It’s been a long, cold winter with record snowfall, which has stretch many family finances beyond comfort. The good news is that spring means fresh cheap produce. Cooking and eating healthy cheap meals is going to get easier (at least for several months).
Here are 16 easy steps to scoring cheap, fresh produce.
The more you know, the more money you can save on fresh produce. Six essential resources:
Locate sellers: LocalHarvest.org is a national nonprofit site that you can search by state or city to find CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), farmers markets, food events, grocery co-ops and farms. The site provides excellent descriptions of what the growers offer, and maps and directions are included. Local Harvest also has a free newsletter and catalog offering everything from seeds and gardening tools to meats, honey, dairy and produce.
Locate sellers (take 2): Eat Well Guide is a collection of 25,000 local growers, farmers, restaurants, food service professionals, wineries, community gardens and grocery stores offering sustainable, organic foods. This site can be searched by city and state, ZIP code or keyword. Closer-to-you produce means cheap, fresh produce.
Fresh produce by state: This peak season map is a month-by-month guide to the freshest produce by state.
Fresh produce by season: Produce For Better Health Foundation offers a four-season and year-round list, rather than by month and state. Both lists offer a quick visual on how to get cheap, fresh produce where you live.
How To Buy Fresh Fruit is an A-to-Z guide on what to look for and what to avoid to get the best of the crop.
How To Buy Fresh Vegetables is the sister guide from the same source.
For cheap, fresh produce, remember these ten tips:
- Season matters: You can buy berries in December, for example, but they are generally imported, which makes them pricier than the domestic berries you get in the summer.
- Location matters: The less it travels, the cheaper your fresh produce.
- Know your produce: By sight, smell and touch. You save money knowing the difference between perfect and past-its-prime produce. Food wasted is not cheap, fresh produce; it’s trash.
- Make a “locavore” list: Those farmers in your area who grow certain products and what markets sell their products. Keep up with them on social media. Save money at farmers markets and you’ll get the cheapest, freshest produce.
- U-pick: A little dirty work on your part can pay off: if you have U-pick farms, give yourself the gift of cheap fresh produce, personally-picked and a little exercise, too.
- Start a food co-op in your neighborhood: It’s as simple as getting a neighbor or two to go in on a CSA box every month. You can get cheap fresh produce, share recipes and maybe get to know the neighbors better.
- Community gardens: they appear in the strangest places. Empty plots on urban streets, in church and school yards. Many of these gardens are open to volunteers from outside their immediate community. For a little labor, you get your own plot, pride in your community, cheap, fresh produce and exercise.
- Seek new grocers: Don’t overlook the ethnic markets for cheap, fresh produce. And you may even find something new to try that’s not in your average supermarket.
- Coupons: You can get coupons for fresh produce to enhance your savings. Sometimes it’s as simple as picking up your grocery store’s weekly ad, or going to their website and downloading digital coupons. Or checking the shelves for tear-away coupons. There are national websites that offer coupons, and check the Facebook pages for brands you buy.
- Grow your own: even a small plot of land can provide a lot of cheap, fresh produce. Tomatoes and strawberries grown well when trellised and need very little space. No space available? You can utilize the container gardening method, which also gives you the advantage of moving your garden at will.