Groceries – How to balance local and organic on a budget

One of the questions I ask myself often is what price am I willing to pay for each of the following: organic, local, natural, pesticide free, or whatever other label that become popular at the time.

Understanding the product labels:

Organic: Some benefits of organic foods are that it is federally regulated with uniform standards to prevent the use of artificial chemicals and pesticides.  The drawbacks are that it is very expensive to obtain this labeling, excluding some small farms who use organic practices.  Also, there is no limit on how far an Organic product can travel meaning that in many cases large corporations are still benefiting from the sale of these products (instead of someone in your own community), produce is traveling up to 1000’s of miles to reach your home, and the environmental impact of pollution as well as dependence on oil is the same as traditional mass produced products.  I personally buy organic when I cannot find a local alternative.  Many grocery stores carry a wide variety of store brand organic products that are very reasonably priced and readily available.

Local: There are no set limitations on distance traveled for a food considered local.  The best way to ensure that you are getting what you pay for is to get to know the farmers in your area and understand the parameters that a given grocery store or market use to describe something as local.  One example is Earth Fare, a grocery store that originated in North Carolina but has spread throughout the Southeast.  Many of their major suppliers are from North Carolina because that is where they began.  As they branch out the obtain new suppliers as well, but the local label can be misleading when the product is actually traveling across 3+ states to get there.

Grocery Shopping

I balance the cost of organic and local foods with my desire to eat well and support these products is a combination of traditional grocery stores, farmers markets, local farms, and the growing number of healthy grocery store chains.

From May – September I utilize our local farmers market as well as farms that make weekly deliveries in town.  Another option is to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and get a weekly portion of vegetables that way.  During these months I try to get most of my produce from these sources.  Some of these farms sell meat as well as produce such as Lamb, Beef, Chicken, and Pork as well as free range eggs.

To supplement this produce and meat I make a weekly trip to Earth Fare.  The entire store is free from HFCS, Antibiotics, Hormones in meat, etc.  They also make an effort to provide a large selection of organic and local items.  Some of my favorite things at this store are their deli meats and cheeses, hot bar, bacon, milk, pre-made pizzas or pizza dough.  When it first opened I was skeptical about the prices being significantly higher than my usual grocery store, Kroger.  There are definitely some high dollar items there, but if you are a smart and observant shopper it is quite comparable.  The deli meat and cheeses are $7.99/lb, the bakery breads are about the same as Kroger and various meats are always on sale so you can find something inexpensive.  Some of the items that are significantly higher are milk, high end cuts of meat, root beer and sodas, pre-made items.  I am careful to watch my spending and always take advantage of their email and in store coupons and deals.  They offer free samples of things frequently and even have a kids eat free night on Thursdays.

Finally I make a trip to the good old Kroger about twice a month.  Kroger has many organic products that are very affordable along with a limited selection of local produce during the season.  Some products that are commercially produced have moved away from using HFCS.  Some of these products are: Natures Own Breads, Thomas’ English Muffins, Bulls Eye BBQ sauce, Newmans Own products, Private Selection makes a great organic ketchup and peanut butter.  There are also items that really do not need to be organic such as mustard and hot sauce.

With this combination of shopping trips, coupons and sales I am able to buy the quality of products that I want without breaking the bank.  We also supplement our food supply with venison from hunting season and always bring back a cooler full from our family farm in Virgina that raises grass fed beef, pastured pork and free range chicken eggs (Broadview Beef).

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