How to buy organic on a budget
Updated: Feb 22, 2021
Although many people know the benefits and want to eat organic, the cost is a major barrier. Depending on where you shop you can pay anywhere from 50 to 200% more for a product if it's organic and when doing shopping for a whole family this can quickly add up. But don't despair! Using these four simple tricks you can cut the cost of your organic food bill down to a fraction of what it is at the supermarket.
1. Buy through co-operatives
A co-operative is a group of people that buy in bulk direct from wholesalers, cutting out a huge amount of the cost by removing the markups from the supermarkets. Overall it's a great option for dry pantry goods like flours, grains or canned food because you can buy these less frequently, in bulk and expect them to last a while. You can also do frozen vegetables and meat but only if people are going to all pick it up on the day of delivery or you've got a good amount of chilled storage space. The bulk buying can also work for fresh food like fruit and vegetables or dairy but you'll need more people and more regular deliveries because it won't last very long.
Co-operatives are generally not advertised so a lot of people have never really heard of them. They only really work for people that live near each other so the best way to find one is often just to ask on local community pages. If you can't find one you can also start your own if you're willing to put in the effort and do the coordination. Key things you'd need to do are:
Find people that are interested in forming a co-operative with you,
Create accounts with the wholesalers you want to buy from,
Identify someone to take the lead in organizing payments and managing people's orders,
Identify someone who is willing to use their house/ garage/ business as the place that this all gets delivered, and
Organize a way to break down orders into separate piles for each person.
Overall it is probably the best option we've found for slashing the cost to buy organic right down and there are a range of other benefits: You'll use less packaging, you'll be less reliant on a supermarket system if there are lockdowns and there is an opportunity to buy a lot more local stuff from small vendors.
2. Grow your own food
This can be the best solution because then you know exactly what's going into your food. Many people think they need a big lifestyle block to grow a decent amount of food but surprisingly there are people that are totally self sufficient on small residential sections. Here is one family who are almost completely self sufficient on 1/10th acre (440m2) urban section.
You can begin a basic garden pretty easily by buying some seeds or seedlings and making a vegetable garden. However to get good at it and really maximize your harvest there's a lot to learn about with fertilizing, companion planting, crop rotation, bug control etc. particularly if you are taking a 100% organic approach. Although you can get a lot of good info off of websites I'd also recommend getting a book that covers off everything for your garden. We use the Koanga Garden Guide which tells you pretty well everything you need to know on organic gardening but it is quite New Zealand specific. There are also some great books out there that are more general like Rodale's Basic Organic Gardening which can be a good reference wherever you live.
While not critical it can also be worth investing in glass houses and frames with netting, particularly if you're creating a long-term set up. The netting is really just to keep birds off which can be a bit of a problem depending on where you live. Glasshouses or even just the plastic grow tunnels (cheaper option) are great because they increase the temperature so you can grow things year round that might have only otherwise grown in summer. They're also great for temperate climates because you can grow things that would normally only work in the tropics.
3. Make things from scratch
There are a lot of products that can become a lot cheaper if you just make them yourself. For those that have the motivation this includes breads, dairy products, drinks, cleaning products, cosmetics and so on. You can also dry and can your own foods and butcher your own meat. There is really no limit and there's often not only a financial benefit but you can have a better idea of what's going into your products.
The payoff with this is really just how much time you're willing to commit to it. Some things are quite simple and are worth making yourself, others just aren't worth the headache. We make our own bread, which is great because once you've done it a couple of times it doesn't require a lot of effort, particularly if you have a bread maker or stand mixer to kneed it. We love being able to make this fresh from grinding our own wheat grain and it costs about a quarter of an organic loaf from the shop.
However, at the other end of the spectrum were our trials with churning our own butter. Delicious stuff because it was made from raw organic cream but would take a couple of hours and a very messy kitchen just to make a few blocks. After the third session of doing this we threw in the towel, decided it just wasn't worth the time and went back to buying it!
4. Only buy organic for the things that matter.
For some products there is very little difference between organic and non-organic because there's almost no GMO, pesticides or artificial fertilizers used to grow them. For other products there is a huge difference, with non-organic types having a huge amount of toxins hidden within them.
See our post here for a detailed break down of what you should prioritize to get organic and what you shouldn't bother with. Here is a quick table summary:
Although organic food can be expensive there are some great ways to get around this. By using cooperatives, growing your own food, making things from scratch and prioritizing your organic groceries you can get the low toxin food you need for your family without the huge cost. You'll also find some huge flow on benefits of these approaches in building networks, supporting more local providers and overall sourcing food in a more natural way!