Defining True Value. How to Make Buying Organic Affordable.


Dr. Jillian Finker is definitely biased when it comes to eating organic foods.

"I have always been an advocate for organic foods, including baby foods," the naturopath from Plainview, New York, tells "I was brought up on organic baby food, I always purchase organic products, and I recommend that my patients eat organic whenever possible."

Dr. Finker's professional experience has reaffirmed her commitment to the organic lifestyle.

"I have personally seen patients whose lives have been ruined by their exposure to pesticides," she says. "Their bodies were loaded with pesticides from either spray exposure or from ingesting heavily sprayed fruits and vegetables. These patients have a variety of symptoms, ranging from paresthesia (a sensation of burning, prickling, itching, or tingling, with no apparent physical cause) to skin rashes. It saddens me that we still use pesticides on our foods, even though there are organic farming options available to us."

It's hard to argue with Dr. Finker's logic-unless you work for a nonorganic food manufacturer whose products are laced with pesticides. But ask average consumers about eating organically, and one issue seems to emerge universally: "It's too expensive."


Eating organically needn't be a wallet buster, says Debra Stark, owner of Debra's Natural Gourmet, a retail store in Concord, Massachusetts. Buying organic beans, grains, pasta, herbs, spices, leafy greens and other produce is not only economical, but far healthier than plunking down a few bucks for a prepackaged meal that contains only one nutritionally questionable serving.

"There are times when our organic fruits and veggies cost less than commercially grown ones in the supermarket," Stark tells "But even when they don't, there are always items that are affordable. Besides, look at the bottom line: A commercially grown head of romaine, for instance, is subsidized by the government. By the time we all pay for the damage to the environment that the chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides wreak-the extra health-care costs incurred by farm workers because of their exposure to the toxic stuff-a regular head of romaine costs each of us over $3.50. I saw these figures some years ago from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Organic farmers receive no subsidies, and last week our organic romaine was $1.49 per head."

And the price gap between nonorganic and organic foods continues to narrow.

"Whenever economies of scale come into play, prices go down," Stark says. "With big players entering the natural products industry, many products like cold cereals, for instance, are being produced on a larger scale."

Another source for economical organic foods is farmers' markets.

"They're great fun," Stark says. "They allow us to meet the people who work hard growing our food. Even if that head of lettuce costs more than the tired head sitting in the supermarket, the value is greater. Just think how many more vitamins and minerals there are in a fresh, just-picked-that-morning head of lettuce than in the one that had to travel across country. There's better all-over nutrient value-and it's also better value from the standpoint of the community. Local farmers pay local taxes and make contributions to local schools. It all depends, you see, on how we define value."

"Consumers find reasonably priced organic products the same way they find reasonably priced anything: They do their homework and read," adds herbalist Melinda Olson, owner of Tualatin, Oregon-based Earth Mama Angel Baby, a producer of natural and organic products for pregnancy, labor, postpartum recovery, breastfeeding and baby care. "More and more, organic products are finding their way into mainstream retail stores alongside conventional products," she tells, "and new grocery chains are 'sneaking' organics in, under the guise of being trendy."

Read labels to get more organic "bang for your buck," she advises. "The biggest question to examine is: What makes a product 'reasonably-priced'? In my opinion, paying a little bit more, in order to avoid ingesting or applying herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics, makes the purchase more than 'reasonable.' I'd say that makes it a very valuable and cost-effective purchase indeed."

More consumers have adopted that mindset, willing to commit a few extra dollars to avoid the health problems Dr. Finker deals with every day.

"Price is not an issue because I decided it would not be," says holistic health counselor Cynthia Stadd of New York City. "I am aware that I spend more on food bills than I used to, but I see it as prevention from spending tons more on doctors' bills and medications," she tells "I see organic food as one tool to sustaining vibrant health, without the need for doctors."

Related Stories