Where to Buy Organic Foods

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Organic groceries inexpensively??

Nov 2011

I am wondering if anyone out there has done true comparison shopping on groceries, item to item type thing... Whole Foods Vs. Berkeley Bowl or others in the East Bay, Vs. Farmers Markets, Vs. CSA's for produce, meat, and dairy? What creative things are families doing inorder to eat high quality, healthy food within a reasonable budget? What are your tricks? What CSA's and Farmers Markets do you love and find to be less expensive? Thank you for doing the hard foot work! sadie

Well NOT Whole Foods! Berkeley bowl, the PhatBeets farmer's markets in North Oakland, and urban foraging have been my affordable way of eating organic and pesticide-free.

Berkeley Bowl has better prices on organic produce than either Whole Foods or even Safeway. I do not know about how it compares to the Grocery Outlet. There are different quality levels to organic, but some things I even prefer to get at Trader Joe's, based on price alone.

The small farmer's markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays in North Oakland, run by Phat Beets, have farmers that are transitioning to organic, so their produce is well priced and pesticide-free.

I got really into the locavore thing and started getting friendly with my neighbors and joining groups (actually I formed a group of like-minded friends) and joining email lists of people who are into gardening and urban farming. I've found an entire network of people with fruit trees to go pick from their tree each year (and a cheery group of friends to harvest, can, preserve, dehyrate, and share the bounty with). My family eats a lot of fresh organic food all summer long for FREE.

I also garden. I know the food is heirloom, organic, fresh, and local.

The last two options have a bit more time intensity to them then just popping into the grocery store, but I really enjoy finding food at it's source, and discovering fruit that my family would have never eaten (and loved!) had a neighbor not been growing it in their yard and offered their excess to me. frugal foodie

I have comparison shopped. Whole Foods is by far the most expensive, so remove it from your list. Farmers' markets (I shop the Claremont DMV on Sundays and from time to time the Berkeley one on Tues) and Berkeley Bowl are about even for organic produce. For example, this season tomatoes were cheaper at farmers' markets, by as much as $1.25 a pound. Berkeley Bowl is usually cheaper for broccoli, greens and potatoes. Melons and squashes are usually smaller at the farmers' market and therefore cheaper, although I think the price per pound is the same. Trader Joe's is least expensive for things like crackers, broth, etc. So, I shop at all these places, but I get most of our produce from the farmers' market. The quality is better, it is a more pleasant experience, and I have found that at farmers' markets I spend less overall because I don't end up buying things I don't need. Something about carrying produce in a bag instead of putting it in a cart. The different stands at the market can have quite different prices too, so it's worth shopping around at the market. Also, things are generally less expensive because the food is seasonal, it's not being flown in from Australia. I go to BB every couple weeks for meat, and replenish produce while I'm there. Occasionally the organic option just seems too expensive, then I buy conventional or not at all. eating organic without going broke

Berkeley Bowl seems to have the best prices for organic produce. We try to buy other stuff there (flour, cereal, etc) in bulk. We also shop at Grocery Outlet (yes, I love that store). It's a bit like Ross for groceries so you can't be super specific in what you're looking for BUT they often have great organic frozen veg (I wouldn't buy their produce), juice that's wholly juice (not sugar), organic cereals, breads (Vital Vittles and Alvarado are often there), beauty products (lots of variety in toothpaste, shampoo, soap, etc). Plus canned goods and frozen foods. We buy Annie's products there quite often. Whole Foods I avoid - I've found cheaper stuff at my tiny local natural foods stores. Otherwise Trader Joe's is hit or miss but their packaged stuff can be good and cheap. Also, at Farmer's Markets they often have ''damaged'' produce, which mean it's not pretty but totally edible and cheap! Cheap shopper

I'm a health conscious and budget conscious mother of 2 and I've given a lot of thought to your question. First of all, I don't feel obligated to buy 100% organic produce. There is a great list published every year by the Environmental Working Group which lists the ''dirty dozen'' and the ''clean 15'' - crops with the most and least amounts of harmful pesticides, respectively. Armed with this information, I can spend my money where it really counts (for instance, I always buy organic apples and peaches, never organic avocados.)

