Organic food is often perceived as being expensive, overpriced and unaffordable. However, this is not always the case! While certain organic fruits or vegetables may be a bit more costly, buying organic on a budget is possible when making certain lifestyle choices.
In recent years, organic food has become more affordable for consumers due to the increase in demand and options available on the market. This trend is likely to continue as millennials are among the primary consumers for organic produce. According to a recent report from The Canadian Press, purchasing some organic produce is only marginally more expensive than non-organic produce. Often prices are even comparable! Since many organic fruits and vegetables are locally grown, they usually have lower transportation costs and longer shelf life. Apples, carrots and broccoli are among the most affordable organic produce options.
There are several ways to reduce your grocery bill while buying from and supporting the organic food industry. Here are tips on how to save money while buying organics.
1. Start a garden
Starting a garden is a great first step to eating organic while on a budget. Since you’re growing and taking care of your own plants, you know exactly what you’re eating and where the food comes from. If done properly, it can sometimes provide a long-term supply of produce.
Certain plants can also be grown year long. For example, herbs (e.g., rosemary, thyme, mint) and leafy greens (e.g., spinach, lettuce, kale, etc.) can be grown indoors as long as the conditions are right. All that is required for indoor gardening is enough space and adequate light. A window sill may be sufficient for the summer, while grow lights can be used in the winter when the sun is at its weakest.
To learn more about growing a garden in a small space, please see Small Space Growing.
2. Adapting your diet
What we choose to eat can also impact how much money we spend on organic produce. An easy way to save some money is to adapt our diets and eat cheaper food. For example, this might mean eating more mushrooms and squash in the winter, and buying fewer avocados. Understanding what’s in season and adjusting our diets accordingly can help save money.
The organic price tracker is a valuable tool to compare the price of organic produce sold at farmers’ markets in Canada. While on a budget, this tool can be used to find cheaper local produce and to help plan meals ahead of time.
3. Purchase what’s in season
When certain crops are not being harvested on local farms, it is likely that the price of these fruits and vegetables will be higher than when local produce is available. Imported produce is usually more expensive as the supply is lower and the cost of transportation is higher.
To save money on organic produce, it is important to understand and purchase what’s in season. Many Canadian provincial governments and farmers’ market associations have released their own seasonal food guides. Sobeys Canada also has a chart available on their website for the Western provinces, Ontario, and the Atlantic Provinces.
4. Purchase frozen fruits and vegetables
If certain organic fruits and vegetables are not in season or available, buying frozen produce can sometimes be cheaper. Frozen fruit and vegetables are great additions to smoothies, stir-frys and soups. Bonus, they last longer than fresh produce!
To learn more about how you can save money by stocking your freezer, please see Feed Your Freezer
5. Purchase from the farmer
Purchasing directly from the farmer can be cheaper than buying from the store since many fees (transportation, handling, etc.) are removed. Thus, you can save a few extra dollars and make a meaningful connection with the people growing your food.
Many growers sell their crops directly to customers from the farm. During specific times of the year, some farmers open their fields to visitors and allow them to harvest their own fruits and vegetables. This activity, known as U-pick (pick-your-own), is quite common in Canada for picking berries, fruit trees (e.g., cherries, apples, peaches, etc.) and pumpkins. Since customers harvest themselves, the price of U-pick is often cheaper than purchasing pre-picked produce from the same farm. U-pick farms typically charge by the weight and/or by the container size. To learn more about visiting a U-pick farm, please see U-Pick Etiquette: What To Do, Or Not To Do, When Picking Berries.
Customers can also purchase directly from a farmer through a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Unlike buying produce from the grocery store, CSA programs allow members to purchase a portion of a farmers’ crops. While the payment is required in advance or installments, members continue to receive their weekly or monthly box of fruit and vegetables (and sometimes herbs, eggs, bread, and other additions).
Farmers’ markets provide a great opportunity to buy directly from the farmer. Customers can sometimes save money on organic produce by purchasing at the end of the day. This is when prices usually drop as farmers need to clear out their inventory. Some markets also allow customers to negotiate a cheaper price, especially if purchasing larger quantities. To learn more about visiting the farmers’ market, please see Navigating the Farmers’ Markets 2021.
6. Purchase store brands
Many Canadian grocery retailers sell their own store brand products at a lower price than the private brands. This also applies to organic products!
Under an organic store brand, grocery stores typically sell everything from certified organic produce to grains and spices. Some organic pantry food items are even cheaper than the non-organic brand name options. For example, organic sweetened apple sauce can be purchased for 30 cents cheaper than the leading non-organic option at certain Canadian retailers. Even organic peanut butter can be purchased for approximately the same price as non-organic PB!
7. Purchase large quantities
Organic buying clubs generally focus on non-perishable goods but can sometimes deal with fresh fruit and vegetables. A group of people in a city or rural area combine their orders for organic food and send one large order to a grain mill or a company such as Ontario Natural Food Company. Another option to save money is for a group of consumers to order fruit or vegetables in bulk from an organic farm, particularly one that is accustomed to dealing with wholesale orders rather than direct marketing to consumers. The buying group then subdivides the order — saving the farmer time, packaging materials and the work involved with several small orders.
Purchasing in large quantities, when the price is low, is also a great opportunity for preserving your produce. This helps avoid waste and provides a long term supply of fresh food. Preservation can be done in a few ways, including freezing, drying, canning and fermenting your fruits and vegetables.
Preserving produce can also be fun! There are many existing delicious recipes that are useful when purchasing large quantities of produce. Jams, sauces and chutney can be stored for a while and are great additions to any meal. To learn more about storing food in the pantry, fridge or freezer, please see Simple, Sustainable, Backed by Science.
Warehouse stores have also redefined the organic food industry. Commonly known for their large quantities and low prices, these stores have begun offering a large selection of certified organic food options to consumers. While warehouse stores typically charge a membership fee, they provide unlimited access to its products (including organics) and allow customers to save a few extra dollars per year.
Buying organic does not have to be expensive. It can be as simple as starting your own garden or choosing when and where you purchase certain food items. Making the commitment to choose organic at the farmers’ market or grocery store goes a long way for your health and the environment.