Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Organic on a Budget

My old friend Martha from Elizabeth Hill Cottage recently posed a question to me: How can you afford to buy organic with the way food prices are today?

The truth is, we don't buy all organic all of the time. I wish we could. We are a 1 income family, 2 kids, and have a mortgage! You are right Martha: buying organic can cost more than conventionally grown food, especially in the Midwest where most all of our produce is trucked in from warmer climates during the long winter.

I did some research, hoping to find tips to increase our family's intake of organic food vs. conventional. I found some great info at bankrate.com. Their article "17 tips for buying organic on the cheap" has several ideas to make organic food more affordable.

Some tips our family is already using are:
  • Shop at Farmers' Markets (But not in December. Again, Midwest.)
  • In the off-season, buy organic preserved foods
  • Shop sales and house brands
  • Clip coupons
  • Grow your own
  • Rethink your food budget
One of my biggest "Doh!" moments was the article's opening:
"Step one is giving up your dependence on conventional supermarkets. Limiting yourself to the organic section or natural foods section of your local grocer is a great way to pay too much for your more wholesome food selections."

Well, hello! Of course conventional supermarkets are going to charge more. Organic food isn't their specialty, so they're going to charge a premium. And they have a few aisles (or a small section) to emphasize the "premium" aspect. This is something I never thought of before.

Get more bang for your buck by choosing organic foods are "worth it" to you. For example, here's a chart that shows which foods have fewer pesticides. An additional approach is to buy an organic product where you can really taste the difference between its conventional counter part.

Our "worth it" approach is:
  • Milk - always Organic (the extra hormones in conventional milk freaks me out)
  • Ground Beef - always organic
  • Other meat - (almost) always organic
  • As many fruits/veg we can afford (especially better tasting carrots) - organic
  • Processed foods (like crackers/treats) - rarely organic, but will buy when we can afford
Now that I'm all worked up about this subject, I decided to start one of my "famous" (well, famous in our household) envelopes, saving up for a membership to a local co-op. And I hope to buy into an organic CSA next Spring so we can buy local too.

Do you think organic is worth it? What's your approach to your organic food budget?


Angela said...

I love your blog and this one in particular. In the past we have shared a "share" of a CSA. Let us know if that would be an option for you. Our family has grown in number, we could maybe eat a whole share but I would hate to waste any fresh fruit and veggies! Let me know if you are interested.

Cristyn said...

Great blog, Micaela! I just wanted to add that one other thing I take into consideration is how much of something we eat. For instance, my kids love berries so I only buy organic strawberries or raspberries. They will eat a whole pint as a snack, which I can imagine is too much pesticide for their little bodies. So, we keep these as a special treat for when they are in season and are a reasonable price. It can be fun to rotate the foods you eat based on the season.

At least one thing that we will always buy organic, no matter what price, is sour cream. It is soooo much better tasting!

Martha said...

Oh goody!

I love talking organics!
We are exactly the same as you. I buy what I can. Our milk is always organic. Unless Dave buys it. He just doesn't notice those things.
Usually carrots and broccoli are organic.
Sometimes meat. I vowed at one time to only buy free-range meat, but with prices the way they are these days, I've pulled way back on that and I feel soooooo guilty. So guilty.

We did a CSA a couple of years ago, when i was working more. I loved it! We live so close to the farmer's market that I just go there now. In fact...I'm now feeling so guilty about the meat that I should go to the market and buy my meat there this weekend. My cousin Claire (who lives 3 blocks away from me) just bought half a cow from a farmer.

I love your blog!


Sue said...

I'm a member of a CSA and will be blogging about it in the near future. I always buy organic milk. I have the Blue Sky Guide and use those coupons. I'd like to buy free-range meat, but the price always knocks me over. That'll be a goal for the coming year. One step at a time...

Striving Green said...

Hi everyone - great tips all!

Splitting a share of a CSA or going in on 1/2 a free-range cow with other families are excellent ideas.

And Cristyn, I started buying organic sour cream because of you! Your story of how you had your husband do the "taste-test" years ago has stuck with me ever since.

Angela - thanks for the generous offer. When CSA time comes around, let's see what our options are!

Sarah said...

What a great post!

A lot of our produce comes from my parents' garden. I don't know if it is strictly organic or not, but it's always fresh and delicious.

We don't eat much meat, but we buy all of our meat from a butcher near where my parents live. My parents used to raise two cows a year and he used to do our meat processing. He buys his cows from farmers in our area. Again, they aren't organic, but they aren't feedlot cows, either. A lot of our milk comes from the Dairy Co-op on Hastings. The dairy farmers in the area sell their milk there and is hormone free, even if they aren't, again, organic. When I buy milk at the grocery store I do buy organic and our half and half is organic, too. Anything with high animal fat I like to buy organic. Pesticides get stored and concentrated in an animal's fat.

The nice thing is that all this local goodness comes at very reasonable prices.

Also, we will always buy organic peanut butter. We eat so much of it that it really matters!