Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Seven Steps Toward Spiritual and Economical Feasting

Publications \ The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener \ Winter 2000-2001 \ English Editorial

By Jean English, Editor, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener

An MOF&G reader asks: How can I afford to buy organic food? Here are some suggestions.

First, make sure you get everything you can out of your garden. Nothing will lower your food bill more – by hundreds, if not thousands of dollars – than growing your own fruits and vegetables. Cultivate a fertile soil while minimizing expensive inputs. Use interplanting and succession planting to maximize yields. Use cold frames, tunnels, greenhouses and other structures to extend the growing season. (My neighbor has covered his parsley with a “solar saw horse” – a saw horse covered with plastic – to extend the harvesting season.) Pot up mature or nearly mature greens or herbs or sow seeds in pots in midsummer and grow the plants on your windowsill for extra harvests. Thanks to the inspiration of MOFGA member Nellie Davis, I have a cucumber vine, started in a pot in mid-July, growing and fruiting on my windowsill now. Thanks to the inspiration of MOF&G writer Roberta Bailey, I brought in a potted celery plant from the garden in October and am still using its stalks. Store carrots, onions, garlic, potatoes, squashes and other root and bulb crops. Can, dry or freeze whatever you can without going crazy.

Second, buy your food directly from growers. Visit farm stands and pick-your-own operations. Go to the farmers’ market – and if you don’t have one close to your home, help start one. Supporting local growers helps their bottom line and yours. In my area, farmers’ markets are extending their sales seasons by moving into local greenhouses in the fall. Do you have seasonal businesses in your community? Maybe a farmers’ market could use such buildings in the off season.

Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm – another way to buy directly from growers. Even now, you may be able to join one that offers winter shares of storage crops. Again, if your area has no CSA, get together with other buyers, look for a farmer, and start the CSA yourselves.

Third, buy in bulk and buy items when they’re in season and/or on sale. I’ve gotten organic flour and oats for 49 cents a pound.

Fourth, avoid processed foods or process them yourself. This is where my grocery bill escalates, as I look for and often buy convenience foods and impulse items for my family. Boxed cereals for breakfast and fruit bars or other treats for lunchboxes add up fast – especially if you buy quality, organic foods. Make your own granola, cookies, and other goodies. Eat oatmeal. Bake bread – and warm up the house in the process, instead of using that fuel to drive to the store and buy bread. By processing your own foods, not only will you save money and fuel, but packaging too. Even organic goodies come surrounded by plastic and cardboard.

Fifth, consider giving (and receiving) food as gifts. As the holiday season approaches, ask: Wouldn’t lots of people on my list appreciate that gorgeous, deep red-orange Rouge Vif d’Etampes squash sitting at the co-op more than they’d like the latest in plasticware? Wouldn’t they like a pie made from the Long Pie pumpkin that grew in the garden last summer? No gorgeous squashes in your area? Give a gift certificate to a local farm or farmers’ market, or give seeds. Forget “the gift that keeps on giving.” Give the gift that goes away. Think about giving food, or beeswax candles, or products that are easily composted or recycled when the recipient is finished with them.

Sixth, pay the price. If you grow your own food, you know the work required to cultivate a garden or farm of any size. The planning, risks and work to which farmers are subject deserve to be rewarded. I’m sure MOFGA members know this and I may sound preachy, but I know how inconsistent I can be about food prices. I’ll balk at paying 50 cents or a dollar for a piece of fruit, but turn around and spend a couple of dollars on a movie – that turns out, more often than not, to be a dud. Once, an M.D. asked me why organic food was so expensive. I should have asked him why my daughter’s last physical cost $120, yet she never saw a doctor! Why would a doctor who drives a $15,000+ car and lives in a $250,000+ house flinch about paying a slight premium for healthful foods? Because we’ve been conditioned in the United States to expect cheap food – and expensive, non-preventive medicine.

Finally, when you do pay the price, enjoy the shopping and relish the eating. My favorite way to spend a Saturday is to go to the farmers’ market with no shopping list, buy the most delicious goods I can find there from people I know and like, make a dinner out of these foods, and savor every bite. Picture this: a dried apple wreath centerpiece; an appetizer of spring rolls; a main course of smoked chicken, fresh salad, and chanterelles sautéed in organic butter, olive oil, white wine and salt; a fresh apple pie for dessert – grown, picked and baked by one farm family. An expensive feast? Not really, when you buy directly from farmers. Less expensive, in fact, than a movie and dinner for two at a mid-priced restaurant. And having grown and stored so much of your own food, you can afford to spend like this sometimes.

Yum. Enjoy.
MOF&G Cover Winter 2000-2001