Recently at my local IGA, organic bananas were $. 69/lb while conventional bananas were $. 59/lb. This increased my weekly banana purchase by $. 22. Whole-wheat pasta was $1. 38/lb and white pasta was $1. 00/lb; the difference in price for a single meal would be only about $. 25. Organic Gala apples by the bag were exactly the same price as conventional Gala apples at $1. 79/lb. Organic and conventional celery hearts were exactly the same price. Organic romaine lettuce hearts were on sale for $1. 99/pound while Dole romaine hearts were $2. 99.
Walmart carries plenty of organic vegetables at good prices. However, until I finally asked what day they were stocked and started coming then, I found their organic vegetables were too tired-looking. Other big regional grocers near my home also have good prices on organic foods. I have noticed that the grocers that stock the organic vegetables next to their conventional kin (all carrots together, all zucchini together, etc. )#) instead of in a separate “organic” section have better prices. I’ve also noticed that the grocers in the better neighborhoods have better organic prices.
My local grocer has “artisan” whole grain breads for $5. 29/lb, but I can get the same bread for $2. 49/lb at the Panera bakery or $3. 79/lb at Kroger, and it’s not day-old either. For nutrition, the artisan breads at $2. 49/lb are a much better value than cheap white bread.
Lean meat is another area where you can buy for less than you might think. However, organic meat prices are still often 200% or more of conventional. Yes, extra lean ground turkey is $5. 29/lb, but merely lean ground turkey (92% or 93% lean) is only $2. 79/lb, which is the same price as the 85% lean ground beef a few feet further down the meat cooler. I once experimented with cooking down a pound of regular ground beef and a pound of ground sirloin at 92% lean. Once I poured off the grease, I had paid almost the same price per pound for the actual protein that was left. So, I buy ground sirloin in bulk when it is on sale, cook it the same day, and freeze it in one-pound bags for easy use in recipes.
You’ll find great prices on fresh vegetables at farmer’s markets, especially at the end of the day. And our town even has a winter farmer’s market, where you get many of the “staple” vegetables (carrots, cabbage, squash, onions, etc. for excellent prices plus a lot of fresh herbs, cheeses and meats. Meat is usually cheaper at our organic winter market than the summer one, but it’s still expensive. Cheeses are usually pretty competitive around here though. Most organized farmer’s market vendors can accept WIC coupons; they’ll have signs posted if they do. Just Google “farmer’s market” and the name of your town.
What if you can’t even imagine spending $1 on romaine salad for two people when you could keep four people full for $1 worth of white pasta? Please go visit your local food pantry. They want you to eat better, and they have what you need to do it. Many grocers and bakeries donate their day-old breads and extra vegetables. You’d be surprised what you can find there.
During most summers, we join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm share. I calculated that the prices per pound for our share of those organic vegetables were even less than the conventional vegetables at the grocer. On the days I worked on the farm, I usually got a whole extra bag of vegetables to take home. See http://www.localharvest.org to find a CSA near you. If you live in a city, you might be able to join a “distributed” CSA where the farmer uses part of your yard for growing vegetables.
Distributed CSAs are listed at http://www.localharvest.org as well. The downside to CSAs is that you usually have to pay your share fee up front (in central Ohio that’s about $450-$500), but then you pay nothing more as the vegetables arrive weekly from late May through early October. We found one share kept about four adults and two or three kids in vegetables all season. There are meat-buying clubs, too, and on the Maine coast (at least), there are Community Supported Fisheries where you get weekly shares of fresh fish or lobster harvests.
Or you could join or form a yard-sharing group, in which everybody in the group actually farms some of their yard space. Members get together to plan what to plant and where and how to distribute the weekly harvest duties and bounty. Usually tools and skills are shared among members as well. Another option is to look for a community garden near you where you could sign up for space. Often there are other members who would be happy to share their skills with you, but you probably will need to have your own tools. Take the time to actually price organic, natural, and fresh foods at several different kinds of outlets in your area. When you go to price foods at the farmer’s markets, ask the farmers about buying clubs, community gardens, and CSAs. I eat a lot better now than I did on the same budget two years ago, and I bet you can, too!