Thursday, February 19, 2009

Where to find food

If you’re already living the organic life, this information may be old news. If you’re new to it, I hope it’s helpful. Either way, I’d welcome your comments and ideas about other ways to find organic food.

Start with your local grocery stores. Most stores carry organic brands now and some even have organic aisles. You’ll soon discover who has a better selection and decent pricing. I mentioned before that you’ll pay dearly for the little certified organic symbol. So the best way to handle grocery shopping is the same way people have always saved money on their grocery bill – watch for sales, cut coupons, buy in bulk.

If an item you use frequently goes on sale – buy all you can. Most food can be stored. Cans and boxed goods usually have an expiration date – check the date and if the sale is really good – buy all you can. Not only does it save you money now, it will save you money later when you don’t have to go back to the grocery store for more.

I’ve discovered that you can freeze all sorts of things – nuts, cheese, bread, tortillas, butter – and they keep just fine. I keep flax meal, almond meal, and wheat germ in my freezer because they stay fresher, longer. You’ll soon discover how handy it is to have extra on hand and you’ll save money buying items on sale and storing them. If your favorite organic fruit or veggie goes on sale, buy it in bulk and can or freeze it.

As manufacturers are discovering the demand for organic items, more and more options are becoming available. And with that comes competition and with competition come – coupons! I find coupons for organic items in the newspaper, the store circular and in the organic aisle. There’s even a free coupon circular devoted to organic products available in many grocery stores.

If you are searching for an organic version or a particular organic brand, don’t hesitate to ask a store manager. Most managers will be happy to order products they know will have a guaranteed customer. Also, the more often organic choices are requested, the more likely it is that your store will continue to expand its organic offerings.

The other place most people start when they begin their quest to “go organic” is the health food store. I am blessed with a health food store near me that is, in my opinion, one of the best in the nation. That may not be the case for everyone. So a word of caution when approaching health food stores – many times the products you find there are expensive and if the store is not thriving, the turnover of products might not be great – check expiration dates! I’ve been burned too many times at stores like these. And although there are some wonderful stores out there that have introduced me to new products and expanded my organic knowledge, there are also many that make their money selling supplements or are struggling to compete with the bigger stores, so be careful! That said, if you find a good one- support it!

Some grocery stores and many health food stores, sell items in bulk bins. As a child, I remember the bulk aisle at my hometown grocery store – it had just about every candy you could ever want, plus stale cereal and rice that had little gray bugs in it. Times have certainly changed. Most stores that offer bulk items are meticulous about how these items are handled. Typically they require that you wear protective gloves before opening the bins. I have to make a side bar here and say that if you are a germaphobe – bulk aisles are not the place for you. I subscribe to the school of health that says we all need to eat our peck of dirt in our lives and I don’t get hung up on these things. I do the best I can and I trust that everyone else does too.

Buying in bulk is good in so many ways! First, it definitely saves you money because it’s priced cheaper and you can buy only what you need. This is especially handy when it comes to experimenting with expensive spices. Why buy a bottle for $15 when all you need is a half teaspoon? It’s also great when you are trying out a new food. You can buy a modest amount until you’ve test driven it on your family. Second, it encourages you to try new things. I doubt I would have ever discovered artichoke pasta or raw cashews if it weren’t for the bulk aisle. There are so many options and, personally, I get inspired when I see all those bins just waiting for me to open them. Thirdly, you are doing a good thing for the planet when you buy in bins. You are saying “no” to wasteful packaging. Less packaging means less space needed for transport, which means less waste of fossil fuels. It’s the way all food used to be sold before we were convinced otherwise by marketing specialists.

Farm Stands and Farmers Markets are great places to shop for local, organic food. If I’m looking to buy some vegetables this is my favorite place to start. Driving down a road, I see a small card table set up at the end of a driveway with a shoe box weighted down with a large rock and corn and tomatoes piled high on the table and in crates surrounding it. Not a soul in site. Only in the country could you find this scene. Still, I can’t resist them. You won’t find cheaper, fresher produce anywhere.

Lots of farmers big and small, set up farm stands on their own property. If you stop and meet them you’ll not only find a good deal, you’ll make a new friend. Farmers need our support to survive. Everyone I know grumbles about the loss of farmland to development, but if we really want to do something about this, we need to put our money where our mouth is and patronize these farmers. When a farmer sells to a distributor he makes a little money, but when he sells directly to a customer he makes a lot more. Also, meeting the farmer (or some relative there of) gives you the opportunity to quiz them on their farming methods – particularly their use of fertilizers and pesticides. The first time I asked a farmer how he farmed I felt kind of obnoxious and presumptuous, but he was more than happy to talk, at length, about his methods. Note: Farmers aren’t in the farm business just for the money.

Farmers Markets can be a little more expensive than a farm stand, but they are convenient. It’s also a great way to meet lots of farmers in one stop. If you ask enough questions, you might discover that the farm is near your home or that they have stands in other places. If you like their methods, you can ask them which stores and restaurants they sell to so you know where to find their goods.

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