12 Strategies to Save Money on Organics

>> Friday, June 26, 2009

Earlier this week, I offered some suggestions for adding more organics to your grocery cart. But if you're a budget conscious shopper, you might still be having trouble looking beyond the price. Organics are definitely more expensive than conventional products, so first I want to offer some strategies for saving money on organics, and then I'll touch briefly on why organics are more expensive.

12 Strategies to Save Money on Organics

Strategy #1: Be a smart shopper. I've already listed some ways you can save money on your grocery bill by not following my example. Other smart shopping strategies include keeping a price book, making a list, stocking up when items are on sale, using coupons, and buying store brands.

Strategy #2: Waste not, want not. Avoid letting food go to waste before you use it, and eat up leftovers.

Strategy #3: Find amazing deals with bulk bins, the bins of grains, nuts, and dried fruit at Whole Foods and other natural food stores. I wish I could buy everything from a bulk bin!

Strategy #4: Buy in bulk. If you can't find it in a bulk bin, buy the largest size you can find. But remember to keep your eye on the unit price! Sometimes, the bigger package has an inflated price.

Strategy #5: Choose less expensive fruits and vegetables. Around here, greens and sweet potatoes have the biggest nutritional bang for your buck.

Strategy #6: Eat less meat (especially cow). A serving of organic beans from a can is about $0.30. An organic egg costs about a quarter. A serving of the cheapest organic ground beef I've seen is $0.75.

Strategy #7: Buy a share of a cow. If you're not keen on going completely vegetarian, you can save money on your meat products by buying a share of a cow directly from a farmer. Search for local farms at www.eatwild.com. I've also heard of cow-shares for dairy products.

Strategy #8: Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Pay a fee at the beginning of the year and get a share of the farm's produce. Two years ago, my family paid $400 to participate in a CSA for roughly 20 weeks. So for $20 a week we got a cooler full of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables and a dozen farm-fresh eggs. You cannot match those prices at the grocery store!

Strategy #9: Join a buying club, a group of people who place huge orders directly with food distributers, saving costs by buying in bulk and cutting out the middlemen. The biggest supplier of natural and organic foods to buying clubs is United National Foods. I don't have any experience with them, but I have successfully found some savings on organic grains and legumes through a buying club with members of my church. They order from Walton Feed.

Strategy #10: Pick your own fruits and vegetables. If you do the harvesting work yourself, you can typically save a lot of money. Find an organic pick-your-own-farm near you by visiting www.pickyourown.org.

Strategy #11: Plant a garden. Go beyond harvesting and do all the work yourself. If you have limited space, use the square foot gardening method, and focus on those varieties that will give you the greatest yield with the least work. Save even more money by growing from seed. And make sure you use sustainable gardening techniques!

Strategy #12: Raise your own chickens or bees. With a little work, you can have your own fresh eggs and honey. And if you're really committed, you could also save money by raising your own goats, pigs, or even a cow.

3 Reasons Organics Cost More

  1. Scale. Growing crops without pesticides and chemical fertilizer is more time-consuming and labor intensive and generally has to be done on a smaller scale. All of these factors increase costs.
  2. Niche Market. So far, the organics industry has been catering to a niche market made up of people who are willing to pay more. In some cases, organic foods are priced higher to match the expectation of it as a "luxury" item.
  3. Subsidies. Conventional industrial ag receives massive subsidies from the government. Organic farmers do not. Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat, explains:
Until the latest farm bill, which has a small provision for promotion of organic agriculture, organic farmers received not one break from the federal government. In contrast, the producers of corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton continue to get $20 billion or so a year in farm subsidies.

Industrial agriculture also benefits from federally administered marketing programs and from cozy relationships with congressional committees and the USDA. In contrast, the USDA considers fruits and vegetables "specialty crops." This kind of food politics shows up as higher prices in the grocery store.

The first reason is an integral part of organic farming, but the other two reasons can be changed. And this is the point I want to emphasize most:

If more people buy organics, the prices will drop.

I truly believe that. Every time you go to the grocery store and every time you eat, you are casting your vote about the nature of our agricultural system. If you want to see changes in the price of organics, find a way to afford at least some of them now. Save money by using energy wisely, choosing better transportation, and buying less, and shift your savings to your grocery budget.

Photo by Mjorge

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Green Bean June 28, 2009 at 1:53 PM  

Great list. Also, shopping at the farmers market (if you have one near by) or fruit stands and buying stuff at the peak of its season, buying at the end of the day or buying fruit/veggies that are over ripe and using them to make sauce, jam, syrup, cobbler,

Erin aka Conscious Shopper June 28, 2009 at 9:34 PM  

Green Bean - I was thinking about that one yesterday as I was leaving the farmers market with a flat of blueberries and a bag of 65 ears of corn. Awesome deals!

Your Inner Consultant June 29, 2009 at 1:44 PM  

We get an organic veg box from Riverford organics in the UK.


Great value, great veg and the farm restaurant is amazing.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper June 29, 2009 at 4:22 PM  

Your Inner Consultant - I've heard of similar programs in the U.S., though I've never participated in one. It's a cool concept - looks like it's kind of like a CSA except perhaps more reliable and comes right to your door.

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