Q & A ~ Organic Foods

I am on vacation, but thought it would be fun to have a little Q & A with my readers.

This question comes from Beth:

My question is regarding organic foods- do you buy them and if so, how do you do it frugally?

I am no expert in organic cooking. I do know that current farming techniques mass produce bland food that do contain a certain level of pesticides. My problem with organic is that many organic foods are also massed produced and can be tasteless as well. Two years of living in the mountains of West Virginia gave me a new appreciation for food grown in your own back yard.

My first recommendation would be to skip the organic food and grow your own. Even if you have a tiny yard many fruits and vegetables can be grown in containers. We did this for two years and with very little effort grew tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers. One year we grew watermelon in a small flower bed by our front door. This year I hope to have a large Container Kitchen Garden to grow our food.

If you have a black thumb and absolutely cannot grow anything, consider buying at a local farmers market or joining a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture is a way for the food buying public to create a relationship with a farm and to receive a weekly basket of produce. You pay a monthly or one time fee and receive fresh produce.

I would rather support a local farm than Cascadian Farms which is actually a division of General Mills. Supporting local farms puts money into your community as well as decreases our dependence on oil. What does oil have to do with food? Purchasing food from places far away requires that the food be transported to your local store. The farther away food is grown from your house the more fuel is used to get the food to your front door.

If these ideas are not an option (although even in the suburbs of D.C. I have access to CSA’s) decide which foods are an organic priority. According to the USDA the following foods had the highest level of pesticide contamination.

  1. Nectarines – 97.3% of nectarines sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  2. Celery – 94.5% of celery sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  3. Pears – 94.4% of pears sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  4. Peaches – 93.7% of peaches sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  5. Apples – 91% of apples sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  6. Cherries – 91% of cherries sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  7. Strawberries – 90% of strawberries sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  8. Imported Grapes – 86% of imported grapes (i.e. Chile) sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  9. Spinach – 83.4% of spinach sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  10. Potatoes – 79.3% of potatoes sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  11. Bell Peppers – 68% of bell peppers sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  12. Red Raspberries – 59% of red raspberries sampled were found to contain pesticides.

The following list of produce contains the least amount of pesticides.

  1. Asparagus
  2. Avocados
  3. Bananas
  4. Broccoli
  5. Cauliflower
  6. Corn (However, almost all corn is genetically modified)
  7. Kiwi
  8. Mangoes
  9. Onions
  10. Papaya
  11. Pineapples
  12. Sweet Peas

If you are trying to save money on your grocery budget skip the organic bananas, but look for organic celery and nectarines. Also, consider only buying produce when it is “in season.” There is a reason that food purchased out of season does not taste as good and costs a premium. It was probably grown half-way around the world and has spent weeks on a boat or a truck getting to your local store.

I also try to purchase frozen or canned organic food. Many times coupons are available for these items and you are able to purchase them for a substantial discount. Recently I found large cans of organic tomatoes for $0.50 a piece at the commissary. I had several $0.75 off coupons. I ended up with five free cans of organic tomatoes which I have been using to make pizza and pasta sauce.

Considering bartering for local produce, find someone who has a garden and offer to trade food for services. In our family I purchase more frozen and canned organic items than I do fresh produce. I also skip the organic cereals and breads and make my own. I purchase organic grain and oats in fifty pound bags and make most of our food from scratch. Even paying the organic premium for grain I can make a loaf of organic bread for cheaper than I can purchase a regular loaf from the store.

Finally, do not go into debt in order to purchase organic food. If you can’t afford it don’t do it. Do not feel guilty if you cannot fill your cart with organic products each week at the store. If you can only afford to purchase one or two items a week, pick items that are higher on the list for contamination. It doesn’t make sense to lose your house over organic bananas. Figure out where organic food fits into your budget and buy accordingly.


For more Kitchen tips visit Tammy’s Recipes. For more Talk about Tuesday visit Lara and see her beautiful pillowcases!


  1. I have read a couple newspaper articles saying the organic food is not always organic and saying many of the things that you also noted in this post. I would prefer to buy locally at a farm post or grow my own (tomatoes and herbs). Those items always taste better than what I get at the grocery store.

    I love that you noted the budgeting factor also. Good post.

  2. What a great post! Thank you. It was really encouraging to me. I’m already dreaming about a garden this year and will have to check the library for the book you mentioned.
    Of course, any advice about gardening in future posts would be *awesome*. Hint, hint. 😉

    Hope you’re having a great vacation!

  3. I totally agree. I don’t usually buy organic, but I have a lot of home grown, which is much better 🙂

  4. Great article! Since we have a shady yard, growing my own has not been successful on a large scale. However, I just found a Mennonite CSA that with pick up at a home down the street–no more excuses for not joining!

  5. You stole my post!!! Okay, not really. Since we decided to start doing some organics I have been doing research. I went on Sara Snow’s website and she talks about the “Dirty Dozen” for Fruits and Veggies and the cleanest. I was going to do a post on it this upcoming week. I guess great minds think a like : )

    Have to admit though….I loved your post. I didn’t know the % of pesticides in F&V…yuck!!!

    I can’t wait to hear about Container Kitchen Garden. I am PETRIFIED of worms so I have never been able to do a garden.

  6. I’ve been wanting to eat more organic items, but wasn’t sure which ones were more worth it than others. Thanks for sharing!!

  7. Wow, that is really eye opening. I knew I loved my home grown produce for a reason. I am really missing it right about now.

  8. I’m also in the suburbs of DC and totally interested in CSA’s. Could you email me some info?

  9. Wow that is alarming how much pesticides are in foods. We are lucky to live in a milder climate here in the Gulf Coast of Texas and we have a year round garden.

  10. Thanks for the great tips. I’d love to have my own garden. I just need to figure out how to get started.

  11. Christine says:

    I just wanted to let you know of another great resource since I too live in a Md suburb. I have used but am unaffilated with washingtonsgreengrocer.com. They will deliver weekly a box of produce, organic or not, that they try to keep as local as possible. The owners are for resturantuers and got tired of getting produce that did not meet their standards. You can opt to do it weekly, bi-weekly, or as needed. I think the price is reasonable for the convienence and freshness of the products! Hope this helps.

Speak Your Mind