Organic shopping: How to know where to start

So you’re heard organic farming is better for the climate, but switching your whole grocery shop over to organic might be a tad out of reach.

How can you spend your money wisely, and where do you start?

This article looks at why supporting organic farming helps reduce your carbon footprint, and what smart, quick wins you can make when shopping.

▽ Skip down to the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen list for a quick reference guide for shopping organic fruit and veg.

Why choose organic?

Organic farming farming methods help tackle climate change in three ways:

1. Organic farming avoids fossil fuel-based pesticides and fertilizers – these have a big carbon footprint as CO2 is released to produce them, and CO2 emitted to transport them around the world.

2. Healthy organic soils absorb CO2, and are more drought and flood resistant.

3. Organic farming protects wildlife and biodiversity. There is up to 50% more wildlife on organic farms. Organic farming works with nature, not against it.

Why does organic food cost more?

Caring for the land and working with nature is more labour intensive, so comes with higher running costs. For example, some crops are hand-harvested to not disturb the soil and release unnecessary C02 into the atmosphere. Pests are managed naturally instead of using fossil-fuel based chemical sprays.

As the price of gas and oil increases, the price gap between intensive farming and organic farming may shrink as environmentally unsustainable farming methods become financially unsustainable too.

How to prioritise spending and go organic on a budget

Think about what’s important to you – nutrition or animal welfare for example – and switch a couple of items that you use every week.

If you can’t afford to switch to having organic for those items every week, try it every other week, or once a month.

  1. Organic dairy products and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic because organic animals eat an organic, grass-based diet (Source). And, animals on organic farms have far more space and are given a more natural life than intensively farmed animals (source).
  2. Some fruit and veg carry more chemical spray residues than others. Each year the EWG compiles two lists, using American USDA and FDA data. These lists are called the clean fifteen and the dirty dozen.

More tips on choosing organic on a budget

Here are a few tied and tested approaches from the Do Nation community:

  • Go organic every other week, or once a month Order an organic veg box regularly, but only as often as you can afford. Or get a small box more regularly and top up at the shops. On the whole organic veg boxes come with less plastic packaging, so you’ll cut your household waste too.
  • Pick a handful of staples to switch to all the time This could be just 1 item, or 10, depending on your budget. Milk broccoli, apples lettuce and carrots are some of the non-negotiables for the Do Nation team.
  • Look for what’s in season When it’s being grown and harvested locally organic produce is often cheaper than non-organic out of season that’s flown in from far away.
  • Shop the offers! If you eat meat, fish and dairy, find out what time of day your local supermarket discounts items that have short shelf life. You’ll can fill your freezer with organic food for a fraction of the price this way.

Clean fifteen

Clean fifteen 2022 – fruit and veg found with the least amount of chemical residues:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Asparagus
  8. Honeydew melon
  9. Kiwi
  10. Cabbage
  11. Mushrooms
  12. Cantaloupe
  13. Mangoes
  14. Watermelon
  15. Sweet potatoes

Dirty Dozen

Dirty dozen 2022 – fruit and veg found to have the most chemical residues:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard, and mustard greens
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Bell and hot peppers
  8. Cherries
  9. Peaches
  10. Pears
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes

Why use the dirty dozen and clean fifteen lists?

If you’re at all concerned about eating food with higher amounts of petro-chemical residues, these lists can offer a good starting point.

Bear in mind it’s a study only carried out in the USA.

The dirty dozen and clean fifteen only only refer to the amount of chemical residues found on the produce itself, not on the surround soil. It won’t necessarily follow that avocados aren’t sprayed as much as strawberries, just that the strawberries retain residues better.

We hope that’s given you some food for thought. Sign up to our mailing list for easy to follow, actionable eco tips.

What is Do Nation?

Do Nation is a pledge programme that helps engage employees in sustainability at work, via sustainable behaviour change at work and at home.

We help organisations engage their employees in sustainability strategies and goals by drawing on the power of community, connection, friendly competition and behaviour change science.

Our pledge programmes run for 3 months to 3 years and are proven to reduce carbon, water and waste whilst increasing employee pride, fitness and wellbeing.

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