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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!
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
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,
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
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!
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
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!
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
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
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?
I assume you've already tried Monterey Market, Berkeley Bowl and
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
others that don't really matter much). Here's one:
It is possible to eat healthfully on a budget.
Maybe not everything you buy HAS to be organic. See
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.
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.
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
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
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,
whole grain foods. These are the healthiest things to eat. In
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
the (really expensive) organic frozen waffles, and just make some
wheat pancakes with fresh or frozen blueberries, or use whole wheat
make some tasty french toast. There are all kinds of blogs out
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
nights) and much cheaper and healthier than just buying stuff that
organic or all natural on the label.
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
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.
Not sure if you live nearby, but Larry's produce stand in
Fairfield is awesome! Also, check your local farmers market.
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
2. Anyone know of a distributor that serves our area, with a
small enough minimum and a large selection of of organic and
3. Anyone interested in joining if I form one? El Cerrito,
Kensington, Albany, N. Berkeley?
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
I'm sure you'll get lots of posts about the Cog.
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,
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
Thank you for your advice.
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.
I found Monterey Market (Monterey/Hopkins)in Berkeley to have
better prices than Berkeley Bowl on produce. Is that what
others have found?
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
You might try Planet Organics delivery to meet some of your
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.
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!
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.
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,
does the Monterey Market, which is usually cheaper. I got some great ones
there last week for just over 1 dollar a basket.
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
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.
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.
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.
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