Buying Organic Food

Category Organic Food
The appeal of organic foods has been growing among consumers over time, however the higher price still remains a deterrent for some. This is a page about buying organic food.
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November 10, 2005

Question:

I have a friend who buys all organic food. What does it mean whenthey slap an organic label on a package? Is it actually better orjust packaging? I like the idea of eating organic, but why does itcost so much. What are some ways to save money eating organic food?

Thanks
Janine from CO

Answer:

Janine,

It is much more than packaging. This was USDA's definition of "Organic" effective since October 21, 2002. All farms and products claiming to be organic needed to be guaranteed by a USDA-approved independent agency to meet the following guidelines:

  • Abstain from the application of prohibited materials (including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and sewage sludge) for 3 years prior to certification and then continually throughout their organic license.
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  • Prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms and irradiation
  • Employ positive soil building, conservation, manure management and crop rotation practices.
  • Refrain from antibiotic and hormone use in animals.
  • Sustain animals on 100% organic feed.
  • Avoid contamination during the processing of organic products.
  • Keep records of all operations.

There are variations in labeling claims including "100% organic" (all organic ingredients), "organic" (at least 95% organic ingredients), and "made with organic ingredients" (70% organic ingredients).

Unfortunately, as I write this, congress passed a congressional rider that weakens these standards by allowing certain synthetic food additives to be added to organic products without notifying the consumer.

Organic food costs more for several reasons:

  • The result of not using pesticides and herbicides results in more labor (weeding-by-hand, etc.) Instead of relying on chemical fertilizers and sewage sludge, organic farmers rely on soil building techniques using compost and animal manure that is bulky and more expensive to transport.
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  • Everything done on a mass scale is cheaper, including commercial farming. That is why jewelry from Wall Mart is cheaper than buying from a designer.
  • Organic livestock feed costs more (almost 2 x more)
  • Instead of always planting a cash crop (the crop that pays the most money), organic producers rotate their crops to improve soil nutrients.
  • Demand for organic products far exceeds supply
  • Organic certification costs money
  • Retailers need to make up the cost differential so they pass it on to you.

Since your friend already buys organic, consider pitching in to buy a share in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. You pay a fee at the beginning of the season and in return, you receive weekly boxes of fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers (whatever is in season). Another option is to join a local food co-op, where members get a discount on purchases (volunteer and get more).

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Also try buying from farmer's markets, buying in bulk, stocking up on whatever is in season and then canning or freezing it, or try growing your own. In the off-season, when produce is more expensive, buy frozen or canned.
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I've been wanting to feed my family more organic fruits and vegetables but I always get sticker shock when I am in the supermarket. I decided to sign up for organic delivery with a local company. This takes the decision out of my hands. I am getting a box of produce every two weeks to ease into it.

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They have many different options and box sizes to choose from, I chose the small family box for $30.00. You can also get dairy, meats and other products added to your order for an additional charge. And if there is something you don't want, just tell them and they replace it with something else.

My area gets deliveries on Wednesday and I was anxiously waiting for the first box all afternoon, which came just before dinnertime. My kids were fascinated by the "strange" vegetables and thrilled with the fruit selection. I had to get online to figure out what to do with the turnip but most of the veggies are ones I regularly buy anyhow. I like the opportunity to try different veggies and get out of my rut. I'll probably have to buy some produce at the store from time to time but I'm going to try to plan meals around what I get in the box.

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Here's what my box contained:

About half of it was local produce. I expect that as the growing season progresses, there will be more locally grown produce. It makes me very happy to support my local community too! I'm going to use the broccoli tonight in Mac and Cheese (my son's favorite), the chard and onion in a stir-fry tomorrow, and the turnip, carrots and potatoes with baked chicken on Sunday night. I don't expect the fruit to last long. My four year old woke up this morning and immediately asked for an "orange". I was impressed at the quality and the variety. I can't wait so see what different things I get throughout the year, as different veggies are in season.

Jess in Portland, OR

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February 7, 2018

Organic foods are often the better choice when purchasing food, especially produce. Here are some helpful FAQ's about organic food.

Organic Produce in Supermarket

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February 22, 2018

Some produce has more pesticides than others. Where organic isn't always available, it is good to know which produce is safest. This is a page about how to prioritize organic produce purchases.

Organic Produce

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