Second, I actually went to each grocery store in Berkeley charted 25 commonly held items to see who really had the best prices. My results were: Andronico's is by far the most expensive, especially for produce, Berkeley Bowl and Safeway were kind of middle of the road, Whole Foods produce was way overpriced but their dry goods were actually competitive with Trader Joe's (whose produce is normally priced -- and not very good). Your best bet for produce, by leaps and bounds, is Monterey Market. This applies to both conventional and organic produce. My favorite thing to do is to swing by the ridiculously overpriced farmer's market near by house on the way to shop at the Monterey Market just to be amazed at how much money I'm *not* spending on locally grown, organic produce (MM almost always tells you where the crop came from, and they always offer local options when possible).

One last thing - Monterey Market doesn't sell meat, but just across the street is Magnani's Poultry which is an excellent butcher carrying quite decent meat at decent prices. It's more expensive than shrink wrapped Tyson Chicken at Safeway, but it's all from farms with a modicum of responsibility and commitment to quality. There is also a great fish market and a bakery a few stores up.

I hope this helps! Shoshana

Cheapest organic milk and yogurt: Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Costco.

Cheapest organic produce: NOT Whole Foods. Try Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market and Trader Joe's. Sometimes Costco, but you can't count on the selection.

Cheapest meat/fish: Not positive, but probably Berkeley Bowl. Maybe Trader Joe's, but they have a more limited selection.

I don't have much experience with CSA's and I have not found Farmer's Markets to be all that inexpensive. I shop there for the experience, not so much the cost.

I would say I do 95% of my shopping at Trader Joe's and Berkeley Bowl. The other 5% is at Whole Foods (because of convenience, not price). Frugal, mostly organic shopper

I didn't see you original post about shopping for organic groceries inexpensively, but I wanted to add that the group that I co-founded - Transition Berkeley (an international movement that looks at community solutions to peak oil, climate change and economic instability) started Crop Swaps last July. Every week people came to the Ohlone Greenway, across from North Berkeley BART, to swap their backyard produce. It saved me a ton of money this summer/fall as I always came away with much more than I brought! Now our swaps are every 1st Sat. of the month from 10-11 in the same location - we are also swapping books and clothes (we'll be starting up our weekly swaps again in the spring). Gardening is a great way to save money and eat organic produce! Also, the new urban farm Urban Adamah (on San Pablo & Parker St. in Berkeley) is giving away their amazing organic homegrown produce from 10-noon every Wednesday. That's right, FREE! Check it out! Feel free to contact me if you have more questions. -- love living healthy, sustainably and affordably Susan S

Healthy Eating on a budget

June 2011

I'm really having trouble rationalizing buying healthier food for my family when it's so pricey! I want to buy organic. I want to buy all natural. Any idea of how I can cut down on my bill and still buy natural, organic, and healthy groceries? Lena

I assume you've already tried Monterey Market, Berkeley Bowl and Trader Joe's? They have the best prices on organic produce. Also, there are a bunch of lists out there on the internets of the most important things to buy organic (and the others that don't really matter much). Here's one: http://bit.ly/RUduf Alexandra

It is possible to eat healthfully on a budget.

Maybe not everything you buy HAS to be organic. See http://www.eatingwell.com/food_news_origins/organic_natural/12_foods_you_should_buy_organic for a list of produce that gives you more organic ''bang for your buck'' (they also have a list of items that don't have to be organic - typically, items with a thick removable peel don't absorb a lot of pesticide residue.)

Also, where you shop makes a difference. Monterey Market, Berkeley Bowl and Farmer Joe's all have inexpensive produce that's of high quality. And don't forget about farmers markets. The Berkeley ones tend to be expensive but the Friday one in downtown Oakland as well as the Civic Center one in SF are cheaper. There are lots of markets popping up all over so shop around. Try to buy what's in season. (Also, I love Trader Joe's - affordable eggs, dairy, snack foods for kids, nut butters...)

Investing in a slow cooker isn't a bad idea - you can soak and cook dried beans (super-cheap) and make lots of different tasty curries and stews.

