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Can You “Go Organic” On A Limited Budget?
Going organic and all-natural on a limited budget can be difficult, especially when the economy isn’t doing well. However, eating organic food is not only better for you and your family’s health but it is also beneficial for the environment.
It’s no secret that organic food is more expensive than non-organic food. That is because the supply of organic food is nowhere near the demand for it. It is also generally more expensive to grow fruits and vegetables organically. Labor costs are higher as synthetic fertilizers and other unhealthy ingredients cannot be used in the production process. Currently, the sale and distribution channels for most organic products are not as efficient as they are with traditional foods.
There are also fees that producers must pay to get certified as an organic food grower. These fees include new applicant fee, annual inspection fee and annual certification fee. Depending on the country, these fees can run from a few hundred dollars to a thousand or more. All these things mean that the word organic on your food label is a sign that you are going to pay more than what you are used to for that particular type of food. Having said that, it is still possible to eat organically on just about any budget.
What Is Organic Food?
Organic food is all the rage lately. But is it worth the extra cost to buy organic food products? What does the word “organic” really mean? The website Organic.org which is dedicated to educating people about “the benefits of organic agriculture, food and products” provides the following definition:
“Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Organic animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.”
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is in charge of government policy on forestry, farming, agriculture and food, comes up with a lengthier definition:
“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bio-engineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.”
In both definitions, the absence of pesticides, sludge, ionizing radiation, synthetic ingredients and fertilizers is emphasized. Organic food is simply free of growth hormones and antibiotics, and any type of bio-engineering or genetic modifications. Put it another way, organic food is “clean” and as natural as possible, minimizing human interaction or influence throughout the production process.
Sub-categories of Organic Food
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) breaks down its organic food labeling into 3 sub-categories:
- 100% organic – This is the food which contains 100% organic ingredients, and 0% non-organic food.
- Organic – At least, and possibly more than, 95% of this food’s makeup comes from totally organic ingredients.
- Made with organic ingredients – The food contains at least 70% organic material. The rest of the ingredients used can not come from genetically modified organisms, and there are other strict guidelines that are applied.
Other countries may have different standards and rules. In all cases, organic food is going to be closer to its original, natural state than food which does not carry this label.
The Clean 15 Fruits and Vegetables in 2021
Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes an updated list of the Clean 15 foods every year. This is a list of fruits and vegetables in the U.S. that have the lowest concentration of pesticides even when they are grown using pesticides in a conventional way. This list is updated each year, and contains the following healthy foods in 2021:
- Sweet corn*
- Frozen Sweet Peas
- Honeydew Melon
*A small amount of sweet corn and papaya that are sold in the United States is produced from genetically altered seeds. So try to buy organically produced varieties of these crops.
Avocados are at the top of the 2021 Clean 15 list because they have been found to contain the least amount of pesticides of all produce in 2021. Cantaloupe just barely made it to this healthy list of fruits and vegetables, but all these foods can be considered safe and healthy to consume.
Some nutritionists and health professionals argue that you can safely consume fruits and vegetables in the Clean 15 list without paying more for their organic varieties. Their production, harvesting and marketing are so clean and healthy that the differences between organic and non-organic Clean 15 foods are minimal.
The Dirty Dozen Fruits and Vegetables in 2021
Environmental Working Group (EWG) also keeps you informed as to what foods are on the other side of the spectrum. The Dirty Dozen is a list of fruits and vegetables which contain the highest levels of pesticides even after they are washed. Therefore, you should buy organic versions of these fruits and vegetables whenever possible to limit your exposure to harmful pesticides and other chemicals used in the production of these foods.
Environmental Working Group (EWG) has smartly come up with catchy titles so you can easily remember what foods are clean and what foods are not so clean. Each year health conscious consumer awareness groups point out the 12 “dirtiest” foods that you will find in your produce section. They call this list of The Dirty Dozen (not to be confused with the 1967 MGM movie starring Lee Marvin).
In The Dirty Dozen movie, Lee Marvin is assigned a top-secret mission. Turn a small unit of ex-soldier convicts into an elite fighting team. They are guaranteed that if any of them survive a suicide mission geared towards wiping out several high-ranking German officers, they will be given their freedom and allowed to return to active duty. At some point in the film, Lee Marvin’s character refers to his group of 12 outcasts as “the dirty dozen”. At one point they refused to shave or bathe, protesting their living conditions. Thus the very apropos name.
