Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a big fan of food “the way nature intended.” I don’t want watermelons that are square because they’re easier to stack for the grocer or carrots that are maroon because orange is the color of your rival football team. However good or bad the reason, I don’t want growers screwing with my food.
On the other hand, I also don’t want my food budget to eat up my paychecks either. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened the last time I tried to go all-organic and non-GMO (i.e. avoiding “genetically modified organisms”). Maroon carrots are a great example of genetic modification—i.e. the genetic code of the carrot was changed so it would be colored maroon instead of orange. Square watermelons aren’t actually genetically modified, but it’s still a matter of growers messing around to make “nature” less natural.
All-natural growing is expensive. Science makes keeping crops healthy and pest-free easy (and cheap). Once you try to take the science out of your food, you can guarantee your food costs are going to sky-rocket. So is it possible to be all-natural and frugal about your food at the same time?
Why Do Organic and Non-GMO Foods Cost So Much?
If you’ve ever done any gardening, then you know how hard it is to grow and maintain a plant at its peak level. Some plants can be more forgiving, but most fruits and vegetables don’t fall into that category. Want the perfect tomato plant? Then expect to baby it… a lot.
Chemical growth enhancers, pesticides—all of these things make getting that perfect plant easier. The same is true of GMO products, because they’re usually modified to resist certain pests or diseases, to be hardier, or to have a longer growing season. The easier it is for a grower to grow more perfect plants without a lot of extra work, the lower the cost to buy that piece of produce.
So when you eliminate all of the “easy fixes” science provides against things like pests, it becomes harder and harder to grow a perfect plant. It can still be done, but it usually takes a lot more money and personal care (i.e. time). More work for the grower means a higher cost for you — especially for “certified organic” products because the grow faces strict government oversight and regulation.
3 Ways to Get Around the High Cost of Organics and Non-GMO
A study by Stonyfield Organic found roughly 3 out of 4 consumers are concerned about pesticides in their food. If you’re part of the 1 in 4 that don’t apparently care about pesticides, then maintaining a frugal food budget is easy since chemically treated foods tend to be cheaper. For the other three that are trying to go all-natural, the following tips can help you get around the higher cost of untreated, unmodified food:
1. Grow at home.
This works especially well for any produce where you don’t need a large amount at any given time. Herbs are great candidates for a home garden or even a window garden in your kitchen, because you usually don’t need more than as few tablespoons of any herb for a whole dish.
If you have a bigger yard, you can consider growing any fruits or veggies that work in your region that you have the room for. We have a small yard, so we have a little papaya tree that bears fruit regularly since we’re here in South Florida. We also trade with neighbors who have mango trees, avocado and sour oranges.
There are plenty of websites and even print magazines you can get that will help you become an expert home gardener, although one of my favorites for easy tips on all-natural growing is organicgardening.com. Their Learn & Grow section has tons of useful tips.
2. Frequent farmers’ markets.
Farmer’s markets are a great place to find all-natural, untreated produce and farm-raised “free range” proteins. It may not be 100% “certified” organic because it hasn’t gone through the rigorous USDA verification process, but most growers and sellers will usually be pretty forthcoming if you just strike up a conversation at their booth.
You can use websites like farmersmarket.com and LocalHarvest to find bigger farmers’ markets in your area, although you may also want to check your local newspaper to find smaller markets that don’t make it to these national websites.
3. Look for other local growers.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to find community gardens, co-ops, Amish farmers or other local growers in your area who grow their products all-natural. Within a half hour drive of the Debt.com headquarters here in Ft. Lauderdale, there at least half a dozen local berry farmers. Some of them even have the pick-your-own-produce deal, where you go out and harvest what you want yourself. It’s cost-effective and can even be fun for a random weekend day of frugal fruit picking with friends or family.