How to buy cheap produce
photo by Ellie Vanhoutte
Produce can be expensive. Fortunately, there are frugal ways to keep it low-cost. First, find out what is grown locally at your state department of agriculture Web site. Or visit www.localharvest.org/csa to find community-supported agriculture in your area. CSAs allow you to buy produce directly from a local farmer. You pay to be a subscriber or shareholder and receive produce throughout the season.
Here are a few more ways to stretch your produce dollars.
SHOP LOSS LEADERS: Buy produce that is on sale at your grocery store. Supplement with frozen or canned to avoid paying too much and to waste less, too. Shop at multiple sources. For example, roadside stands, farmers’ markets and ethnic markets are often overlooked. Don’t forget to check discount-produce bins, too. They aren’t at the peak of freshness, but they aren’t rotten. They can be consumed quickly or preserved to use later.
GROW YOUR OWN: Plant fruit trees, berries, herbs and vegetables. Some plants lend themselves well to containers such as tomatoes, strawberries, garlic and herbs and won’t take up a lot of space. You can freeze, home can or dehydrate to have less expensive food to enjoy throughout the year. For example, if you see cheap bell peppers, buy what you can use within a few months. Chop and freeze them. They’ll be prepped for your next cooking session that includes peppers. Another reader, Karen in Kansas, shares: “One of the most nutritious and least expensive vegetables you can grow yourself is sprouts. It’s the perfect little ‘garden in a jar’ no matter where you live. Suggested reading: ‘The Sprouting Book’ by Ann Wigmore.”
LEARN A NEW SKILL: Join a master food-preserver or gardener program. Be around people who grow food to make new friends and share. You’ll learn how to preserve and properly store fruits and vegetables, too.
BULK BARGAINS: Get a discount by buying bagged fruit and vegetables in bulk or at U-pick farms. Can’t consume it all? Divide it among friends and family. Be sure to weigh bagged produce on the scale. With bagged apples, onions, potatoes or lettuce, you can often get an additional serving by comparing the package’s weight. Join or start a food co-op. Visit www.coopdirectory.org to locate a co-op or www.cgin.coop/how_to_start to learn how to start one. One reader, Sue in Texas, shares: “I am fortunate enough to live near a farmers’ market. Our home-school group has a co-op. For $10, we get a big box of assorted fruits and veggies. You can’t beat the price! We do this every other Saturday, and usually I order two boxes, which lasts until the next trip.”
PLAN: Get organized, and create a meal plan. It will help you to buy only what you need and will actually use. Your meal plans can incorporate fruits and vegetables that are in season, too. Put the word out that you’ll accept excess fruits and vegetables. Talk to neighbors, local farmers, produce managers and friends. One reader, Denise in Illinois, writes: “If someone says they have fruit that has dropped on the ground from their trees, I’ll offer to clean it up for them. I take the dropped fruits, cut out the bad parts, and make pie fillings, fruit leather, butters, sauces, etc. We keep our eyes and ears open for offers. A year ago, a potato farmer had fields of potatoes that were not acceptable to sell to the potato-chip companies. He mentioned that if anyone wanted potatoes, come and get them.”
How do you get cheap produce?