Good luck! yum

Unfortunately, things have changed so much over the last twenty years that buying organic food is more expensive. There was a time when we didn't have to pay more for clean water and food that hasn't been sprayed or factory farmed, and that time is gone. Some suggestions:

1. Go to the farmer's markets at the end of the day or end of the market. Usually, there are farmers who will let go of their produce for much less as they're packing up to leave.

2. Go to ethnic produce markets and look for organic produce. Generally, these markets are more affordable than the supermarket and often is local, if not organic.

3. Berkeley Bowl has an area of ''old'' produce that is marked down. Dan's Produce of Alameda also has an area for very good deals on old produce. The trade-off is that it may or may not be organic.

4. Try to buy and prepare more bulk foods -- brown rice, lentils, black bean soup mix, etc. are usually pretty affordable.

5. Meat and animal products tend to be expensive, especially if they are free-range, grass-fed, organic, etc. That's the way it goes. Look for deals. Generally, cheap meat is usually not free range, but sometimes you luck out. Otherwise, you may want to simply cut down on the animals and dairy you consume.

6. Try not to buy too much processed food. Something can be organic and called ''natural'' and yet still be very expensive and not very nutritious! You can usually make these items at home and save some money. Prime examples: granola, processed tofu, dried fruit, canned soups, energy bars, yogurt with fruit, spaghetti sauce, etc. One thing to look for is excess packaging -- make sure you're paying for the food, not the packaging!

7. Look at labels and shop all the shelves. It takes some time, but you may spot a great deal hidden away! hope this helps!

I am a low income mother who has been on food stamps. I'm sure you can eat healthy and organic on a budget:

-Cook and bake. Everything. Processed foods are far more expensive than fruits & veggies, and certainly more expensive than whole grains. I go so far as to make my own crackers, refried beans, and soup stock from the saved end bits of veggies. I keep a big ziplock in the freezer and when it is full of veggie bits, I throw it in a pot of water with herbs. I do the same with bones. I use it instead of water to make more flavorful and nutritious rice or freeze it for later when I want to make soup. The strained-out solids go in my compost.

-Eat seasonally. In season locally is far cheaper than shipped in out of season.

-Freeze and preserve. Cut up some cheap in-season fruits or veggies and save them until the winter. You can also freeze meals for quick reheating later. Learning to can, dehydrate, or pickle, can also save you money. I learned to cure my own olives, a huge money saver.

-Price compare. I stopped shopping at the Berkeley Farmer's Market as it is too pricey. If you are in North Oakland, try the Phat Beets Farmer's Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays instead. If not, find which local market or grocery store near you has reasonable prices.

-Do your research and pick your battles. Berries & stone fruit carry the highest pesticide load so I always get pesticide-free or organic of those. I purchase conventional avocados, as there is much less issue with pesticides affecting the fruit. GMO freaks me out so I only buy organic of foods that are likely to be GMO.

-Garden & Compost. If you have room, aim for growing a few of your pricier favorites and herbs. Buy seeds and little starts in 6 packs instead of larger plants. There are seed libraries and seed saver groups throughout the bay area as well as the opportunity for free or traded plants and seeds, free manure, and free dirt on craigslist. Berkeley or San Francisco residents can get free city compost for starting a garden. Low income West Oakland residents can get free help setting up a garden through City Slicker Farm.

-Step outside of the box. The Bay Area is literally dripping with food. The climate grows a huge range of food year round. I forage in Oakland and get fruit from neighbors' trees. When I see a tree dropping fruit all over the ground, I go and meet my neighbor and ask if I can pick their fruit. I have also gathered nuts, seeds, olives, greens, edible & medicinal herbs, and edible flowers. There are books, regional online maps, classes, and groups dedicated to food foraging both urban and wild. You can also consider raising your own chickens, quail, or ducks for eggs and food. budget organic mom

Try shopping farmer's markets at closing time. See if you can establish a relationship with some farmer's and tell them you are looking for good deals. I made 98% of my own babyfood. One trick I learned is that many of the fruit sellers will sell you ''bruised'' fruit for $1/lb. When I make jelly's or other things I still ask for ''bruised'' fruit. There are usually just a few blemishes. Stuff overall is still very high quality. - Organic Too