Here are the 12 pesticide covered foods that make up the Dirty Dozen list in 2021:
- Cale, Collard and Mustard Greens
- Bell and Hot Peppers
Apples maintain its place on the Dirty Dozen every year. That is because they have a lot of natural enemies, and more pesticides have to be used to ward off bugs, insects and other critters.
This list reads just like the Clean 15, but in reverse order. When shopping, you are strongly recommended to choose organic varieties of the fruits and vegetables listed in The Dirty Dozen, or at least to wash them properly before cooking and eating.
The Full List
Check out “EWG’s 2021 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce”. To view the full list of fruits and vegetables, visit Environmental Working Group (EWG) website. You can print this list and keep it handy when you go shopping.
Money Saving Tips To Fund Your Organic Lifestyle
You can easily extend your savings and maximize every dollar you spend by following the tips below when shopping, cooking and storing organic food.
1. Buy the Non-organic Version of the Produce on the Clean 15 List
The Clean 15 is so clean that the fruits and vegetables on this list do not have to be designated as organic in order for you to safely consume them as the difference in food quality and health risk are minimal. When you purchase any type of produce that are on the Clean 15 list, you can save a lot of money by buying non-organic versions of them.
2. Grow Your Own Food
Growing your organic produce can save you a lot of money on food costs in the long run. And you don’t need a big garden space to grow your own produce. You can make use of pots, containers and raised beds to grow your organic food. You can also grow your organic produce on window sills and the porch. These all take up minimal space and are suitable for packing plenty of plants into a small space.
Besides space considerations, there are other things yo need to look at before you start growing your organic garden.
- First of all, you need to check your soil’s health to determine if your garden is ready for planting. You can purchase a home testing kit to do it. Some local agricultural extension offices or organizations will also test your soil for free. If you can, test your soil in the fall, and add organic nutrients before cold weather hits.
- Add compost, grass and leaf cuttings and manure to your soil, preferably manure from local animals that are organically raised. If the manure has not been composted, wait for at least 2 months before planting anything in your soil. You can also prepare your own compost and create the perfect soil for organic gardening.
- Choose your plants according to the USDA Hardiness Zone information. This ensures that your plants will be as healthy and long-lasting as possible.
- Check your local farmers’ market, local garden center or the Internet for organic seed or seedlings purchases. Always go for certified organic seeds.
- If you have limited space, plant indeterminate tomatoes, old-fashioned pole beans, bell peppers, zucchini, Swiss chard, snow peas or sugar snaps. The way these plants grow and are harvested gives a maximum return on organic food from limited space. Herbs can be also be a good choice, given that organic herbs are one of the most expensive items at the grocery store.
- Raise a few chickens and hatch your own eggs. You can even sell them to your neighbors for extra money.
- Check Organic Consumers Association for additional information to grow organic food year round.
3. Buy in Bulk
Even organic food costs less when you buy in larger quantities. Buying your favorite organic products in bulk can save you a lot of money in the long run.
- Always buy packaged staples when they are on sale. Similarly, you can take advantage of sales promotions such as “buy one get one free” or “get the second one at a discount” to lower your organic food bill.
- Buy foods and vegetables that have a long shelf life like potatoes and onions.
- Buy larger meat cuts and freeze the portions for later use.
- Buy unpackaged foods from bulk containers to save money when possible.
- Check the Eat Well Guide to find out what foods are in season to buy in bulk.
4. Buy Seasonal Produce
Buying any type of produce, organic or non-organic, is usually cheaper when it is in season. This is due to its abundance after the harvesting season and the fact that importing produce from around the world out of season increases the costs which are reflected in the price tag. Also, seasonal organic produce is not only cheaper but also fresher and more nutritious.
For more information to see when your favorite organic fruits and vegetables are in season, check the USDA’s Seasonal Produce Guide.
5. Make Your Own Food from Scratch
Buying convenience foods at the grocery store are often more expensive than cooking raw ingredients from scratch to prepare your meals. By making your own food from scratch, you can also get to the decide on the ingredient mix as well. With some creativity, you can also make your pizza, organic granola bars, smoothies, kale chips, coconut, almond and cashew milk instead of buying them at the store at a higher cost.
6. Buy Frozen Organic Food
You can also opt for frozen organic fruits and veggies instead of fresh produce as frozen produce can be quite a bit cheaper than fresh food making organic food accessible to more people.
