Last week I wrote about why to choose organic foods for your family, this week I’m hoping to show you how to go organic – and that it doesn’t have to blow the budget.
So let’s address the free-range elephant in the room: expense. Man, your eyeballs can roll in your head when you see how much more organic foods cost, but it helps to know the reasons why organic produce costs more. According to our friends at Bauer’s organic farm, there are three main reasons:
- Organics is very labour intensive : Weeds are the main problem facing organic vegetable farmers. Some crops, like carrots and onions in particular, never really shade out the weeds …. so it’s a constant battle to keep on top of them. Conventional farmers would simply use a weedicide to control the problem, where organic farmers use a range of labour intensive operations, including scuffling, flame weeding, and a great deal of chipping and hand weeding. We spend huge amounts of money every year paying people to pull out weeds. It’s great for the environment and good to give people jobs, but it makes the produce a bit more expensive.
- Only one crop per paddock per year: Before planting the vegie crops, the soil is spelled for 6 months and grows a mulch crop. Leafy green and leguminous crops are grown and then turned back into the soil for mulch and plant food. Conventional farmers often get 2 or 3 crops per paddock each year by using synthetic fertilizers, where organic farmers rejuvenating their soil, will only get one. A huge disadvantage financially.
- Economy of scale: As the organic industry is still quite small in comparison to the conventional market, it means that the vegies have to be planted, harvested and packaged in stages. So, for example, instead of harvesting the whole carrot crop at once (which would ‘flood’ the organic market), the organic carrots are harvested fresh six days a week, with small amounts being sent very regularly to a wide range of outlets. As you can imagine, this adds greatly to the cost.
Source: Bauer’s Organic Farms
That’s the why, now here’s the how…
The first step is to change your mindset and to think about whether food is priced fairly. A little soul-searching will inevitably lead to the realisation that the ones who profit from fruit and veg at the supermarket are not the growers, but the supermarkets themselves.
Next, find a good source of fruit and veg. For me, it’s Food Connect, which is not strictly organic, but is sourced from farms and smaller producers who grow sustainably. Some of these are too small to fork out for certification, so you’re getting chemical-free produce at a more reasonable price. If Food Connect or similar is not available in your area (search for “community supported agriculture”), find a farmers’ market and get talking to the growers. Don’t feel like you’re being a “pest” or a “hippy”, remember, if people are asking for chemical-free food, producers will be more inclined to provide it.
Once you’ve got a good, clean source of fruit and veg, you’ve made a huge impact on your family’s exposure to synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and so on. You could stop there – or not! Here’s how my conversion to organics has taken place: picked up Food Connect box from local organic shop. Ran out of milk. Bought organic milk. Realised it was amazing, continued to buy organic milk. Slowly replaced sauces, mustards and other things in jars with organic versions from the supermarket. Started buying more “everyday” items from organic shop or supermarket: chocolate (don’t you love that that is the first thing I think of as an everyday food?), pasta, noodles, flour. One day, I bought a little pork roast from the organic shop and was blown away. Now buy organic meat whenever possible.
As you can see, it was a gradual changeover – the above little foray into my shopping habits covers almost twelve months. The key is to do it slowly. If you switch one thing in your trolley to organic each week, then you won’t notice much difference at the checkout. For the record, I find it much easier to buy organic foods from Woolies than Coles. There is usually beef available, and the Macro range is pretty good. Find a butcher that does organic meat and ask for the cheaper cuts and make stews and stir-fries, then treat yourself to a big, marbled organic steak every now and then.
The next step is to mix it up. Since I’ve started buying organic foods, I’ve learned to spread them out more. We eat less meat and more legumes, we cook more from scratch and I generally make do with my Food Connect box (medium veg) and maybe a kilo of potatoes. One of the last things I switched to organic was butter, which is literally four times the price. It occurred to me that I was eating waaaay too much butter anyway, so now I have less, but better quality.
Eating only organic foods is a pipe dream for most of us – it would take a lot of dosh and giving up most meals out of the house. But you can aim for most of your food being organic or at least chemical-free. We’re on a reasonably tight budget – I spend around $150 per week on food for our family of four (note: baby and toddler) – but still, most of our meals are mostly organic. It gives me a great thrill to put a clean, sustainable meal on the table and I challenge you to give it a try by taking it one step at a time.