I think I would worry less about organic (and forget ''all natural'' as it doesn't really mean anything), and go as much as possible for fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods. These are the healthiest things to eat. In season produce is usually cheapest, and frozen is a fine, healthy option. There are all kinds of all natural, organic, junk foods out there that are bad for you (think cookies, crackers, white bread...) Skip the ''all natural, organic'' boxed rice mix and go for brown rice with a bit of chicken or vegetable broth with some shredded carrot or broccoli. Forget the (really expensive) organic frozen waffles, and just make some good whole wheat pancakes with fresh or frozen blueberries, or use whole wheat bread to make some tasty french toast. There are all kinds of blogs out there about eating healthy food on a budget. This approach requires some cooking, but it's not terribly difficult (I have a full time job and a kid and can manage dinner in less than an hour most nights) and much cheaper and healthier than just buying stuff that says organic or all natural on the label. Karen

A few thoughts:

- if you don't already, try to buy your produce at farmers markets - it's generally cheap because it's in season - and if you go shortly before closing sellers will often offer or accept prices lower than posted. There are markets in the east bay (Oakland, Berkeley, Kensington, Albany, El Cerrito ...) pretty much every day.

- try to buy dry goods from the bulk bins (I usually shop at Natural Grocery or Andronico's but pretty sure Berkeley Bowl, Whole Foods and others have them too)

- if you're having a hard time always buying organic, make sure to look at fruits/veggies that are most important to buy organic (see http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/) - you can fudge on others, at least from a health (if not an environmental) perspective. Good luck!

Hi, This is not exactly what you want to hear, but the way I deal with a tight budget is to NOT buy organic and then wash my produce really well. Apparently soaking for minutes does the trick of getting off pesticides. I have found a great produce stand which makes my wallet very happy and worth the washing.

The irony is a friend of mine, who is a scientist and works in genetics, was telling me that this is actually safer than buying organic. Reason bieng that bacteria like e-coli will actually get into the DNA of produce and can't be washed off.

Other than that I do grow my own lettace (very easy) and what ever else I can. Good luck lisa

Not sure if you live nearby, but Larry's produce stand in Fairfield is awesome! Also, check your local farmers market. anon

Organic Natural Foods Buying Club?

May 2009

I read about a buying club for organic and natural foods, where families join together to buy in large enough amounts to qualify for the minimum for the distributors, whose prices are really, really cheap. It sounds like a possibility for saving a lot. The trouble is, when I checked out the distributor I read about, they only serve the East Coast. Here are my questions: 1. Anyone know of a buying club like that around here? (We're in El Cerrito.) 2. Anyone know of a distributor that serves our area, with a small enough minimum and a large selection of of organic and natural items? 3. Anyone interested in joining if I form one? El Cerrito, Kensington, Albany, N. Berkeley? Jenny

Not exactly what you are looking for, but you should check out the Berkeley Cooperative Grocery http://thecog.org/. It's a relatively new natural foods coop, so it's not yet a fully functioning store front - but members are able to buy foods in bulk at discounted prices. I'm not a member so I can't give you personal experience, but I'd like to become a member someday! Kelly

I'm sure you'll get lots of posts about the Cog. http://thecog.org/ R.K.

Organic food store for family shopping

July 2002

We recently made an informed decision to only buy organic food for our family, and tried a few stores around. What we discovered is that in order to stay within organic food we have to go to several stores just to buy the most regular items: milk, bread, vegetables, fruits, breakfast cereal. Two questions I cannot figure out myself and want to ask to share with me:

1. Where can we find ''certified organic'' meat: beef, chicken, pork, turkey?

2. Is there a store that sells organic food in family-size packages, since those would make more economic sense for a family rather than buying multiple tiny pieces of cheese, for example?

Thank you for your advice. Maria

You didn't say where you live, but El Cerrito Natural Grocery on San Pablo ave and Stockton in EC has a meat counter called Armand's Meats. They have certified organic meat and poultry. Their prices are higher than Berkeley Bowl, but sometimes I'm willing to pay extra for convenience.

