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Tips for Buying Affordable Organic Food
By Knox Alexander
Special to BetterJuice.com

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.

The first step is to look beyond conventional supermarkets, and go elsewhere. The supermarket treats organic food as a specialty niche. Like imported wine or exotic cheeses, they will probably be offered at lavish prices. Since a proper diet includes large amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, sticking to an organic regimen quickly becomes expensive.

Do some research to find alternatives. Besides the supermarkets, visit health food stores, specialty stores, co-ops, gourmet delis, farmers' markets or other community-supported agriculture programs.

Shop around. You will probably discover large variations in prices. The food will still be more expensive then conventional products, but the margin does not have to be extreme. Also in some cases, fresh organic produce will simply be hard to find in certain areas.

Likewise, in others there will be an abundance. For example, there are supermarkets in Texas where consumers will find literally mountain piles of jalapeno or chipotle peppers. Folks in Michigan or Maine will not find such ample quantity. And the prices for the peppers will reflect this fact in those areas.

Also questions to ask are if the item is in season. Looking for fresh strawberries in winter? Expect to pay a lot more then in the warm months. On the other hand, in the winter go for grapefruit as they are in season.

If you live in states like California, there is a greater demand in general for organic food, so the prices are lower across the board.

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

The best way to easily get this local, fresh taste from organic food is a local farmers' markets. Look for those in your local paper.

Here are ten general tips on finding organic food:

  1. Do research

    You may have a lot more choices for organic food in your community than you realize. Look around and see what is available. Organic associations and organizations in your state are good places to start. Google the name of your state and the word "organic" and see what appears.

    Websites like Organic Kitchen are a trove of information with many links to organic food resources.

  2. Shop at farmers' markets

    Farmers' markets are great sources of fresh local produce. If you don't see a sign saying the produce is organic, just ask. Very often the people who picked the food before you are sitting right there.

    The key to landing good deals at farmers' markets is to ask lots of questions. Sometimes they have seconds, which are perfectly good, but misshaped produce they will seek to sell at a discount. Ask about bulk pricing, and about how to purchase from them at other times away from the market.

    If you ask them what tastes best, they will know and be happy to tell you.

  3. Investigate a community-supported agriculture program

    When you purchase a share in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, you buy a portion of a local farm's operating expenses. In return, you receive weekly boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables in the upcoming harvest.

    These programs are popular in metropolitan areas like New York City. A share in a CSA costs about $300 to $400 for a 24- to 26-week growing season. Many CSA programs accept monthly payments, and you may be able to buy a half-share rather than a whole one.

    A great resource for this is LocalHarvest, which can identify a CSA near you.

  4. Join a co-op

    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 typically extremely easy. It usually involves paying a membership fee or dues. LocalHarvest also lists local co-ops.

  5. Look for foods that are in-season

    The absolute best time to buy organic fruits or vegetables is during their growing seasons. Often the descriptions of fruits and vegetables on BetterJuice.com include that food's growing season.

  6. Buy preserved foods in the off season

    Frozen peas and frozen corn in the middle of winter often superior to the limp, pale offerings for sale in the fresh area. Also look for dried fruits selling in bulk containers. Also use your freezer for storing things other than ice cream. Information on freezing and canning is on Texas Cooking.

  7. Shop sales and house brands

    More healthy food grocery stores offer their own house brands, costing much less then others. Whole Foods house brand, 365, always costs much less then the others. And the store sells more and more things under their brand now, so be sure to investigate.

  8. Be flexible

    We spend a large part of our lives eating. Make the most of it. Do not try to go to just one grocery store and load up on everything all at once. Remember fresh food expires rapidly. Get into the habit of making more frequent, quick trips to various grocery stores. Get into the habit of visiting a farmers' market on weekends.

    Often farmers markets and various stores are much more fun and interesting then shopping at purely at a cavernous super-hyper grocery store. Not only will your visits be pleasant, but you will also clue into good sales on the best deals available in your area.

  9. Rethink your food budget

    Get into the habit of freeing up your food budget for the additional expenses of organic food. If the body is a temple, then there is nothing wrong with spending a little more to put quality, nutritious food in it. Even with paying the additional money, it still probably will cost far less than eating out.

  10. Ease into healthy eating and buying organic

    Plan a transition from usual shopping and eating habits into a new one. Start by buying the things you know you rally like to eat. Take your time to get used to new foods or shopping behaviors. This way it will develop into a habit. Most people who try to switch directly to a completely new diet end up giving it up shortly, returning to their old ways.

    Families with young children may want to start by buying organic baby food and dairy products. Just start easy at first. Buy what you know you enjoy, and what's easiest to find. Remember, eating well is not only beneficial, but also fun. Make it something to enjoy and look forward to.

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