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Organic on a Budget

by Deliciously Organic on August 9, 2009

Years ago, before I knew about organics, I seriously thought that organic food was for those who wanted to spend more on their food. I couldn’t have been more wrong, but it just goes to show that there are so many misconceptions out there. Buying organic can put a huge strain on your budget, but if you play your cards right it doesn’t have to. If you decide to dive in and eat all whole foods, then you won’t be buying convenience foods, soft drinks, frozen dinners, or pretty much anything pre-made in a box which really adds up over time. My husband is in the military, so we have access to the commissary on base (the base grocery store where things are sold much cheaper than in town). Last year I started wondering if I was spending too much, so I asked my friends who shopped strictly at the commissary how much they spent. I found out that I spent less than they did! It encouraged me to discover I was on the right track. I’ve come up with my top eleven things I do to help make buying organic more affordable.

1. Buy in bulk when possible. I really can’t stress this enough. For example, I bake with organic whole cane sugar but it’s sold for $5.25 a pound at our local health food store. I found a few friends to split a 33 pound bag from Azure Standard and we paid $2.27 a pound (including the shipping!) You can also split bags of oats, grain, popcorn, etc.

2. Join a co-op. Here is where you can get substantial savings. Our co-op truck drops off the same organic produce sold at the local grocery stores, but we get it for a fraction of the cost. Check into the Local Harvest website for co-ops in your area.

3. Buy your meat directly from the farm. We’ve been doing this for years and have saved over $500 each year. Two times a year, I make an order with our organic farm and buy my meat at a fraction of the cost compared to the grocery stores. Best of all, I know exactly where the meat is coming from. You will need a large freezer to take advantage of this option – see tip 7. The Eat Wild website is a fantastic resource to find an organic farm near you.

4. Cook at home. Most dinners I feed my family of 4 cost around $12. You can’t even go to a fast food restaurant for that! Best of all, my family is eating good food that’s full of nutrients.

5. Grow your own herbs. One little package of basil costs $2.99 at our local grocery store (and it’s most likely irradiated). I spend that much on a plant each spring and harvest basil all summer long. My favorite herbs to grow are basil, thyme, rosemary, and oregano. I don’t have a green thumb but I’ve managed to keep them growing each year and always have fresh herbs to add to my dishes.

6. Be Discerning. If you can’t afford to buy entirely organic, choose wisely which items to pay more for. A good rule of thumb is to buy organic fruits and vegetables that have thin skins (like apples and berries). These foods tend to absorb the most pesticides and herbicides.

Here’s the list of the “dirty dozen” from the Environmental Working Group Website:

1. Peach
2. Apple
3. Bell Pepper
4. Celery
5. Nectarine
6. Strawberries
7. Cherries
8. Kale
9. Lettuce
10. Grapes (imported)
11. Carrot
12. Pear

7. Embrace the deep freeze. A freezer can cost as little as $150, or much less if you buy used. If you have an extra freezer you have the option to load up on items when they’re on sale and store them them later.

8. Buy in season. I really can’t stress this enough. I’ve seen too many people buy produce that isn’t in season and spend more money than necessary. Yes, we’re in an age where we can get any kind of produce at any time of year, but do you really need to spend $8 for a pint of strawberries in December?

9. Comparison shop. Compare prices of organic foods at a few local grocery stores. You may find that one store has more affordable fruits than vegetables or vice-versa.

10. Make your own dressing. Most bottles of salad dressing contain many preservatives and fillers and are quite expensive. Do an online search for recipes for your favorite salad dressings, make a batch and keep in a jar for easy use. You’ll only do this once a month, but reap the benefits at nearly every dinner.