I can usually find everything organic that I need at Berkeley Bowl on Shattuck Ave in Berkeley. They have a large selection of organic produce, some organic breads, canned goods, snack foods, cereals, etc. I know they have certified organic chicken and I believe they have certified organic meats. If you get there on the earlier side of the morning parking and check out lines are not too bad.

I think also Whole Foods on Telegraph and Ashby has organic everything. Their prices are also high.I rarely go there but the times I have they seemed to have lots of organic. Good luck June

I found Monterey Market (Monterey/Hopkins)in Berkeley to have better prices than Berkeley Bowl on produce. Is that what others have found? I find organic milk, cereals, eggs, and some nuts & snack foods at Trader Joe's to be cheaper. One will be coming to the El Cerrito Plaza within 6 months I believe they said. Susan

The place to shop for organic foods of all shapes, sizes and varieties is The Berkeley Bowl. It's located off Shattuck Ave. near Ashby. I have been going there for years. They have the best prices and most incredible variety of fruits and veggies as well as bulk/bin items like rice, pasta and honey all under one roof. They also offer the staples like toilet tissue, toothpaste, etc. but can be a bit more pricey than say Target. I do recommend, however, that you avoid ''The Bowl'' (as it is known to many) on the weekends. It is so incredibly crowded inside and the parking(or lack thereof) is quite limited. Make sure you write a list because there is so much to buy, it can be overwhelming. Have fun! anne

Have you tried Whole Foods, on the corner of Ashby and Telegraph? This a wonderful, huge natural grocery store with almost any organic item you could want. They have beautiful organic meats, poultry and produce, as well as a very extensive fresh, prepared foods counter and a very nice fish counter. Although the parking lot may seem crowded at times, I rarely have to wait much in line, since they have a lot of cash registers. The prices are also very reasonable, especially compared to some other stores. We drive from El Cerrito to Whole Foods to do almost all our grocery shopping. El Cerrito Natural Grocery (San Pablo Ave at Stockton) or Berkeley Natural Grocery (Hopkins just above the BART tracks) also have quite a good selection of organic items and produce, and carry many of the staple items you mention. Gayle & Tim

The biggest store with the most selection of organic produce, meat and all other food and household items is Berkeley Bowl. It seems always to be busy there no matter what time or day but, it has excellent selection and quality. If you have patience/are close by it is worth it. Nicole

My family and I buy organic as much as possible. We spend more but believe that the health benefits far outweigh the cost of organic foods. Organic meats can be found at Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl. Organic produce can be found at the Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays in Berkeley, at Berkeley Bowl and for more money and less selection at Whole Foods. I recommend buying bulk organic pasta, rice, beans, etc at Berkeley Bowl to save money. I haven't noticed family size packages of organic food products. Good luck! Suzanna

You can't beat Berkeley Bowl for organic selection at reasonable prices all under one roof. The main problem is the crowds, which can be overwhelming. Elaine

I have begun to drive out to El Cerrito Natural Grocery on San Pablo Ave. because it is small yet has great selection of org. produce and other items and seems to be a tiny bit cheaper. The meat dept. is small but if you want one-stop shopping it might work for you. I like it because it is never busy, small, and my daughter gets a balloon every time we check out! There is a sister store on Gilman St. in Berkeley which is much smaller/cramped and no meat dept. Nicole

This won't help you find all your organic groceries in one place, but I wanted to let you know about a wonderful organic farm that delivers to the East Bay. It's called Full Belly Farm, and it's a community supported agriculture (CSA) co-op. My family has been very happy with the quality of the produce we receive from them every other week (you can sign up for weekly deliveries, too). It costs $13/week for a box that feeds 2-4 people. Yesterday our box contained peaches, two types of tomatoes, potatoes, basil, cucumbers, and green beans. The farm is on the web at http://www.geocities.com/fullbellycsa/ or you can call them at 510-528-8630. Kathryn

You might try Planet Organics delivery to meet some of your needs. www.planetorganics.com You can custom order as much fruit/veggies as you want as long as it's over $25 and they also have lots of ''dry goods''--pasta, coffee, etc. Also Niman ranch meats which are not organic. You won't be able to get everything from them but since they deliver that saves a trip to the store. I've been a customer for a couple years and am quite satisfied.

