Organic is no longer a niche market, stowed away in health food stores and away from the mainstream. It’s a booming, multibillion dollar industry, with terms regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture. According to the USDA, three out of four conventional grocery stores offer organic foods. In 2012, sales of organic products grew 11 percent year over year, representing $28 billion.
The USDA certifies all organic products through the National Organic Program. At every stage of production, from farming to distributors, certification agencies ensure each part is complying with organic standards. When the USDA organic seal of approval is stamped on a product, that means that it is composed of 95 percent or more organic content.
There may not be any nutritional benefits to going organic — research on this is up in the air — but there are other reasons people are looking for that organic seal. When buying organic, the chance the residue from pesticides remains is significantly less. There will be not additives in the products, because that does not adhere to organic certification. Another reason for buying organic is for eco-friendly reasons, because the farming methods used are designed not to harm the environment.
Food free of additives comes at price, and people may balk at the sight of the hefty dollar value accompanying organic products. Fortunately, there are ways around this problem. The following are seven ways to keep some green in your wallet while going green with your food.
This goes for people who want to transition to an all-organic diet and those who just want to add more organic foods into their routines. Figure out what the most important organic foods for you are. There are two methods of thinking about this. One is to buy organic the foods you use the most — generally, staples like eggs, milk, and grains. The other is to start with organic fruits and produce using the “Dirty Dozen” list as a reference guide and buying those items organic.
Now that you have the parameters of your organic priorities, you can…
Like other grocery items, organic foods go on sale and will be featured in your grocery store’s newsletter. National chains like Whole Foods regularly provide and update coupons. This is not the case across the board. Trader Joe’s says that it emphasizes “low prices, every day. No coupons, no membership cards, no discounts.”
As organic has become a major selling point, major brands are offering more options, so manufacturer coupons will be available for some items. Websites like Organic Deals can help you search coupons to stay on budget.
Coupons in hand, you can then plan your meals for the week with organic ingredients.
3. Think big
Really big — when it comes to shopping, that is. Hannah Wallace — a Portland-based journalist — her fiancé, and occasionally his daughter lived organic for 40 days on a food stamp budget. Wallace owns up to having a few things helping her out. First, in Portland, organic options abound for her and her family. She was also able to choose something other food stamp recipients cannot: the amount she would use. They lived off the maximum amount per month, $526.
Still, Wallace said, there were choices that had to be made. In addition to cooking their own meals and looking for sales, they bought items like beans and pasta in bulk. This allowed them to stock up on organic staples at a discounted rate.
4. Be generic
While you’re on your coupon-clipping or bulk-buying spree, don’t shun the generic brand. It isn’t only the big food manufacturers who want to get your organic greenbacks, it’s the grocery stores, too. Kroger sells its “Simple Truth Organic“; Safeway has “O Organics“; at Publix, they have “GreenWise” products; and items in the “365 Every Day Value” line at Whole Foods will be organic, as well.
You’ll be staying on budget without losing taste or compromising options. Whole Foods says it has more than 600 items on its 365 line.
5. Go local
Farmers markets have exploded in popularity in recent years, gaining the attention of consumers, but they aren’t the only ones whose interests have been piqued.
Researchers and students are taking notice, too. One study compared the prices of Vermont farmers markets and what the grocery store offered, as well as organic at farmers markets and organic at grocery chains. It found that for people who were not purchasing organic, the grocery store had the cheaper price for nine of the 14 items. When researchers switched to organic versus organic prices, the farmers market swept every category except potatoes.
This wasn’t the case only in Vermont: Research by the Oregon Food Bank suggests that since people perceive that farmers markets are more expensive, they avoid shopping there. This is especially a problem among lower-income groups, according to the study.
6. Buy in season
This will be a breeze for those who are purchasing from their local farmers. Organic costs more to produce because it is not treated with pesticides and has more involved farming techniques. Not buying in season can also cost more because you are paying extra for the produce to be shipped to you. Your food will be fresher in look and taste. Changing with the seasons will add variety to your diet, as well, possibly bringing foods to your kitchen that you have never tried before.
If you don’t know where to start, “Eat The Seasons” is a website that’s updated weekly with which foods — fruits, vegetables, meats — are in season at the moment.
7. Get a green thumb
If you have the space and the time, why not go to the most local source of all — your own yard? Better Homes and Gardens has useful tips on how to get started on your very own organic vegetable garden.
In addition to land, there are other factors to consider. Sunlight is vital — especially for vegetables — and mulching, fertilizing, and killing weeds also contribute to a garden’s success. You need to know your own skill level, because certain plants are easier to grow than others. Gardening of course also takes time and some extra resources. In the long run, you may decide that purchasing has more overall worth, even if over the years it is costlier.
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