How can you live green but stay within your means? Get started by following these tips for eating organic on a budget from Sloan Barnett, a Today show regular and the author of Green Goes With Everything: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life and a Cleaner Planet.
Here are some ways to make your organic food dollars stretch farther:
- Buy Smart. Between 2000 and 2004, the USDA and FDA did some 43,000 tests for pesticides in fresh produce. When the Environmental Working Group analyzed the results it found that you could reduce your pesticide intake by 90 percent if you ate only organic versions of twelve of them: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes. If all you did was buy these foods organically, you’d be making a huge contribution to your family’s health.
- Shop Around. Pricing for organic foods is sometimes . . . well, let’s just call it whimsical. So many different retail outlets are selling organic products these days that there are bargains available if you just take the time to look for them. Someone’s always promoting something. You comparison shop for everything else, right? Why not for organic food? And when you do find a deal, buy lots if it isn’t perishable.
- Buy Local. Buying locally grown vegetables, fruit, and meat is easier than ever. Many supermarkets feature them in season and there are more and more farmers’ markets every year. Foods in season tend to be cheaper, because they’re abundant then (it’s that supply and demand thing again). And for that matter, consider shopping at the end of the day; you can often drive a better bargain then and you don’t even have to feel guilty: it makes the farmer’s life easier not having to pack up the excess or discard it. Most locally sourced foods are organic — but you should always ask what fertilizers and pesticides (and for meats, what antibiotics and hormones) were used to produce them. Also, one of the big benefits of buying local is what you save environmentally: the fuel costs (part of what’s called your “carbon footprint”) for a local tomato are way lower than for one grown in a hothouse somewhere else in the world and air shipped to your supermarket. Not to mention that the local one will actually taste like a tomato!
- Invest in a Farm. No, I don’t mean buy stock in one; I mean agree to buy a certain amount of what they produce every week. This is called “community-supported agriculture” (CSA), and it’s growing fast. Think of it like a magazine subscription. For a fixed, agreed-upon cost, a local farmer delivers a box of fresh food to your door every week — whatever’s in season. Not only does this guarantee your family the freshest food possible, it also means the farmer has a degree of financial certainty he or she might otherwise not have, and that’s good if we want more of them to take that risk.
- Buy in Bulk: Shop with Friends. Farmers are smart folks. If you walk up to a stand at the farmers’ market, or even one on the farm, and say you want to buy crates of produce, not just a bag, they’ll cut you a deal. So either shop with your friends or make an arrangement to shop for them. If you’ve got a freezer, you can do the same thing with a side of organic beef. By the way, if your market or natural foods shop has bulk bins, that’s another way to get organic on the cheap. It’s this simple: Buying big saves big.
- Join a Co-op. Yes, I know; co-ops used to be a staple of the counterculture. But not anymore. In many cities, there are full-service natural foods supermarkets that also function as co-ops. That means that when you join you get an automatic discount on everything you buy (sometimes on specific days of the week). And that discount can help organic food fit into your budget.
- Buy Store-Brand Organic Products. The major supermarket chains have caught on. So now, if you’re looking for a can of tomatoes, for example, there’s a pretty good chance that the store’s own house brand will offer you an organic choice that is cheaper than the big-name organic brands. Choose it.
- Clip Coupons. Organic’s become big business. Many of the name-brand food companies now offer organic products along with their conventional line. And they want you to buy them. To get you to do so, they offer coupon discounts in those supermarket circulars you get every week in the mail. Take advantage of them! Who knows, maybe you’ll encourage them to produce even more organic products!
- Grow Your Own. Is there some corner of your yard, or some section of your apartment balcony, that gets sun most of the day? Well, farm it! Seriously, you’d be amazed at how much you can grow in a tiny space. In a box roughly two feet square, you can grow enough mixed salad greens to keep you going for months! And tomatoes. I mean, really, what is more scrumptious than a fully ripe tomato still warm from the sun? Container tomatoes, often called “patio” tomatoes, can be trained vertically and will produce so many juicy fruits you’ll have to give them away. And you know what? Unlike children, plants don’t need a lot of your time or attention. Water, a little organic fertilizer, sun — that’s it. Then you just stand back and harvest. And kids just love watching things grow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sloan Barnett, author of Green Goes with Everything: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life and a Cleaner Planet (Copyright © 2008 by Sloan Barnett), is a regular contributor to NBC’s Today show and the Green Editor for KNTV, the NBC affiliate in San Francisco. She has been a television and print journalist for more than ten years, and wrote a popular consumer advice column for New York’s Daily News for nearly a decade. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and three children. For more information, please visit greengoeswitheverything.com.
MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR
- A Fine Mess: Cloth or Disposable Diapers?
- Simple Steps to Save Energy — and Money — at Home
- Why Are You Wearing Lead on Your Lips?
- Read the Introduction to Green Goes with Everything: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life and a Cleaner Planet
- See the book’s Table of Contents