We've been having great organic produce delivered from planet organics for several months. Check out their website at www.planetorganics.com They deliver one day a week to your door! You pick a box amount ($25, $35, $50) and can designate what you don't want, but can modify the box to exactly what you want online twos days in advance of delivery. They also have some great grocery items (organic pasta, sauce, juice, etc.) And, if you are signed up for escrip for a school or non-profit, they donate 5% to your group. The customer service has been excellent, the produce unreal, and the overall experience great. Jen

Also, check out the bulk bins at Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl-- lots of items there are organic and much more economical than buying fancy 8 oz packages! Deborah

Planet Organics ((415)522-0526 is a ''custom-order'' home delivery service for $25... but I found it to have less than the B.O.X. (415) 695-9688 Also, even less expensive is the Full Belly Farms, a co (510)528-8630 or http://geocities.com/fullbellycsa which delivers to a location in Albany and you pick up for organic produce for less than the delivery companies. Also, I find organic milk, cereals, eggs, and some nuts & snack foods at Trader Joe's to be cheaper. One will be coming to the El Cerrito Plaza within 6 months I believe they said. Susan

May 1998


Why Organic Produce?

I missed the discussion about why strawberries should not be given to children under the age of one. Might be allergies, but in my mind the following would also be a good reason.

I've read in books I trust that strawberries are the worst fruit/vegetable for pesticides and other (?) chemicals. Because of this, I don't feed my son strawberries unless they are certified organic. Just thought you might like to know. Peggy

I agree with the comment about pesticides. I have a friend who used to work for the California Strawberry Council - she is not a health nut or anything, but she told me she would never feed her kids regular strawberries because of the amounts of pesticides on them. Unlike apples and other smooth-skinned fruit which don't absorb that much and can be washed, strawberries absorb pesticides and cannot be washed. Lysa

Re: organic strawberries: Berkeley Natural Grocery at Gilman carries them, as does the Monterey Market, which is usually cheaper. I got some great ones there last week for just over 1 dollar a basket. Melissa

just want to second the idea that we should be careful feeding strawberries to our kids. They are one of the worst crops in regard to the amount of chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fungicides) used in their production. A joke I've heard is that you could grind up conventionally-grown strawberries and use them as pesticides... Anyway, whether or not that's true, I only feed my son organically grown strawberries. I've bought wonderful organic strawberries at the Berkeley Bowl. Suzanne

According to The Environmental Working Group, which reports periodically on health risks from pesticides in produce, you can cut your exposure by 50%by reducing your consumption of the 'dirty dozen'. The twelve most contaminated are: strawberries, bell peppers, (red and green), spinach, cherries, peaches, Mexican cantaloupes, celery, apples, green beans, Chilean grapes, and cucumbers. Maura Source: 8 weeks to Optimal Health by Dr Andrew Weil, M.D.

I just wanted to add one more thing to the discussion about organic produce. I would add a few more items to the list of conventionally-grown produce that I believe it is a good idea to try to avoid. These are potatoes, carrots, and broccoli. Potatoes are usually grown in soil that is heavily fumigated to kill fungus and other diseases and pests, and carrots are known to readily absorb certain chemicals from the soil, even some pesticides that are now banned but which still remain in the soil in many farms. Be sure that potatoes and carrots come from certified organic farms, which are required to have been farmed organically for at least 3 years. Suzanne

Andronicos on Shattuck and Cedar sells organic strawberries, but not the Andronicos on Solano. My mother is very educated in health and nutritional matters. She says that washing fruits in a weak white vinegar solution takes away pesticide residue. Can anyone address that issue? Also, thanks for the heads up on strawberries and the dirty dozen. Wendy

Re: Organic produce. No, you are not rid of pesticides after washing or peeling. There are residues right through to the core. For a really good article on this subject and the risks etc. involved, read Ms. magazine, July/August 1995 issue. The article is very well researched and is 9 pages long. Another article of interest concerning Dioxin follows it. Look under the section Health for Pesticides: Nowhere To Hide, by Martha Honey. Maura