Friday, April 20, 2007

How to Save Money on Organic Food

How to Save Money on Organic Food

Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association

M any people who would like to eat organic fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat and poultry are put off by the high prices. Organic foods can cost 25% to 100% more than regular foods -- but if you're willing to do a bit of sleuthing and look beyond traditional grocery stores, you can find organic products for much less.
My organization's Web site,, has links to most of the resources suggested below...
Compare prices of conventional and organic foods when shopping at regular grocery stores. Occasionally, the price gap narrows dramatically, or organic foods may even be cheaper.
Shop at a farmers market. You can find bargains if you prowl around the stalls of your local farmers market. You'll save even more if you haggle. Farmers may be especially willing to negotiate prices if produce is misshapen or closing time is approaching.
Sample savings: Organic apples at a farmers' market often are 25% to 50% cheaper than organic apples at grocery or natural-food stores.
Consider purchasing a share in a community-supported agriculture program (CSA). There are more than 1,000 of these programs around the US. Through a CSA, you purchase produce from an organic farmer in a region near you. You'll receive a weekly basket that contains produce, flowers and perhaps even eggs and milk. A share in a CSA typically costs several hundred dollars for one growing season, which could last half a year (prices vary dramatically depending on location). In mild regions, such as California, you can receive just-picked produce year-round. Each week it's fun to discover what goodies are in the basket.
Sample savings: In rural Minnesota, where I live, I pay $450 for the season and split my weekly harvest with another family. This is at least 50% cheaper than store prices.
Helpful: Most CSAs deliver produce orders to a central location. You may be able to reduce the price of your weekly delivery if you allow your front porch to serve as a delivery spot for your neighborhood.
CSAs can be found at the Web site of Local Harvest (, as well as on my Web site.
Join a food co-op. Co-ops typically offer high-quality organic food and produce at a discount for members. You may be required to volunteer your time for a certain number of hours each month. For a list of co-ops, see my organization's Web site.
Buy in bulk. This is a great way to save money on long-lasting and nonperishable organic food, such as dried beans, lentils, pasta, rice, cereals, trail mix, nuts and even peanut butter. Health-food stores, Whole Foods, and even some supermarkets sell bulk items. Cheaper still: Join a wholesale buying club (regular yearly membership fee is between $35 and $50). The minimum order for the club I belong to is $1,000 every three months, so I share a membership with several families in my area. Typical savings: 30% to 50% off retail.
There is no national directory of buying clubs. Ask your local natural-food store for the names of its organic-food suppliers and contact them.
Eat seasonally. You're sure to overpay if you buy organic fruits and vegetables off-season. That's when you want to buy frozen or canned. When produce is bountiful and cheap, you may want to can, freeze or dry it for the coming months.

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Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes food safety, children's health and environmental sustainability, Finland, Minnesota. He is author of Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers (Marlowe & Company).

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