What to Do When Organic Produce Breaks the Budget
I can remember when I first really started learning about how food in our country (and others) is grown. At the time, I was studying horticulture in college and there was a lot of plant-learning involved.
A few of my classmates were into organic farming. One of them even had his own farm. And the more I talked to them, and the more research I did, the more horrified I became with our food system.
Why did anyone think it was a good idea to put pesticides and other sprays on the food we were going to eat?
It’s definitely true that farmers have a lot to deal with. But surely there is a better plan than poisoning ourselves along with all the bugs and other pests we were trying to kill in the first place.
I decided then- and still think now- that eating food without all the pesticides, fungicides, etc. is important. Whether it has to have an organic label or not is a post for another time. But I do want produce that has been grown to certain standards (and is non-GMO).
But let’s face it, buying organic is more expensive. Occasionally, it’s ridiculously expensive. (There’s a reason Whole Foods is sometimes called ‘Whole Paycheck.’)
So if you agree that organic produce is better but can’t figure out how to fit it in your budget, here are some suggestions about what to do.
Buy Seasonal Produce
Knowing when certain produce is in season can help you get the best prices because the availability will be at its highest. If you buy out of season, the fruits or veggies will have been shipped from somewhere far away and will most likely cost more.
For example, apple season happens in the fall. That’s when there’s an abundance of apples and prices will be best. A lot of citrus also hits the grocery stores near me in late fall. Citrus is available all year, but certain types come in season from October-December. So that’s a good time to look for better prices, organic included.
It’s also not a bad idea to know when fruit becomes seasonal in other countries since we get a lot of imported produce. My mom is a huge fan of blueberries and knows exactly when to start looking in stores for blueberries from Chile. Their season comes before the U.S. blueberry season and prices are pretty reasonable.
I mainly focus on having an idea of when different kinds of fruit are in season. Organic fruit is usually more expensive than organic veggies, so it makes sense to know when fruit will be at the best price.
Knowing what grows in what season is connected to buying local. Buying produce locally during your growing season can mean better prices for you.
If it’s been a good growing season, farmers usually end up with an abundance toward the middle or end of the growing season. If you have any organic farms near you, it’s especially worth checking out their prices during that time of year.
Organic fruit, especially berries, tends to be pretty expensive whether it’s local or not. I’ve found that the best prices usually come from U-Pick berry patches and orchards. Part of the cost of fruit is the labor it takes to pick and package the fruit. When you pick it yourself, the cost goes way down.
Of course, one of the best places to pick produce for yourself is from your own garden. Here are some tips on when it’s best to grow your own food.
But since not everyone has room for a strawberry patch or apple orchard, see who else is growing what in your local area. (Google will usually know the answer.)
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Know the Dirty List
If you won’t be able to fit all the organic produce into your budget, you can focus on buying what will count the most.
Maybe you’ve heard of the ‘dirty dozen’ list. This list has the conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that were the worst when it came to pesticide residue testing.
Strawberries and spinach are at the top of the list. Fruits like apples and cherries were found to have residues of pesticides that are banned in Europe (one may cause cancer). Sweet bell peppers did not have as many residues, but the ones found are more toxic to human health.
This information can be scary to hear. No one wants to be eating something that would harm their health, especially when fruits and vegetables are supposed to be good for us.
But this list will give you an idea of where to focus your organic budget. If you can’t buy all organic, at least you can focus on switching out the ones most likely to have pesticide residues.
You can read the full list of the dirty dozen in the EWG’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
Sometimes organic is just too expensive, and there’s no way around it. I really believe in making the best choices you can and not stressing about what you can’t do. That’s what I think simple living really means.
Life is not going to be perfect. Buying all organic food is not going to make life perfect. So don’t stress if you can’t do it.
I think that buying conventional fruits and vegetables (and eating them) is probably better than buying organic cookies and chips. Pesticides may be bad for us, but so is stress. So make the best choices for health you can, and don’t worry about the rest.
Here is another list from the EWG with conventionally grown produce that is least likely to have pesticide residue- the clean fifteen.
When Organic is Too Expensive
Here’s a quick recap of my tips for how to fit more organic produce into your budget:
- Know when produce is in season for the best prices
- Look for produce grown locally during your region’s growing season
- Focus on buying organic when something is on the ‘dirty dozen’ list
- Just buy (healthy) conventional food and don’t stress
Even getting some organic produce to fit in the budget could make a difference to your health. But make the best choices for you and your family and just go with it!