Five Ways to Buy Organic Cheaply

As farmers markets are winding down for the day, try bargaining for lower prices on blemished (but still tasty) organic produce.
As farmers markets are winding down for the day, try bargaining for lower prices on blemished (but still tasty) organic produce. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

If you think eating organic on a budget means making do with a handful of grapes or rationing portions from a single hormone-free chicken, starve not. With these five shopping tips, you can stock your shelves with no-pesticide, free-range, shade-grown goodies -- and still have money for those coveted hemp shoes.

Troll the aisles of price-busting warehouses and discount stores. These retailers are carrying more and more organic items. The Chantilly Costco, for example, sells organic coffee, pasta sauce, frozen mixed vegetables, whole chickens and ice cream sandwiches, among other products. If you don't have the storage space for the bulk items, take a friend and split that 25-pound bag of rice.

Download coupons. Visit the Web sites of your favorite organic brands, which may have printable coupons. Stonyfield Farm ( http://www.stonyfield.com), for example, had more than a dozen discounts on yogurt, milk, ice cream and cultured soy at press time. Print coupons worth $1 off cheese, milk and butter from Organic Valley ( http://www.organicvalley.coop). Also check the Web sites of your usual markets for in-store discounts.

Negotiate at farmers markets. Ask if you can buy the dented tomatoes, wilted basil, bruised apples and other rejected produce for a reduced price. (Or be bold and try this tactic at supermarkets, too.) It's likely that no one else will buy the ugly ducklings, especially as the markets wind down for the day. And once you puree the tomatoes into gazpacho, ground the basil into pesto and bake the apples in a cobbler, the once-flawed become flawless.

Order online."People don't normally think of it as a great way to shop for food, but it keeps you from buying too much," says Michelle Kennedy, who writes about organic eating for her online newsletter, Real Living ( http://www.mishakennedy.com), and has an organic farm in Chelsea, Vt. It's easier to stick to a shopping list and not be tempted to buy items you don't need, she says. Plus, Web sites often offer free shipping. Kennedy's favorite online outlets are Netgrocer.com, Barbara's Bakery ( http://www.barbarasbakery.com) for bulk cereal, and Amazon.com, which has expanded its organic offerings.

Think through your purchases. Do all the foods you buy need to be organic? It's a controversial topic among some foodies. The Environmental Working Group (202-667-6982, http://www.ewg.org), a D.C.-based watchdog organization, lists the fruits and vegetables that are least susceptible to pesticide contamination (bananas and onions among them) and those most vulnerable, such as bell peppers and potatoes. Download the group's free guide at http://www.foodnews.org.

-- Elissa Leibowitz Poma


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