How to buy fresh produce on a budget

Fruit by Travis Isaacs (Own work) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Flickr

Eating healthy isn’t just a luxury for those who can afford it. It’s a lifestyle decision for everyone. 

It’s become all too common to use cost as an excuse to purchase junk food instead of fresh fruits and vegetables. However, the actual price difference is only about $1.50 more per day based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended daily diet.

What does $1.50 more every day actually mean for your wallet in the long run?

Well, over the course of a year it means spending about $550 more for one person, which could be considered a small sacrifice when weighing the benefits that come from a healthier diet.

A study published in the British Medical Journal Open, compared healthy decisions to their alternative, finding the largest contrast in healthfulness when comparing fruits and vegetables to packaged snacks. That means simply swapping your favorite crackers, chips or cookies for fresh produce could improve your diet, and benefit your health over time.

Instead of leaning on the tired misconception that cheap meals have to be unhealthy, make a few changes to your shopping routine and treat yourself.

Take a trip to your local farmers market

It’s a misconception that locally grown produce is more expensive than the supermarket. In fact, there have been no formal studies to support this claim and farmers markets are often cheaper, according to The Atlantic.

Eat Local Grown outlines the simple steps you can take to eat healthier on a budget and support local farmers:

  1. Case the area. Find the markets in your area and visit them all to find the most reasonable prices.
  2. Bring an open mind and a flexible agenda. Instead of setting out to find specific items, make a point to see what’s for sale and where you’re going to get the best deal. You never know what new fruits and vegetables you might actually enjoy after trying them.
  3. Understand what’s currently in season. According to Greenmarket, buying produce during its peak season can save you 10 to 40 percent as opposed to buying it as soon as it’s available. Prices at farmers markets are affected by supply and demand more than supermarkets, so paying attention to peak season is crucial. The following fruits and vegetables are currently in season: Peaches, Squash, Zucchini, Eggplant, Corn, Tomatoes, Raspberries, Plums, Melon, Nectarines, Peppers, Basil and Okra.
  4. Talk to the vendors. Instead of waiting until the market is about to close for a last-minute price cut, talk shop. Share your cooking plans, discuss successful meals you’ve made with his or her product and make a point to talk about the food he or she grew. Working your appreciation into the equation gives you a better chance of getting a deal.
  5. Bring something to the table if you want to haggle. Farmers are frequently open to negotiating prices, but if you’re going to ask for something, offer to help your local farm in return. You might be able to make a deal that benefits both parties.
  6. Buy in bulk. Every vendor would love to sell out by the end of the day instead of lugging their haul back home. By purchasing larger quantities, you may be able to get individual fruits or vegetables at a lower price. To avoid buying more than you need, bringing friends or family to the market is always a great option.
  7. Don’t be turned off by the fruits and vegetables that aren’t perfect. They’re grown exactly the same way. Asking for “seconds” is a good way to get the same quality for cheaper. Most farmers will stash ugly produce in a bucket under the table for those who ask. To read more on the ugly food trend, check out Farm and Dairy editor Susan Crowell’s column, Your food? It’s about to get ugly.
  8. Bring cash, especially quarters. Farmers commonly run out of change, so having the ability to help them out will make them more likely to return the favor.
  9. Make the trip regardless of weather conditions. In poor weather, when fewer consumers feel like traveling to the market, you’re more likely to be rewarded for your effort.
  10. Don’t let the labels sway you. Branded as more of a lifestyle decision, the organic movement is attractive. However, you’re not necessarily losing out by buying from local farmers. According to Greenmarket, organic certification costs anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Many small farmers are banned from the exclusive club because they cannot afford the label or don’t have time to see process through. Asking farmers how their produce is grown can give you a better idea of what you’re buying. Just because it’s not certified organic doesn’t mean it wasn’t grown without pesticides. Don’t pay extra for a sticker!

To learn more about the farmers market experience, check out Farm and Dairy reporter Catie Noyes’ feature, Not your grandfather’s farmers market.


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.