Organic produce can be just as healthy and nutritionally comparable to fresh produce which is harvested and frozen at the peak of the season, thus preserving its nutritional value instantly. In contrast, fresh produce loses some of its nutrients over time during the transportation process from the farm to the grocery store. In contrast, frozen produce takes much longer to spoil and can also reduce food waste to a great extent.
7. Buy Locally Grown Produce
Do not depend solely on the organic section of your big box grocery store. You will usually spend more than if you buy organic produce from other local sources. Produce at the farmers market comes directly from the local growers and is usually sold on the same day it’s harvested. So you are assured of fresher and cheaper organic produce than you would find at a supermarket.
When your organic food doesn’t have to be shipped across the country to reach you, shipping costs don’t drive up the costs and you get organic food at a lower price. Similarly, local produce can be significantly cheaper than imported foods. Besides, shopping locally helps smaller farms and businesses and contributes to a healthy, sustainable environment.
8. Join An Organic Food Co-op
If you are on a limited budget, check out community food co-ops. By joining one, you will have access to a wide variety of healthy food items at lower prices. Food co-op are also a great way to discover new varieties of fruits and vegetables that you may not be aware of. To to find a food co-op near you, do a quick search on the Internet or use online directories.
9. Sign Up for A Local Organic Box Scheme
Popular in some countries, an organic box is a scheme that delivers seasonal, fresh organic fruit and vegetables to your doorstep or a local collection point. A variety of box sizes and themes can be chosen, meaning you can tailor your order according to your own needs.
Local organic box schemes may not always be the cheapest option but they are comparable to the prices of organic produce at supermarkets. They can save you time shopping and allow you to support farms in your locality. Avoid boxes that use imported organic produce as they are often more costly than their local equivalents.
10. Reduce Food Waste
In affluent societies, tens of thousands of tons of food are wasted every day with fruits and vegetables making up much of the waste. There are several ways you can avoid food waste and spoilage.
- Freezing organic food will extend its shelf life considerably and reduce spoilage. You can also freeze your leftovers, if you think you will not have a chance to consume them before they go bad. This can prolong their life span and save you from cooking the same meal over and over again.
- Make sure that you have used up your old fruits and vegetables before you start stocking up on new produce. Only buy organic food that you can use up before they start spoiling. In other words, you shouldn’t buy more than you can consume in a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, this would lead to wasted food and money.
- Keep all perishable produce in the freezer and non-perishable produce in a clean, dry place. You can also compost any food waste in your garden so you spend less on fertilizers.
- Make sure that your freezer is big enough to store your foods. This allows you to buy local produce that is in season at a lower cost in bulk and save it for later.
- For more information on how to preserve food and reduce waste, visit Green Ideal.
11. Shop Wisely
Organic food prices are often much higher at supermarkets compared to farmers’ markets as organic food is regarded as a premium product and comes with a higher price tag. So it is a good idea to shop around for the best price.
- Check supermarket prices online and compare them to those of local organic food sellers to find out who offers the best deal.
- Check organic products at local specialty shops, health food stores, delis, farmers markets, vending machines, convenience stores and community sponsored agricultural programs.
- Join the loyalty programs of your grocery store in your locality. Depending on the promotions, you can save anywhere from 1% to 10% on your organic food bill over time.
- Join your favorite organic food company’s email list and social media accounts. You are often rewarded with coupons and money saving deals.
- Contact local farmers and split your costs with other people who prefer to buy organic food. When you share the cost of organic produce with others, it is more budget friendly.
12. Shop Online
Even after considering shipping, some online organic food suppliers can get certain products to you cheaper than if you buy them locally. Often you also get free shipping and other rewards when your purchase is over a minimum amount. Sometimes it may be cheaper to buy some of your groceries online, especially if you watch for sales.
13. Use Coupons
You can also use printable coupons to save money on things that you regularly buy. You can find a lot of coupons online that are specifically for organic and natural products. Search for “organic coupon sites” or “organic coupons” using your web browser. There are many legitimate coupon sites which offer coupons for selected brands.
You can ask organic food companies if they have any coupons they can send you. Usually, they will be more than happy to help you out as they would like to gain you as a new customers.
14. Use Money Saving Apps
It can be hard to go totally organic on a tight budget. However, using the money saving tips above, you can increase your share of organic food in your overall food consumption. To enjoy the incredible health benefits of eating healthy, natural foods, don’t let your personal budgetary restraints discourage you from trying organic. Enjoy your new organic lifestyle!