Sunday, June 26, 2011

Organic on a Dime

Let me preface this post by saying that I actualy do not care if my produce is organic or not in terms of health reasons. I rinse everything thoroughly and I don't think I end up consuming any pesticide residue in harmful quantities. I buy whatever is cheapest. I know a lot of people disagree. And I am OK with that. We each have to make our own choices. What I do love about organic produce is that I feel it is better for the environment and often you end up with better tasting produce. The difference between an heirloom tomato and a regular old shelf tomato is outrageous. They don't taste like the same species. However, both of these benefits are often lost when you start buying organic from the same giant company that also produces non-organic produce. They plant the same terrible tasting, often genetically modified, seeds and use the same mono crop policies that are often harmful to the land. So when I buy organic I try to do it from local producers, and I try to do it in an afordable way. Here are the things that I have found that work for me:

Community Shared Agriculture: Also known as CSA, in this system you pay upfront at the beginning of the season for a share in a farms harvest. You get a delivery of vegetable and sometimes also fruit once a week during the growing season, which typically lasts 6 months of the year (June-November). You will have to pay 400-600 upfront but when you do the math this boils down to about $20 a week. In my area that is a lot cheaper than buying non-organic at the store. You can also split a share with someone else and each pay half. Not every CSA is organic but most are. Since you are eating from the harvest this means some adjustments to cooking - early season I get tons of lettuce and then POOF! no more lettuce but squashes and tomatoes and potatoes roll in. You also are subject to the vagaries of farming. One year there was blight and so we did not receive any tomatoes. We develop a relationship with the farmers - my CSA is family run and twice a year members can visit the farm, as well as with other CSA members. To learn more or find a CSA in your area, visit

Food Co-op: Think of socialism in produce distribution, but in a good way. These groups are member-owned businesses that provide groceries at a discount. Since this is a user motivated group the produce is often organic. You sign up and in most cases pay modest membership fees for the privilege of shopping at the co-op. Some co-ops require volunteering, and they are strict about this! You cannot pay someone to do your volunteering for you.  To learn more check out the Co-op Directory.

Think Inside the Box: Many frozen or canned products are actually certified organic. This allows you to purchase them year round, instead of just during the harvest season.

Look for Online Options: These days there are several online retailers that offer organic products at prices that are better than the local supermarket. Even Amazon has some organic items. Or check out delivery services like Door to Door Organics. Scour the net for deals, Door to Door was recently on Groupon and websites like Mambosprouts specialize in coupons for organic items.

Make Friends with the Neghbours: By teaming up with others you can often buy in bulk from wholesalers getting a large discount. These groups are called 'buying groups' and you might be able to find one in your area by visiting United Buying Clubs.

Visit the Greenmarket: At green markets local farmers come in to display their wares and sell them. You can find everything from organic carrots to homemade organic jams and honey. You can pick and buy just what you need and meet the farmers. My favorite is the one in union square open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 8 am to 6 pm. Come early to get the best picks! To find a green market in your area try Grow NYC or Local Harvest.

Always remember that when buying organic vegetables are not all you get - they come with plenty of dirt and critters! So make sure to wash thoroughly before consumption!


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