Chefs at many high-end restaurants prefer to whip up their culinary treats with the vivid flavors provided by organic produce and food products.
Many organic products are tastier and healthier than their conventional counterparts. Unfortunately for those of us on a tight budget, the eye-popping price tags often put organic foods out of reach.
But you don't have to carve up your budget to serve organic produce and food, said Craig Minowa, an environmental scientist with the Organic Consumers Association, a nonprofit industry group.
Through comparison shopping, bulk buying and creative networking, it's possible to purchase organic products at prices lower than those of below-standard produce. Shoppers can even work out direct purchase agreements with farmers who specialize in organic crops.
''There are multiple techniques for saving dollars when buying organic,'' Minowa said.
His first tip is familiar to thrifty shoppers. Use coupons and store specials to pick up organic items. Like their industry counterparts, health food stores have weekly specials and other promotions. By combining coupons with weekly specials, it's possible to purchase organic products at reasonable prices.
BULK BUYING TIPS
Buying in bulk or special ordering a large shipment of a specific item is also a frugal alternative. Many food cooperatives and health food stores will accept bulk or special order purchases from consumers, Minowa said.
And don't forget standard channels. Conventional supermarkets such as Publix also offer periodic sales on organic produce. Organic products at bulk rate prices are also available at big box outlets such as Costco.
You can also start your own buying club or food co-op with friends and neighbors, Minowa said. To take this route, he recommends several steps: establish a monthly meeting; draw up a group shopping list; and research buying channels. Your club can either make bulk purchases through an existing food co-op or establish direct connections with different organic food distributors.
Companies such as Blooming Prairie will send bulk buyers a catalog with special prices and discounts. Many organic distributors also operate websites with details about minimum orders and product range.
BACK TO THE FARM
You can also go straight to the source by tapping into the network of organic farmers associated with the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) system. Across the country, there are about 1,000 farmers enrolled in CSA. At varying rates, consumers pay a membership fee to a CSA farm and for that fee receive direct shipments of organic farm products.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides information about CSA farms throughout the country USDA CSA. Consumers can use the CSA database to locate a CSA farm close to their zip codes. You can also find local CSA listings by tapping into localharvest.
''This method [of buying organic food] has become very popular and very affordable,'' Minowa said.