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How to buy cheap produce

By on June 26, 2009


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?

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About Sara Noel

Sara Noel owns Castalia Coffee Roasting Company, Follow me on Twitter

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Monroe on a Budget » Frugal Village: How to get cheap produce

  2. Ala

    7/3/2009 at 3:18 pm

    I don’t find CSA’s to be cheap at all, unless you have a huge family and cook a lot. Also, you have no choice over what you get. You can get a lot of one kind of veggie that you don’t like.

    There are 7 people in our family, and I spend $20 on produce a week. One of my local CSA’s charges $650 for 20 weeks of produce. So by buying the produce I need at the store, I save $250 over 20 weeks.

    Before you consider a CSA, do your research and make sure you’re actually saving.

    • Michelle

      8/19/2011 at 6:04 pm

      Yes, CSAs are more expensive, but you get the joy of knowing your food is fresh and local. Sometimes eggs and lettuce can be well over a week old by the time it first hits teh grocery shelves. I’ve found that while CSAs are more expensive the foods keeps a lot longer (we use those veggie green bags for the produce drawer too) so we actually waste less. Our CSA has “mini” boxes, so they’re do-able for my hubby and I regarding size. But, we’ve only ordered them a few times because of the price in our new area.

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