|17 tips for buying organic food
on the cheap
a share in a community-supported agriculture program.
When you buy a share in a community-supported agriculture (CSA)
program, you pay a portion of a local farm's operating expenses.
In return, you receive weekly boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables
in the upcoming harvest.
"You can't get it any fresher.
You're getting it straight from the farm, sometimes picked that
morning," says Ruth Katz, executive director of Just Food in
New York City. "It's usually organic and it's much more delicious
because it's so fresh. And you're supporting local farms."
A share in a CSA costs about $300 to $400 upfront
for a 24- to 26-week growing season. Many CSA programs accept weekly
or monthly payments, and you may be able to buy a half-share rather
than a whole share.
Check Web sites such as Alternative
Farming Systems Information Center, Food
Routes and LocalHarvest
to find a CSA near you.
A food cooperative is a member-owned business that provides groceries
and other products to its members at a discount. Many of the products
lining the shelves of co-ops are organic and much of the produce
comes from local family farms.
Joining a co-op is often as easy as signing up and
paying some dues. Co-op members that volunteer to work may get additional
discounts on any products they buy.
To find a co-op near you, check out Web sites such
Grocer and LocalHarvest.
If there's no co-op in your area, you can always
start your own. A brochure from Cooperative
Grocers' Information Network shows you how.
a buying club.
A buying club is a great way to get the organic food you want on
the cheap. In a buying club, you may be able to get 30 percent to
40 percent off the retail price. Buying-club members purchase food
and other organic products in bulk and then split the stash.
"These buying clubs are the best-kept secrets
in America," Cummins says.
Ask a co-op near you about starting a buying club
with your friends and neighbors. Some co-op grocers will let you
order right from their store. Ask a local natural food store where
they get their stuff and then contact the distributor directly.
"Some distributors deliver to individuals or
groups of individuals who have a minimum amount of an order,"
says Katherine DiMatteo, a senior adviser with the Organic Trade
Buy in bulk.
Whether you're shopping at a natural foods store, supermarket or
co-op, buying in bulk is a great way to stretch your food dollar.
For beans, grains, lentils and nuts, head straight
for the bulk containers. Just make sure you have a cool, dry place
in your kitchen to store your dry goods for a few months. You can
save on storage space by splitting your stash with a friend.
Be sure to bring your calculator along on any bulk
shopping run. Not every item you can buy in bulk is worth the bother.
Do the math.
The absolute best time to buy an organic fruit or vegetable is at
the peak of its growing season.
"As the season progresses there's more
produce and the price has a tendency to shift downward, sometimes
dramatically," DiMatteo says. "That's the best time to
And that's the best time to buy big. Load up on all
your favorite organic fruits and veggies at dirt-cheap prices.