It can be hard to eat organic food on a budget. But we have some tips on how to prioritize the foods least contaminated by pesticides, increase your access to healthy, organic food on a budget, and even build community along the way.
The good reasons to do so go beyond protecting your health and the health of your family. Prioritizing organic food also means protecting farmworkers, farming communities, and the environment (including pollinators and other beneficial insects) from exposure to harmful pesticides.
So, whether you’re going organic for reasons of personal health, or social and environmental protection (or all three!), we have some tips on how to increase your access to healthy, organic foods, and even build community along the way.
Prioritizing Your Organic Choices
The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce is a treasure trove of information for organic shopping. One gem is their “Dirty Dozen” list—fruits and vegetables most likely to retain pesticide residue even on grocery-store shelves.
“Numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that consumption of produce high in pesticide residues … increases the risk of certain negative health impacts,” explains the EWG. “The potential health problems connected to pesticides include brain and nervous system toxicity, cancer and hormone disruption.”
A major area of concern for EWG is children’s health. EWG explains that even low levels of pesticide exposure can negatively affect childhood development. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken steps over time to control pesticide usage, the EWG says that current regulations still fall short.
Sarah Graddy, EWG’s senior communications advisor for agriculture and climate warns about “persistent messaging from industry lobby groups” claiming that certain pesticides and agricultural practices are safe by pointing to government approval. “Our primary message, beyond eat more fruits and vegetables, is that legal does not always mean safe.”
Dr. Alexis Temkin, EWG’s senior toxicologist, adds that “when you see people switch to an organic diet, the levels of those pesticides that you can measure in people drop really, really quickly.”
To help you with your organic choices, the EWG also publishes the “Clean Fifteen”, a list of fruits and vegetables that are safer to buy non-organic because they retain lower levels of pesticide residue. Some of these items can be expensive, so to be truly budget-conscious, you may wish to limit purchases to within their growing season, or eliminate purchases overall of fruits and vegetables that don’t grow in your bio-region. This has the added benefit of reducing consumption of items that have traveled the farthest to arrive at your local store—a climate win and budget win all at once.
More Tips and Strategies
When it comes to shopping organic on a budget, here are further strategies that can help you with your grocery list:
- Vegetarian and vegan diets are generally the most affordable, studies have found. Cutting meat out of your kitchen can greatly reduce your bill, so switching to a plant-based diet can do wonders for both the environment and your wallet. The benefits of this strategy can be felt even eating meatless a couple days a week.
- Frozen organic foods are also a good option that can even have higher nutritional value, as they are harvested later in their life cycle when nutrition is at its peak, and they don’t lose nutritional value in transportation.
- Starting a garden can save money, cut pesticides, and reduce carbon emissions compared to store-bought vegetables. Turning your backyard, patio, or balcony into a regenerative Climate Victory Garden provides the opportunity to grow the most local organic produce possible while simultaneously giving back to the environment.
- Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups can help you access fresh and local organic produce. These community groups partner with local farms to provide members with a regular supply of produce, often paid for at the start of the growing season by an up-front membership fee that helps farmers plant without borrowing money. In turn, members receive a bountiful supply of local foods, saving money in the long run over conventional grocery costs. To increase accessibility, many CSAs offer sliding scale pricing, installment plans, or other pricing structures that extend through the growing season.
The USDA Local Food Directories can help you find nearby CSA programs, farmers’ markets, and other local food resources. Their search tool can filter your search for options that match your budget, like CSAs that welcome volunteer work as payment, or those that accept nutrition assistance programs. Farmers’ markets often take SNAP or EBT benefits, and can offer prices cheaper than the grocery store.
- Recipients of SNAP or EBT benefits can save even more. Now available in 25 states, the Double Up Food Bucks Program doubles your benefits when they are spent on fresh fruit or vegetables. Anyone receiving SNAP or EBT benefits is automatically eligible.
With knowledge on your side, you can determine your own priorities to guide your organic shopping strategies, focus your organic purchasing on the right items for you, and still work to keep costs down. Whether you can utilize one or all of the resources mentioned here, every step taken towards a more sustainable future supporting organic agriculture is a win.