We can’t afford exclusively organic produce after all

Earlier this week I wrote about how we were considering buying a share in a co-op. This morning we woke up bright and early to do some research. OK, so it was actually more like 8:30, but that’s early for us on a Saturday.

First, we headed to the local farmers market. This wasn’t our first time there, but this is the first time I paid close attention to the prices for produce. I was pleasantly surprised … on some of the items.

The prices were pretty close to what we pay at the grocery store. Some of the specialty items, like jalapeno peppers, were a little more expensive (they average $1.99/pound at the grocery store, and we saw them for $2.99 at the farmers market), but for the most part the farmers market prices were the same or only slightly higher per pound than the grocery store.

We had a lovely time. The farmers market in Wilmington is set up right on the Cape Fear Riverwalk. Dogs are even welcome, which is a definite plus for us. While it was fun today, I still don’t think the farmers market is practical for us as a weekly alternative to the grocery store.

Both of our primary grocery stores are within a mile from our apartment. The farmers market is a bit of a drive to the other side of town, which means additional fuel consumption.

Not only that, but I don’t want to be limited to shopping between 8:30 and noon on Saturday mornings. It’s crowded and hectic and a little too much of an ordeal for weekly shopping. We enjoy going there occasionally and will definitely buy produce when we go, but some weeks I just don’t want grocery shopping to be a big production, you know?

I forgot my camera today, but here’s a picture of the Riverwalk. It’s pretty, but not really practical for weekly shopping trips, especially when it’s packed with people and produce stands.

Although the prices seemed similar at the farmers market, I was basing my comparison on the average prices per item at the grocery store. We can’t expect to see deeply discounted sales at the farmers market like we do at the grocery store each week. We plan our shopping lists around the sales, so overall I do think we’d pay more.

Next we headed over to the co-op to get some questions answered. I expected the co-op prices to be higher, but I wasn’t expecting them to be twice as much across the board. I got some information about ownership, and I wasn’t impressed by the list of discounted items. It’s a static list that they only update once every six months. Members receive a discount on about five items for each department. The only produce on the list was carrots, onions, apples, bananas, and pears. Even with the discount, they were still more expensive than grocery store prices.

The member appreciation days when they offer a 10% discount are only held twice a year, and the patronage refund is only issued if the co-op has a particularly profitable year. In this economy, my guess is that our chances at a patronage refund are slim to none.

It was a lovely store, and we might go back occasionally to treat ourselves to specialty items that we can’t find in the grocery store, but buying produce there just isn’t realistic for us at this point. I’m pretty disappointed because I was excited at the prospect of buying organic produce, but at this point in time an exclusively organic grocery list is a luxury we can’t afford.

We’ve got to focus on saving and paying down our debt. If we can get our finances in order now, then someday we’ll have more money to commit to the causes that we care about.

We’ve decided to make a compromise. We’ll continue to do our part for the environment in ways that won’t double our produce costs: driving as little as possible, recycling, reducing our plastic bag consumption, and buying organic produce at the grocery store when the price is right. Someday I hope we’ll be in the financial position to go completely green, but it looks like we’ll have to wait a little longer.


5 thoughts on “We can’t afford exclusively organic produce after all

  1. Leslie@spillingbuckets

    Hi, I just found the article through PF Buzz, and I have to say I totally agree. We have a great farmers market, but it sells everything from local organic produce to California oranges, and even Chinese incense. I noticed early on that the real savings were only for in-season local (usually organic) items, the rest were the same price or more than the main grocery store.

    We are also in the same situation as you are – the grocery is really close (walking distance actually) while the public market is only open Saturdays and is downtown. I still have been going with friends almost every week, because now that there are a lot of items being grown up here, but that will change once winter sets in and less is local. (our market is open year round)

  2. kerry

    Thanks for submitting your post. I’ll have this week’s Farmer’s Market Report up tomorrow by 10AM. Hope to see you then!

  3. Palm Springs Savant

    I think the point is to try to reduce the amount of pesticides we consume as much as possible. There are some veggies and fruits that pass along higher levels of pesticides- so if you are on a tight budget, at lest try buying those as organic.

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