Buying organic doesn't have to be expensive

by Laura Edwards-Orr

You’ve read the articles, signed up for the newsletters, rallied against pink slime – you want your dollars to end up in the hands of farmers and businesses who treat the land well, deal fairly, AND offer you a top quality, healthy, and delicious product. Who wouldn’t? In some ways getting on board philosophically is the easy part. When push comes to shove, though, voting with your dollar can be a strain on the budget. Never fear, you’re in good company.

Farmers aren’t just business people. They are also eaters and shoppers and know what it’s like to stretch a dime. Sometimes, a mere $.25 can make the difference for a farmer but as the raw materials travel through the supply chain, a few more cents get added at each stop until your retailer offers you the final deal. Doing things right, making beautiful square corners instead of cutting them, just costs a little extra. So, how can you shop with your values without breaking the bank?

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to offer six tips to help you get the most for your money and make the most impact with your purchases. Don’t forget, when you’re at the store or market, this is a ‘do your best’ situation. Being an educated shopper makes your job a little harder, so it’s OK to go one step or one product at a time. If you take the time to make one change for the better, you’ve made a solid move in the right direction!

For some, the way animals are treated – including the fact that they must be allowed to graze pasture – is the reason they choose organic.

Shop Your Values Tip #1: Pick one thing. Anything having to do with time, money, or too many choices can get overwhelming in a hurry. Shopping on your values shouldn’t be one of them. This is NOT an all or nothing proposition. The easiest way to tilt the scales without breaking the bank is to pick one product (or category of products) and start there. The beauty of this strategy is that it can be a very personal choice – think about what is most important to you. What makes you feel the most gratified? Maybe your grandparents ran an apple orchard – so purchasing apples locally brings you back to your roots. Or, animal welfare is on your mind, so discovering a source for grass-fed beef or pastured poultry is your number one priority.

As a flat broke 21 year-old, here’s how I employed this strategy to help with my own grocery shopping woes: My very first job out of college involved staffing a national farm crisis hotline. It was a really bad year for conventional dairy farmers. Almost every day I talked to dairy families who were struggling to make ends meet. Many were making the very hard decision to get out of farming. It was devastating.

Then, I had the good fortune to meet a staffer at Organic Valley. We started talking about the organic farmer-members of the CROPP Cooperative, and the difference in the prices

paid to organic dairy farmers, as compared to conventional dairy farmers. That’s when my new acquaintance said something that has stuck with me, since:, “Our farmers are able to take vacations.”

What a contrast. The organic farmers weren’t getting rich, but they weren’t going under the way so many of the small, family-owned non-organic dairy farmers were. A few dollars can make the difference between a farm family earning below or above their own cost of production. After that, I started buying only organic milk. This one, simple change makes a difference every time I cash out; after talking with the farmers on either end of the spectrum, this is something that I deeply believe.

Bottom line: if you take the time to make a change, or spend a little more, it’s got to be meaningful to you. Whether it’s health, the environment, or supporting family farms that’s motivating you to shop smarter, it is absolutely, completely doable to identify one product that fits your values and your budget.


Laura Edwards Orr
Laura Edwards-Orr started her career as a local foods advocate at Farm Aid – America’s longest running concert for a cause. She now works for Plainville, MA- based Red Tomato where she connects farmers across the Northeast with access to wholesale markets, like grocery stores.

Laura also works as a freelance writer, researcher, and data nerd for organizations and businesses working to create family-farm based food systems and value chains. She lives in Providence, RI with her husband, toddler twins, horse, dog, and two cats.