When you hear the words organic food, the first image that enters your mind is probably fruit and vegetables. That's the case for me at least. Today, I'll share how we buy cheap organic fruit and vegetables.
And, if you are living on a limited budget, I'll also share my opinion on which organic produce items you should buy first.
Disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional, my wife and I LOVE organic food and we just want to tell others how we are able to find great deals so our monthly grocery budget doesn't break the bank.
How We Buy Cheap Organic Fruits and Vegetables
The availability and prices of organic fruits and vegetables can vary widely based on where you live. Most of the organic produce we eat is sourced from California, Florida, or Mexico. Thankfully, we live in the mid-south so we live closer to the fields than, say, our friends in northern Canada (sorry Ruth), although some items do come from Canada as well.
Some of the items we buy also come from the Carolinas (sweet potatoes), Pacific Northwest and Michigan (apples), and Central America (bananas).
While you can buy many organic items in your local supermarket, you might also be able to find a limited selection at Costco, Walmart, and Aldi. But, you will pay premium prices for these products.
Your Own Garden (aka The HEALTHIEST Option)
We have a small raised bed where we grow our own vegetables and greens like spinach, lettuce, kale, squash, carrots, onions, and tomatoes.
The main advantage of having your own garden is that it can be no-spray. Yes, you won't have picture-perfect produce and you will lose some of it to bugs and blight, but, there are no pesticides or herbicides. Since you have full control of what gets put onto your garden, it can be way healthier than any commercially-grown fruit or vegetable, organic or conventional.
We try to buy heirloom, non-GMO whenever possible. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is our #1 recommendation.
But, you can also buy seeds and tomato plants from your local store (find out how we save money on every Lowe's purchase)
Look for a CSA Group
Probably the most affordable way is to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group. These groups usually require you to buy a “share” and for a flat monthly fee, you receive a basket of locally-grown produce from local farmers. Each CSA is different, but, usually, you don't get much say in the items receive as the produce yields for that month are evenly distributed. It's not like going to the market and you pick and choose what you want.
You might be able to list your likes and dislikes to potentially get more items that you enjoy. For example, you might day you dislike lettuce but enjoy spinach. If somebody else enjoys lettuce and dislikes spinach, you might be able to trade your spinach and lettuce with each other.
In addition to fruit and veggies, you might be able to buy local farm fresh eggs, meat, and (occasionally) non-local produce as well.
The product selection for each CSA will mostly depend on where you live and the size of the group. A group in California might be able to get access to fresh mangoes and avocados while a group in New York might only be able to access traditional American staples like lettuce, apples, carrots, potatoes, etc.
Finding Your Local CSA
There are three different ways to find your local CSA:
- Perform a web search for CSA or visit Local Harvest
- Visit a local farmer's market and ask the vendors if a local CSA or Buying Club exists
- Ask your local health food stores
We belong to a local group and have greatly enjoyed the cost savings. For many in-season items, we can buy them for about half the cost of retail value.
If you live along one of the drop sites, Azure Standard can also be a huge blessing. We call them “Whole Foods on Wheels” because you can buy many of the same items from Azure without having to give away your whole paycheck. While they primarily sell pantry items, they do own several organic farms in the Pacific Northwest to sell fresh produce.
Once a month, you can submit an order and a semi-truck will deliver it to a designated drop site. For us, it's a gas station parking lot on a Thursday afternoon. Other drop sites might be a local business where you can pick up the items at your leisure if you are at work or can't get away. We like Azure, but, I will say they have limited quantities of some items so be prepared to buy from your local store or go without if you cannot get it (this order).
What Organic Fruits and Veggies Should You Buy First?
If you are new to the organic food arena, the buying process might feel overwhelming at first. Since some items can cost substantially more than the conventional counterparts, you might not be able to go 100% organic. For us personally, we are probably 80% organic or non-GMO for our regular food.
When you have a small grocery budget, I encourage you to organic items mentioned in The Dirty Dozen.
Here's a list of the most-sprayed conventional fruits and vegetables for 2017:
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Hot Peppers (Dirty Dozen Plus)
If you have ever grown a garden or fruit orchard at home, you probably know from first-hand experience which crops attracted the most bugs or blight. The handsome-looking produce you buy in the stores doesn't happen by accident, they were are sprayed with aplenty of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, even organic produce 🙁 (but hopefully with not as much and with safer applications) A single strawberry, for instance, can have up to 21 different pesticides applied.
The Clean 15
If you are shopping on a budget, you can also buy the Clean 15 as conventional, non-organic items. Some of these “clean” items include sweet corn, avocados, frozen sweet peas, cabbage, pineapple, and mangoes.
We still hedge our bets and try to buy these items organic whenever possible. But, eating organic is important to us so we are happy to spend a few extra dollars when possible, or, we eat smaller portions to make the items last a second meal.
Buy Sustainably Grown Products
Whether or not you buy organic, I'm also a huge proponent of sustainably grown products. Sustainability (even if conventionally raised) can be very beneficial. Not only is it better for the farmland, but, it means fewer chemicals sprayed than the field that is focused on maximizing yield through modern methods.
One company's products that we trust are Stahlbush. Their packaging stands out in the stores and you cn find them at most health-minded locations like Whole Foods and Earthfare.
I hope this article has helped you realize how much easier it can be to afford organic fruit and vegetables. If you have the time and real estate, a backyard garden is your best option. But, there are also organized groups all over the place where other like-minded people are tired of paying retail prices to eat healthy.
Do you want to read more about how we save money on organic food?
Feel free to read these articles below:
Do you grow your own fruits and veggies? Have you ever joined a local CSA?
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.