In our house, we eat a ton of fresh fruits and vegetables. We like to “eat the rainbow” and take advantage of how nutritionally dense the plant kingdom is. Produce that is fresh contains by far the most nutritional value compared to their frozen or canned counterparts.
Of course, quality produce comes with a price. What do I mean by quality? We eat almost exclusively produce that is either organic or grown with organic practices. We also buy much of our produce from local farms so it is fresh, flavorful, and in season. If you head to your local grocery store, you will hand over a small fortune for this produce.
But including a variety of fresh fruits and veggies doesn’t have to break the bank. If your itching to take advantage of this season’s fresh produce but prices are killing you, read on friends.
Getting a deal on veggies means you’ll want to look beyond your grocery store. Buying veggies directly from local farmers supports your local community and also cuts out the middleman. So just how do you get these veggies? If you aren’t familiar with local farms, there are several ways to explore local agriculture.
Join a CSA
CSAs — or community supported agriculture — provide customers with weekly boxes of veggies, fruits, flowers or meats. You sign up at the beginning of a season and buy a share in what the farm grows. Each week, you get a box of whatever the farm is currently harvesting. Usually, you will substantially save money this way, versus buying the same produce from the farm at the farmer’s market each week. These veggies are normally harvested the same day you get them so they are much fresher than the produce trucked into your local grocery store. To read more on CSAs, check out my post here.
Farmer’s markets are my next stop to fill in the gaps for my CSA box. Farmer’s markets allow you to meet your growers first hand and ask them all the questions you would like to about the produce you’re buying. Organic certification is expensive, however, there are lots of farms using sustainable growing practices like crop rotation, water conservation, natural pest deterrents, and heirloom seeds. These farms are often less expensive than their organically certified counterparts since you aren’t paying for their certification. If you’re shopping at a grocery store there is no way to know this information. Another benefit is since you are dealing directly with the growers, they’ll often offer discounts when buying multiple items- more on this later.
Farm stands are another great way to find fresh, inexpensive produce. Some farms have their own stands, either attended or unattended where you and swing by and grab your produce. The stands are often open throughout the week (though this varies greatly) and may offer discounts since costs are so low.
Here are two great sites to help you find your local farmers:
Now that I’ve shared some places to save money on your produce, let’s take it one step further and discuss more techniques for saving money on your shopping trips.
Buy and Eat What’s In Season
This is a simple way to stretch your dollars. Whatever is currently in season and grown locally is going to be less expensive. Produce doesn’t keep, so farmers need to move their “merchandise” quickly. Planning your meals around what is currently bountiful at your farmers market will save you money.
Be Flexible With Your Meal Plan
I always plan out our dinners for the week and like to have a list of exactly what I need. But having a list can actually cause higher grocery bills if you are not willing to be flexible. Instead of picking specific veggies and fruits that you want to pick up at the farmers market, be open to choosing the more affordable options. For example, if I wanted kale, I might write greens on my list instead and look for deals on kale, collards, chard, or spinach.
Shop Farmers That Utilize Organic Practices
Like I mentioned earlier, there are many small farms that utilize organic and sustainable growing practices but aren’t necessarily certified. The certification process can be time intensive and expensive and for small farming operations, simply not cost effective. Chat with your farmers about the produce they are selling and take advantage of the cost savings of conventionally priced veggies that are missing the nasty stuff.
Prioritize Your Veggies
If you need to stretch your budget even more and need to use conventional produce, familiarize yourself with the dirty dozen and clean 15, the EWG’s list of the most toxic fruits and veggies. You can save dollars by purchasing conventional products that are on the “cleaner” end of their list. Prioritize your purchases and either totally avoid the dirty dozen or purchase those items from your organic farmers. No matter what produce you’re buying, you’ll always want to make sure you are properly cleaning it.
Go For the “Seconds”
Many farms sell their second quality produce at their stands as well for deep discounts. These seconds will either be very ripe or have some sort of blemish ( bruising, scars, etc) but are perfectly usable. If you don’t see any labeled, always ask!
Shop at the End of the Day
If you’re looking for a deal, hit the markets during the last half hour. Most growers will be looking to unload the last of their produce and will cut good deals. You might not get the exact items on your list, but if you can be flexible you can save a huge percentage.
By utilizing a few of these tips, you can greatly reduce your weekly produce bills. Remember to be flexible and on the lookout for good deals!
What’s your favorite tip for saving money on fresh produce?
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