Eat Organic and Local—on a Budget

Entrepreneur in Residence and Holistic Nutrition Coach Maria Marlowe explains how to eat healthy without blowing your paycheck in the process.

From Maria:
If you’ve been in a grocery store lately, you’ve likely seen dozens of buzz words on packages and signage in every section. Two of the most common offenders? “Organic” and “Local.” But, just what do they mean, and are they worth the extra cash?

Eat Organic and Local—on a Budget


  • Organic fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds are those that are grown without the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides.
  • For example, the average conventional apple is sprayed with over 45 different chemicals, including six that are known or suspected carcinogens, 16 suspected hormone disruptors, five neurotoxins (a.k.a brain cell killers) and six developmental or reproductive toxins.
  • Animal-based foods labeled organic, such as dairy or meat, are raised without the use of hormones and antibiotics, some of which are also associated with serious health concerns, including endocrine complications and even cancer.
  • Choosing organic means you are avoiding or limiting your exposure to these toxic chemicals, so it’s always preferred for whole foods, including produce, meat and dairy and it is definitely worth the premium price tag.
  • That said, “organic” is not always synonymous with healthy. When it comes to packaged foods, use your judgement—an organic cookie is still a cookie. For guidance on choosing the best packaged foods, check out my recent post on How to Read a Food Label.
Eat Organic and Local—on a Budget


  • Local foods are grown or raised within a small geographic radius, typically within 50 to 150 miles of wherever you’re shopping. Because local foods travel a shorter distance and are sold immediately, they should be much fresher than produce shipped in from all around the world.
  • Fresher produce not only tastes better, it’s usually higher in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, since these nutrients tend to degrade the longer produce sits in transit or on grocery store shelves.
  • When choosing between local lettuce or one trucked in from 3,000 miles away, you can bet the local one will taste better.
  • Keep in mind local food is not necessarily organic, although it could be.

How to Shop Organic and Local on a Budget:

So we’ve established that organic and local foods taste better and are better for you. Here’s how to make sure they’re easy on your wallet, too.

1. Spend (and save!) wisely

Ideally everything you eat would be organic and local, but it’s not always available or economical. Each year the Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the produce with the highest amount—and most toxic pesticides—called the dirty dozen plus list. This year the dirty dozen plus include: apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, grapes, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, snap peas, spinach, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, hot peppers, kale and collard greens. My recommendation is to always buy the Dirty Dozen produce organic to limit toxic pesticide exposure, and then, for everything else, choose whatever looks freshest or is most economical. If you can get organic and local, you’ve hit the jackpot!

2. Shop Farmer’s Markets

While you can sometimes find local produce at your grocer, you’ll find the best assortment at a Farmer’s Market. Most cities and even smaller neighborhoods offer a local farmer’s market at least once a week, where you should be able to find local (and usually organic) produce, farm-fresh eggs, dairy, meat and sometimes even prepared foods. While you will find many bargains, be warned that you’ll also find things that are quite a bit more expensive than your local grocer. Often the flavor, freshness, and superior nutrition make up for it, but don’t be shy to ask the farmers for a taste before you buy!

3. Join a CSA

Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs, allow you to “buy a share” in a farm’s output for a season. Each week, the farmer fills up the box with whatever is in season and perfectly ripe on their farm and delivers it to your home or a local pickup point. CSAs offer you access to an abundance of farm-fresh produce at a fraction of the price for what you’d pay for the same produce in the grocery store. Each CSA offers a different variety of goods, so check out your options before deciding on one. This is especially great for families and people who love to cook.

4. Shop online

You will save serious money when you buy organic products online. Because they have no physical location, online stores can offer the same brand name products at a fraction of the price, plus they are delivered straight to your doorstep (usually for free!). My favorite online store is Thrive Market. If Costco and Whole Foods had a baby, it would be Thrive Market. For a membership fee of less than $5/month, you get access to tons of healthy and organic products at wholesale prices (and no, you don’t have to buy in bulk!) Use this link to get a free two-month trial and take 25% off your first order. For organic bulk grains, nuts, seeds and flours, try For local, farm-fresh produce and whole foods, try

For more tips on exactly what to buy or avoid to feed your family healthfully without breaking the bank, check out Maria’s Ultimate Grocery Store Guide. For more information, read Maria’s latest Entrepreneur in Residence columns and visit her online at