How to Eat Organic on a Budget

By: Emilie Sennebogen

Go green while saving green! See more vegetable pictures.
Go green while saving green! See more vegetable pictures.
Stockbyte/Thinkstock

The benefits of eating organic have been well-documented. Organic farming has a much lower impact on the environment than traditional industrial farming methods that use pesticides, which strip their soil of nutrients. Animals are raised in humane environments without being pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. And when the food that lands on your dinner table is nearly free of pesticides and other harmful additives, you're ensuring a healthier lifestyle for your family.

But along with all of that, there comes a downside: the cost. Running an organic operation simply costs more. It requires more labor to take care of the plants and keep them pest- and weed- free. Manure and compost are expensive soil additives, not to mention the cost of becoming certified organic. In order for organic outfits to stay afloat, these expenses must be passed onto the consumer in the checkout line. Fortunately, there are ways to still eat organic and stay within your grocery budget.

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Cheap Organic Foods

One immediate way to cut your organic food bill is to skip the usual trip to your local supermarket and find some other sources that sell organic foods. Supermarkets require higher profit margins, plus they ship in foods from all over the place, so they have to mark up the price to cover these additional costs.

Checking out your local farmers' markets is a no-brainer. Not only are you likely to get better prices than at the grocery store, but you'll also be supporting a farm that's likely within a reasonable driving distance of your home. Co-ops and local health food stores often support local farmers, too.

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You can also join a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, which delivers fresh vegetables from a local farm each week. This means you'll get fresh produce that's in season for a good price. The only disadvantage of a CSA is that you don't get to pick what you receive, so you'll need to get creative with your recipes based on your weekly delivery.

You should also take a little time to shop around; you'll find that your organic staples are available for less in certain places. The market is driven by supply and demand, so the store that has the most organic asparagus is likely to have the lowest prices. Packaged organic foods are in greater abundance these days, so be sure to clip coupons if you buy these items. A combination of all of these efforts is generally the best prescription for eating organic on a budget. And of course, if you really want to save, you can grow your own.

Cost of Starting an Organic Garden

Once you grow your own, you may never go back.
Once you grow your own, you may never go back.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The hard costs of starting an organic garden vary based on the scope and size of the garden, as well as availability and price of the materials in your area that you need, like compost and soil. But the consensus is that growing your own food is always cheaper than buying it from a grocery store. To give you an example, the Web site Get Rich Slowly profiled one couple who harvested their own vegetables. They spent $318.43 on their garden and harvested $606.97 worth of produce. They spent 60 hours working in their garden that summer, so you'll be putting in more labor than you would on your weekly shopping trip. But in terms of finances, that's a huge savings.

The cheapest way is to start from seeds. There are many great online seed companies that offer more varieties of every vegetable than you can possibly imagine, so you can pick a vegetable based on its ideal growing conditions and the way it tastes when it matures. Seeds can be tough for beginners, though. Ideally, you'd get them started before it's time to plant them outside, but this can require an investment in indoor growing equipment. You can sow many seeds directly into the soil once it's warm enough, but weeds also love organic soil and often it's tough to tell the difference between a sprouting seed and a growing weed. But we do have to say that watching a plant sprout from something that is microscopic in the palm of your hand makes you feel like an excited kindergartener, so if you're up for the challenge, it's worth it.

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If that seems a little too daunting to try first, then buy a small plant that someone else started from seed and plant it right at the beginning of the season. They cost more than seeds, but still less than produce from the store, and they're easier to care for than baby plants.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Lazarony, Lucy. "17 tips for buying organic food on the cheap." Bankrate.com. October 30, 2011. http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/cheap/20040901a1.asp
  • "Organic Foods." Helpguide.org. October 30, 2011. http://helpguide.org/life/organic_foods_pesticides_gmo.htm
  • Pokorny, Kym. "How to Start An Organic Vegetable Garden." Oregonlive.com. October 30, 2011. http://www.oregonlive.com/home-garden/index.ssf/organic-gardening/how-to-start-an-organic-vegetable-garden.html
  • Roth, J.D. "7 Tips for Starting Your Own Vegetable Garden." Getrichslowly.org, January 11, 2009. http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2009/01/11/7-tips-for-starting-your-own-vegetable-garden/
  • Simon, Ellen. " Why Does Organic Food Cost More than Conventional?" Enn.com, July 6, 2005. http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/13887