Gwen McTaggart

Organic Living on a Budget: Where to Begin?

I'm going to assume you already know the basic reasons why one would want to live their life organically so I'm not going to delve too deeply into all that this time around.  We'll be getting into more specifics in the future.  For now, I'm just going to give a basic overview of some of the most important foods to buy and eat organic and some tips on how to manage an organic lifestyle with few resources.

Organic food is expensive.  It's more time and labor intensive to grow, the methods of pest and disease protection and prevention are more expensive than their chemical counterparts, and there is a higher risk of failure.  Unfortunately, many of us cannot afford to eat exclusively organic food and we have to prioritize.  When I first began researching this I had no idea the number of pesticides used on our food.  Sixty-four different pesticides found in celery?!  Are you kidding me?  Yeah, I was shocked and I don't consider myself particularly naive when it comes to the stuff they are allowed to do to our food.

The most important thing, in my opinion, is to buy local.  Knowing where your food is coming from is extremely important.  USDA certified organic food bought from Wal-Mart is infinitely better than conventional food purchased there but you still don't know exactly how your food was treated and where it has been.  When you buy local you develop a trust relationship with the farmer rather than trusting in a label, you stimulate your local economy, and you're getting the absolute highest quality because your food has not been shipped from all over.  Local food has been picked at its peak, when it is the most nutrient dense, and sold within a few days of picking.

The Dirty Dozen lists the twelve most chemical laden foods every year.  You can find that list here.  In addition to the dirty dozen you'll also want to make sure the following foods are organically grown (preferably locally) or steer clear of:

  • Meats - They are laden with hormones and antibiotics.  The grain these animals are fed is full of pesticides and genetically modified ingredients.  Certified organic meat is also usually raised in a more humane manner.  Keep in mind though that here again, local is important.  Organic certification does not necessarily mean the animal was treated with the utmost respect and it does not necessarily mean the animal is of the highest nutritional quality either.  We'll be posting information in the future about where to find grass-fed beef, pastured poultry, and milk locally.  In my opinion animal products are the most vital to buy locally as you are able to see for yourself that the animals are treated in a respectful and humane manner.
  • Milk - Pesticides and man made chemicals have been found in human breast milk.  Obviously what something eats makes its way into the milk supply.  Dairy cows are full of growth hormones and antibiotics and eat grain contaminated with pesticides and genetically modified ingredients.  Twelve different pesticides have been found in milk.  Again, there is also the treatment of the cows to be considered.
  • Coffee - The beans you are probably buying come from countries that don't regulate the use of chemicals and pesticides.  Look for Fair Trade Certified, Rainforest Alliance, and Bird Friendly labels.  These products have been grown organically and the growers are treated fairly.  In the case of the Rainforest Alliance and Bird Friendly labels, the trees are grown under the rainforest canopy.  The habitats have not been disturbed.  You also might want to look into Teecino which is a coffee alternative.  It's not cheap but it is entirely caffeine free and alkaline, healthier than coffee.
  • Anything that has a skin that you intend to eat or is easily penetrated should be organic.  Lettuce, greens, carrots, peppers, potatoes, berries, apples, etc., should all be organic if possible.  The rind on citrus fruits and kiwi are pretty good protective barriers so unless you are drinking concentrated juices or are using the rind of the fruit, buying organic is not essential but it's always nice to cast a vote for organic whenever you have a chance.


Eating in this manner is going to be costly but there are many ways to keep the costs down.

  • Buy in season.  You'll be able to buy locally, you'll be healthier, the food will taste better, and it's cheaper.
  • Join a food co-op and buy the things you can't find locally, grains, and other long-term storage items in bulk if you have the room to store it.
  • Learn how to can and freeze produce.  Buy in bulk locally when it's in season -- see if you can get a discount by buying seconds -- and then freeze or can them so you can enjoy wholesome food through the winter.
  • Don't buy convenience foods.  Anything prepackaged is going to be more expensive.  Definitely steer clear of non-organic prepackaged food as most, if not all, of it contains genetically modified soybean and corn byproducts.  Make your own "convenience foods".  Prepare and freeze meals in advance for busy days.   Make healthy snacks your kids can grab and go.


Organic living is a lifestyle change.  It's not easy, it's not cheap, but it is well worth it.  Good luck!

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