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Eat Green, Cheap

Pinching your pennies, but still looking for earth-friendly produce? Here’s how to eat responsibly on a budget.

With one out of 10 Americans unemployed, money is tight and grocery store options can seem scarce. Still, 34 percent of Americans say they are more likely to buy environmentally responsible products today than in 2009, according to a recent Cone Survey Report.

Sustainable products may often seem more expensive than the alternatives. But a 2009 Leopold study found otherwise. “When they compared the prices of locally grown produce to those in outside areas, they found it was cheaper to buy locally,” says Melissa Graham, president of Purple Asparagus, a Chicago non-profit that promotes sustainable eating.

Nonetheless,  many Americans struggle with budgeting. Here are ways to fit responsible foods into a tight income.

Head to the market
“One of the first things I recommend is to go to some of the city’s farmers markets,” says Nancy Johnson, who operates the Chicago-based Web site Sustaneity, which promotes sustainable living. She recommends  the Green City Market, which is held at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum during the winter months, among others.

Katherine Sacks

Make a plan
Overwhelmed by all the choices  farmers markets offer, shoppers may impulse buy more expensive convenience products later on. “Go in with a list,” says Graham, who suggests shoppers outline their weekly menu out ahead of time.

David Rand, a farm forager for Green City Market, prefers to plan a few weekly shopping trips, doing his staple shopping at the farmers market and then purchasing “feature ingredients” a few times a week.  “That way you don’t waste as much money and you end up spending less,” he says.

Arrive late
“The best time for someone on a budget to go is a half an hour before the market ends,” Graham recommends. Farmers are often willing to offer last-minute deals on items they don’t want to bring back home. She also says to buy in bulk for a better value.

Stretch your food
Think about how to use all the parts of your foods, says Graham. She suggests roasting whole chickens and using the bones for soup, and using vegetable stems and scraps for stocks. “When buying only the chicken breast, there is a lot of waste involved,” she says, with added expense for the shopper.

“A lot of people aren’t aware of the best ways to make the food last,” Rand agrees, “or how to preserve its shelf life.” He suggests wrapping fresh herbs in paper towels and then placing them in plastics bags, which will increase shelf life up to a week.

Stick with the seasons
The most cost-effective tip is buying what’s in season, says Johnson, who adapted a sustainable lifestyle more than 15 years ago. “If you buy what’s locally produced, it’s less expensive, and if you buy what’s in season, it’s less expensive,” she says.

“To be really sustainable, you have to be willing to adapt to the seasons,” she says.

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