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17 tips for buying organic food on the cheap

Do you enjoy the taste of organic food but you're turned off by the price? If you're willing to do some creative shopping and cooking, you can enjoy the freshness and goodness of organic foods without breaking your food budget.

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Step one is giving up your dependence on conventional supermarkets.

Limiting yourself to the organic section or natural foods section of your local grocer is a great way to pay too much for your more wholesome food selections.

These days there are tons of places to buy organic foods. Besides the supermarkets, you can find them in health food stores, specialty stores, co-ops, gourmet delis, farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture programs, convenience stores and even vending machines.

If you don't shop around, there's a good chance you'll pay too much for your organic food selections. And while most folks are willing to pay a little more for organic food, few people can afford to pay sky-high prices week in and week out.

And let's face it, organic food can be quite expensive. A $1 conventional food item could cost twice as much in the organic version.

Or you could pay a whole lot less for an organic goody -- maybe just a few cents more than the conventional price. Much depends on the food item, where you live, where you're shopping and the growing season.

"If you live in a place like California you're lucky, because organic produce and conventional produce are very close in price," says Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Organic fruits, vegetables and grains are grown without most conventional pesticides and without fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients. Organic meat and dairy products are free of antibiotics and growth hormones.

Many food shoppers are willing to pay a little more for organic food simply because they like the taste.

"You can taste the difference," Cummins says. "Fresh, local organic is the ultimate."

Organic food on the cheap
When it comes to filling your cupboards with healthy organic food, being a savvy shopper is absolutely paramount.
These 17 tips will show you how to track down affordable organic food near you.
1. Do some research.
2. Shop at farmers' markets.
3. Buy a share in a community-supported agriculture program.
4. Join a co-op.
5. Join a buying club.
6. Buy in bulk.
7. Buy big in-season.
8. In the off-season, buy preserved foods.
9. Embrace the big freeze.
10. Shop sales and house brands.
11. Clip coupons.
12. Grow your own.
13. Shop online.
14. Mix and match.
15. Be flexible.
16. Rethink your food budget.
17. Ease into organic.

1. Do some research.
You may have a lot more choices for organic food in your community than you realize. All it takes is a little research to find out. Organic associations and organizations in your state are good places to start. Just type the name of your state and the word "organic" into a search engine and see what pops up.

And be sure to check out Web sites such as Organic Kitchen, Organic Consumers Association and Eat Well Guide. They're chock-full of links and information on organic foods and they allow you to search for organic food sources in your local area.

2. Shop at farmers' markets.
Farmers' markets are great sources of fresh local produce. A just-picked tomato from a local farm tastes better than a tomato that's traveled thousands of miles before reaching a supermarket shelf.

"It's going to be cheaper and fresher at a farmers' market," Cummins says.

If you don't see a sign saying the produce is organic, be sure to ask. Some farmers may be making the transition to organic farming.

The key to landing good deals at farmers' markets is to ask lots of questions. Ask about seconds -- perfectly tasty but misshapen produce that you may be able to buy at a discount. Ask about discounts for buying in bulk. Ask how you can buy their produce when the market is closed.

"Always ask what tastes the best. They know. They'll tell you," says Jesse Ziff Cool, author of "Your Organic Kitchen: The Essential Guide to Selecting and Cooking Organic Foods." "They're going to pick up a melon and say, 'Taste this.'"

Next: "Join a buying club. ..."
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