Coupon lady: Organic foods can fit into modest budget

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Frugal is a term that invokes a lot of feelings for people. Buying organic foods is not a concept most people think can coexist with a frugal lifestyle.

But the truth is that with smart shopping and careful planning, organic foods can fit in a modest household budget.

The Environmental Working Group has published a list of what it calls the Dirty Dozen. These 12 foods have the highest concentrations of pesticides that remain in or on produce, based on data from USDA and EPA testing. If you have a limited budget, you should consider buying these products organic whenever possible. The Dirty Dozen consists of apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines, imported grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, domestic blueberries, lettuce and kale and other types of collard greens.

The group also has published a list called the Clean Fifteen, a list of the 15 least pesticide-absorbent produce on the market. Buying these products organic does not have to be a priority because the differences between regular and organic are minimal. The Clean Fifteen are onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, asparagus, sweet peas, mangoes, eggplant, domestic cantaloupe, kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit and mushrooms. To print this list in a wallet-size reminder, go to www.ewg.org.

Coupons are available for organic produce, meats and products. You just have to look for them. We have two stores that cater to the organic market, but most stores in our area carry organic options. For example, this past week Bi-Lo had Springer Mountain Farms chicken on a buy one package, get another package free promotion. It is a product raised on a vegetarian diet, contains no antibiotics, growth stimulants or hormones and is certified by the American Humane Society. Normally, it is $5.79 a pound. The Augusta Chronicle had coupons for $1.50 off one package, which I used with the promotion to buy it for about $2 per pound for boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

I was able to buy four packages with my coupons, so I got 8 pounds of chicken at that price.

If you do go to a store that caters to the organic market, there are a few tricks. First, bring your own bags, because some places give a credit per bag. Second, look for coupon booklets. These are located at the entryway, the customer service desk and strategic locations in the store. Next, look for sale items in the store's ads and see if you can get coupons for the products online. Sign up for the store's e-mails and check its Web site for coupons. Earth Fare gives a weekly freebie with a minimum purchase once you join their mailing list.

There is another alternative for buying organic: Go straight to the source. Consider investing in CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. The idea is that you purchase "stock" in a farm (called a share). Your investment helps purchase seeds and equipment and pay for the labor needed to harvest each crop. You then receive dividends (produce and other goods) that result from the crop. You also share in the risk -- your stock can suffer from drought, floods or other crop damage. The farms try to diversify their crops to limit this risk.

I know of at least two CSAs in the Augusta area. They are not certified organic but they but follow strict organic practices. Small farms rarely get the federal certification because it's costly and will drive up their food costs. You can find more information at www.localharvest.com.

Another option is a "You Pick" farm. Go to www.youpick. org for a list of local farms that allow you to pick food and then call to find out if they follow organic practices. You can also find farms that sell organic meats, eggs, milk and other dairy products. The best way to discover these places is to ask. Talk to friends, family and neighbors and you will be amazed at the options that Augusta has to offer.


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