11. Find coupons on the internet. Stonyfield, Organic Valley, and Mambo Sprouts

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Leigh Anne September 12, 2009 at 2:59 pm

i noticed that you mentioned that growing your own herbs is the best options – not only for cost but for the benefits of getting organic… and maybe a little self-satisfaction – i know i get some from growing things :)i was curious why you mentioned irradiation though? just wonderin'thanks! leigh anne

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Organic Gourmet September 12, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Hi Leigh Anne,Irradiation is the process in which food is exposed to ionizing radiation in order to kill bacteria and extend the shelflife of produce, meat, spices, wheat and other grocery items. The irradiation also destroys the phytochemicals and most of the nutritional content of the food. Much of the non-organic produce sold in the U.S. is irradiated as well as almost all non-organic spices and meats. There have been many studies showing how eating irradiated foods can have a negative effect on our health. If you want more info the Weston A. Price website has many articles on this topic. I hope that helps! Carrie

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Gretch September 12, 2012 at 6:31 pm

WHAT? i’ve never heard of irradiation before in my life! i’m shocked. it’s hard not to feel doomed in the struggle to eat better, real food.

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Deliciously Organic September 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm

I understand. I felt the same way the first time I read about it too. Don’t give up! :)

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Leigh Anne September 12, 2009 at 10:45 pm

thanks! this is so interesting. we were always taught that it was similar to using a microwave and that the US had stringent requirements on the process. Also, the American Dietetic Association position is that nutrient losses during the process are not more significant than that of other methods for preservation such as canning or cooking. The site you mentioned (Weston A Price) certainly made a case for non-irradiation, but there were no peer review journal articles or scientific trials cited :( BUT the issue is up for reevaluation by the ADA this December so we will see what happens. Nutritional science is always developing – that's why i love being a dietitian! looking forward to more recipes!

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Dori September 20, 2010 at 1:46 am

Thanks so much for posting all of this : ) Its a great list to work from. CANNOT wait for your book to come out. Quick question for you…do you buy organic dry spices? I thought about it as I put together a loaf of focaccia bread this evening and added several teaspoons of various non-organic spices.

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Deliciously Organic September 20, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Dori: Yes, I buy all organic spices. Two of my favorite places to buy from are Mountain Rose Herbs and Azure Standard. Both have great websites with a fantastic selection. I usually buy larger packages and then keep the extra in the freezer. It's cheaper to buy larger bags and then when I run out of my spices in my bottles, I can easily refill.

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Tina November 15, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Just wanted to say that I love your blog. I am so proud to find a fellow military wife showing me that it is possible to eat healthy and live well. So, thank you for the encouragement and all the information. My infant son has a list of food allergies and I was surprised when we found out about it. I am 99% sure that it is due to all the processed food and dairy in my diet.
We just watched Food inc. and well already knew about GM foods but did not know that it was so wide spread. I was shocked to find out that all the soy products here are GM. It is a shame that we cannot have the most basic of our needs the way we should be having it – Organic.

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Deliciously Organic November 16, 2010 at 6:15 am

Tina: Thank you for your kind words. When I found out how widespread GM foods were I was shocked also. If it helps at all, my daughter had severe allergies also as a baby and when we made the switch to organic (especially organic diary) all her symptoms went away. The nebulizer is now collecting dust in the closet and I’m happy about that! It’s nice to know another military wife is reading my blog. THanks for letting me know. :)

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Tina November 16, 2010 at 10:54 am

Wow, that is encouraging to know about your daughter. Now I know what I need to do for my son. Thank you again for your wonderful blog :)

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lisa October 23, 2011 at 6:54 am

hi carrie,
re: irradiation and shelf life of produce, i wash my veggies (cut or whole) this way. i clean and sanitize my sink, then fill with cold water, 1-2 drops of dish soap, and a tablespoon or two of bleach (i have to look up the quantity every time, terrible memory; whatever amount is recommended for treating water for long term storage against emergency) put in the produce for 10 minutes, drain, then refill the sink with water and liberal amount of white vinegar. then store them in fridge in a container or plastic bags lined with clean tea towels or paper towels. do not close them up airtight. i find there is a lot less spoilage this way. do you think this is harmful? just curious.

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Deliciously Organic October 23, 2011 at 3:38 pm

It’s great that you take such care in cleaning and storing your produce. I like the idea of lining your bags with tea towels. I bet they keep for a long time that way! In my opinion, I wouldn’t soak the fruit in bleach, just because some of the bleach might soak into the produce and then you would be ingesting it. I’m not a scientist – it’s just my opinion. What about just cleaning them in vinegar? I would think it could do just as good of a job as the soap/bleach.

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