how to go organic on a tight budget

Seven top tips for stretching your organic dollar further:

1. Buy only what is in season

When produce is in season it is cheaper than when it is out of season. This rule applies to organic produce too. So buy apples in apple season, then switch to oranges in orange season, and you'll always be able to eat affordable organic fruit.

2. Buy straight from the grower

If your area doesn't have gate and farm shop sales of organic produce, then check out the nearest farmers' market or mixed market selling organic food. Lower overheads for direct sellers means lower prices for you.

3. Join an organic box scheme

Have a set-price box of fresh organic veges delivered to your home or workplace every week. The contents will change with the seasons to keep the value of the box constant, but there will always be staples like onions and potatoes. There could be new and unusual veges to try as well.

4. Shop around

Most supermarkets now stock a basic range of organic foods, and there are bargains to be had. But don't assume that everything will be cheaper at the supermarket than at a specialist organic/wholefood store – especially when that store has bulk bin organic foods. Check the prices for the regular items on your shopping list at your two nearest supermarkets (one from each chain), and nearest organic/wholefood store, and make a note of what to buy where for the best deals.

5. Stick to staples

If you can't afford to buy organic everything, stick to what you eat most of. This will be best for your health as well as your wallet. Staples tend to be carbohydrate foods (rice, pasta, potatoes, oats, wheat flour) and organic versions of these can be bought in bulk at an affordable price. There are fresh produce staples too (such as onions, carrots, apples, and bananas) so go for the organic versions of those. Off-set the greater cost of organic animal foods by eating less – also good for your health.

6. Do the preparation yourself

Processing, packaging and transport adds a lot to the cost of foods. You can make organic muesli at home for half the cost of buying it pre-prepared. Making your own sauces, dressings, spreads, preserves, biscuits and so on from raw ingredients is also a lot cheaper than buying them ready-made. And, of course, dinners made from scratch with fresh veges are not only cheaper than pre-prepared, shop-bought meals but also healthier. Some organic stores (see The Organic Larder) provide great recipes for seasonal eating on a budget – better quality food for the same price or less than mainstream supermarket food.

7. Grow your own

If you can – at home or with neighbours in a community garden (great for surplus-swapping). If space at home is limited, leafy greens and herbs are easiest and best to grow. It's amazing what will grow in containers – and they don't have to be flash timber planter boxes or glazed pottery. A tomato plant will grow just as well in a cheap, 10 litre plastic bucket as it will in the fanciest pot if it's fed and watered properly. For a beginner's guide to organic gardening go to the Organic NZ gardening pages. Organic gardening provides healthy and enjoyable exercise that results in healthy and enjoyable food – it's a tight-budget option creating value that money can't buy.