I keep reading about how it's important to buy organic food. But when I do, my grocery shopping bills go through the roof. Are there any tricks for saving money on organics? -- Tara R., jacksonville, florida
When you buy organic, you support a more sustainable agricultural system that helps preserve farmland for future generations. You also reduce your exposure to dangerous pesticides, which in excess "can cause health problems such as cancer, birth defects, and nerve damage," according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Chemicals can penetrate produce, and they can seep into water supplies and contaminate the soil and air.
Growing consumer demand continues to drive down organic prices, but many conventional foods remain cheaper. To help balance out the extra cost, consider these tips.
+ Choose wisely
Since buying everything organic isn't always financially feasible, make the switch for items most likely to have higher pesticide residues-apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, grapes (imported), lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, spinach, and strawberries. It's also wise to buy organic meat and dairy products to avoid hormones.
+ Buy generic
A popular organic brand of pasta sauce costs $5.99 for a 26-ounce jar, while the same-sized jar of Whole Foods' generic 365 Organics sauce rings up at $2.49. You'll even save over a nonorganic product -- a similar-size jar of Ragu pasta sauce goes for $2.69 at my local grocery.
+ Join a co-op
Many food cooperatives sell organic and natural food to members and volunteers at a discounted price. And they usually draw from nearby farms, thus supporting the local economy and minimizing the distance food travels from farm to plate. At Selene Whole Foods Cooperative in Pennsylvania, for example, dues are $30 a year, and members save 10.9 percent (volunteers, 21 percent) on most non-produce items.
+ Shop locally and seasonally
Farmers' markets typically offer organic foods at lower prices than many grocery stores because the food is in season and doesn't travel halfway around the world. At its peak, produce is most plentiful, which keeps the price lower. To find food cooperatives and farmers' markets, visit localharvest.com.
Text by Tracy Fernandez Rysavy