Organic Produce and Your Budget

Not too many people would actually turn down organic produce (fruits and vegetables), saying they would rather have the kind produced at factory farms, where they have been hosed down with pesticides. Picture Uncle Joe at Thanksgiving dinner, asking, “What kind of cranberry sauce is this? It tastes funny. Organic? Oh, I don’t think I should eat that. What’s wrong with the regular cranberries?”

No, that’s not the issue. Price is. Usually, organic food costs more than conventional. I say usually because we sometimes see conventional prices rise above organic prices, depending on time of year and where we shop. However, for long-term budgeting, organic produce costs more overall.

Here is a handy chart of the “dirty dozen” most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables, and another showing the “clean” ones that carry the lightest load of chemicals.

The Dirty Dozen Foods: Buy Organic

  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Blueberries (domestic)
  • Apples
  • Grapes (imported)
  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Celery
  • Bell Peppers
  • Spinach
  • Kale and Collard Greens
  • Potatoes

Clean Foods: Non-Organic is OK

  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Sweet Peas
  • Sweet Corn
  • Asparagus
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Sweet Potato
  • Cantaloupe (domestic)
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Honeydew

More Cost Savings:

Local produce may have been treated with fewer chemicals, depending on where you live. If you live in an area of big farms that sell their produce to distant locations, then local produce is not necessarily a solution for you. Even in those locations, you might find small truck farmers with less-toxic produce. Ask those friendly clerks at your local health food store. They may know of some good sources for organic, transitional, unsprayed or at least less toxic food.

Discount grocery stores that specialize in low prices may carry organic produce in season at much lower prices than your local supermarket.

Shop the sales. When you go to the grocery store, look for organic produce on sale. Not part of your meal plans for the week? Change your plans, to take advantage of the sale!

Dry, freeze, preserve. When any particular fruit or vegetable is at the peak of its season and or at its lowest price, buy lots of it, but don’t let it rot in the back of the fridge! You can dry it with a food dehydrator, freeze it (either raw or par-boiled, depending on the food) or you can preserve it in canning jars, with or without the addition of sugar. Some specialty foods you can make in advance are spaghetti sauce, tomato juice, chopped tomatoes, relishes, pickles, ketchup (tomato or specialty varieties like cranberry), chutneys, jams and jellies, sauces of all varieties, and prepared fruit for pastries. This cornucopia of organic food will contribute to delicious meals over the winter. You can also decorate the bottles to give as holiday gifts.

Organic gardening. When deciding what to grow for yourself, you might want to lend more weight to the Dirty Dozen, above. How about an apple, peach or cherry tree? A few berry bushes, a grape arbor, a strawberry planter? A kitchen garden with leafy greens, bell peppers and celery? A potato patch?

Wash produce. Wash your hands, scrub your fingernails, clean the sink and counter.  Discard stems, paper labels, spoiled portions, and the outer leaves from leafy foods. To wash your produce, you can use clean cold water, distilled water, vinegar or salt water, a purchased food-wash, or a liquefied ozone water (made with a device for that purpose). While washing, scrub the food with a vegetable brush.  Even if you are planning to peel the food, wash the outside first, so you don’t transfer microbes or pesticides to the inside by way of your knife or peeler or your hands. Leafy greens, roots, and bumpy vegetables, like broccoli, should then be soaked for 2-5 minutes in the water or liquid.

The Bottom Line: Where to Put your Money.

The most important fruits and vegetables to buy or grow organic are the most toxic, the Dirty Dozen.

More Tips on Washing Produce and the Dirty Dozen:

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5 Responses to “Organic Produce and Your Budget”

  1. Anna October 2, 2010 at 11:08 pm #

    That is a very helpful article – really useful tips not only for shopping but on how to properly wash produce so as to remove as many potential toxins or contaminants as possible. It also is good to have a better idea of which fruits/vegetables are “safer” to buy non-organic, so that one can stretch the budget. Unfortunately, many of the items on the “dirty” list are the ones I use more often.

    I would imagine it should help to get items from a local farmer’s market where possible, as opposed to the grocery store, where the prices are similar – even if the produce at the farmer’s market is not organic. It seems it might contain less contaminants than what one would find at a chain grocery store … what do you think?

  2. Cheryl October 3, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    Excellent idea, Anna. The Farmer’s Market, where local farmers sell their wares directly to the public, is usually found outdoors in the summer on a specific day or two of the week. You might find organic and non-organic produce, meats, eggs, dairy products, honey, home-preserved foods, crafts, and even lunch. Since it is local, the produce did not have to be prepared for long transport time, so is less likely to be heavily sprayed.

  3. Megan October 4, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    That makes sense, I suspected as much. Some of the farmers said they used no pesticides and some (the least expensive stall, for example) said they used “as little as possible” in a nutshell.

  4. Johnny October 26, 2010 at 3:04 am #

    Well that sucks for me. All my favourite fruits and vegetables are the ones that are the most toxic. Looks like I will have to make the transition to more organic foods.

    • Cheryl October 26, 2010 at 12:46 pm #

      Yeah, Johnny, I felt the same way. Luckily, all the grapes on sale around here these days are USA grapes! The other day I bought some red peppers at a price I just couldn’t refuse. Then I scrubbed and soaked them.

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