1. Know your terminology
Before we get into specific tips, it helps to know organic food lingo. Here are three terms to keep in mind when you go shopping so you know if you’re getting the best value for your money:
- "100% Organic" — these are foods with no synthetic ingredients and are approved with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) organic seal.
- "Organic" — these foods have a minimum of 95 percent of ingredients that are organic and are eligible to carry the U.S.D.A. organic seal.
- "Made with Organic Ingredients" — these foods must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and are not eligible for the organic seal.
2. Buy in season
Fruits and vegetables bought in season can cost half the price of out-of-season produce. Specifically, buying berries when not in season can sometimes increase the price threefold. Berries such as strawberries and blueberries can be purchased during season and frozen for up to six months. Wash the fruit well, remove any spoiled areas, dry completely, and freeze (check out detailed instructions on how to freeze berries here). Also, if there is a specific fruit or vegetable you want that isn't currently in season, consider purchasing it frozen. This is often cheaper, and most health food stores such as Whole Foods carry organic fruits and vegetables in their freezer department. In addition, you can Google "Epicurious Seasonal Ingredient Map" to find which produce is in season in your region.
3. Consider a community agriculture program or co-op
Community Supported Agriculture Programs (CSA) and co-ops are a terrific way to purchase organic, affordable and local produce. Most programs allow you to purchase a share of a farmer's crop by the week, month or season. Not only will you get an incredible selection of in-season produce, you are going to save considerably more than if you had purchased from a large chain health food store.
4. Start an organic food-purchasing club
Buying in bulk is a great way to save money. Ask a few friends or neighbors if they would be interested in pooling money and purchasing organic products directly from wholesalers. To learn more about creating an organic food club, the VegFamily website has some detailed instructions.
5. Choose organics wisely
If buying all organic fruits and vegetables is completely out of your budget, stick to buying your organic produce according to the "Dirty Dozen" list. This lists the twelve fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide levels – items you should try to purchase in the organic section. Fruits and vegetables listed in the "Clean 15" have the least amount of pesticide levels and could be considered for conventional purchase.
6. Reconsider your love affair with meat
Serving meat as a condiment, rather than a main dish, can considerably lower your grocery bill. Using organic meats in soups, stews, on pizza or as a salad topping still fulfills your meat craving, saves you money, and allows you to incorporate cleaner, hormone-free meat products into your diet.
7. Buy grocery staples in bulk
Purchasing staple ingredients in bulk (brown rice, flour, etc.) can actually save you an average of $1.00 per pound. Beans are also much cheaper when bought in large quantities.
If you are a meat eater, this is another item to consider purchasing in bulk. That's right–we are talking about buying an entire cow! Gathering a few friends or family members together and purchasing a cow from a local farmer or butcher can save you a considerable amount of money. This process is called "cow-pooling" and can produce about 250 pounds of meat after butchering. Meat can be frozen for up to a year. After all fees and costs involved, most participants involved in cow-pooling claim to pay an average of $1.75-1.90 per pound of organic, hormone-free beef. With an average national price of $6-8.00 per pound for organic beef, purchasing in bulk provides quite a savings!