers are more willing to make a deal. Anything they don’t sell they have to get rid of (if it’s perishable) or lug back home (if it’s not), so they’re motivated. The drawback is that your selection is liable to be limited, although a CSA can generally fill in the gaps.
Pick and choose
If, in the end, you decide that you still can’t afford to eat organic, don’t quit entirely! Figure out what organic items matter most to you and splurge on those while cutting corners elsewhere. For example, Maggie has decided that organic butter is better, so it’s worth the premium. Other things, like beans, don’t matter as much to us. If health is your main concern, focus on organic goods that bioaccumulate (like dairy products). If environmental impact is what gets you to buy organic, then maybe you should get local, organic beef.
This is also a good time to be buying local, whether it’s organic or not. Money spent at local businesses is much more likely to stay within your community and might make the difference between a lean year and going out of business.