You can afford organic: If you do it right. Here's how


I once viewed organic produce with budget-conscious skepticism; is it really worth it? Then one day, I started reading books about sustainable food, starting with Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral and ending with Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. At the beginning of my reading marathon I started going to the farmer's market more often; by the end, I was ignoring the produce aisle at the grocery store unless it said both "organic" and "local" (or I personally knew the story behind the grower).

But: organic isn't cheap, and I'm not made of money. Inspired by these tips at Alternet, here are some ideas on how to afford organic food even if you have a limited budget:

  • For staples like flour, oats, rice, and dairy, buy in bulk, preferably through a buying group. It's no secret that bulk prices are cheaper; but I'm talking real bulk, like 25-pound bags of organic whole-wheat flour and sharing 50 pounds of organic pinto beans with your friends. You'll need to figure out ahead of time how much you'll use, and try planning your meals to use your staples wisely.

  • Eat only seasonal produce. You love asparagus, I know, but you're just going to have to wait until spring. Even if you can get organic asparagus this time of year, it's shipped from Chile, and trust me, it's not worth it. Even better than buying in season is buying at the end of the season, when the end of the harvest is overflowing market bins. On my shopping list this week: green tomatoes, which I make into jam and chutney; enormous heads of cauliflower, which I use along with potatoes in shepherd's pie and in soups; and pears, which I chop up on my oatmeal, bake into pies, and cook into preserves for the winter months.

  • Join a CSA. In Community Supported Agriculture, you pay upfront (or a monthly amount) for a season's worth of produce. If the growing season is abundant, you share in the wealth (and vice versa) -- but you almost always end up with very well-priced organic produce at far less than you'd spend in the market.

  • Preserve. Buy in-season; collect apples from a neighbor's tree; offer to help weed your friend's garden in exchange for her excess tomatoes; and freeze, can, and jam your wealth for the rest of the year. I'm looking forward to very low costs in January thanks to my busy preserving summer!

  • Grow it yourself. If you're not yet an urban farmer or don't have much land, start small, with pots of herbs (those are super-expensive to buy and easy to grow), sprouts, lettuces, and fun crops like garlic (which can still be planted in most areas). If you really get into it, maybe you'll start using your garden to save in other ways, like garbage hauling costs; I now compost all my kitchen scraps and am reducing my garbage pickup to twice a month (and I've only been at this gardening stuff for a year and a half).