An abundance of produce consisting of cauliflower, mushrooms, tomato, lettuce and zucchini

Tips on Getting AFFORDABLE Produce Year-round

An abundance of produce consisting of cauliflower, mushrooms, tomato, lettuce and zucchini
#TBT to when my husband and I purchased all of this beautiful produce for under $33!!! Had we gotten this from a traditional grocery store, the price would have been at least double.

On a tight budget, but want your family to eat healthily? Check out the following tips and tricks on how to source affordable produce year-round!

Counting Pennies

Times are tough. And this is true for so many households across the country (and heck, for the world!). Unfortunately, the pandemic had resulted in a global recession. The pandemic has resulted in many either getting reduced hours or even experiencing layoffs. We definitely count our pennies in this household!

I wrote this blog post over a year ago, but wanted to update this original post with more detailed information that’s especially relevant to our current economic climate. As a disclaimer, these are tips based off of my own experiences and should not be used as a sole source of money-saving authority. Nevertheless, I hope that this article can serve as a resource and even source of inspiration for some ways to save extra money on your groceries.

If you are ever looking to stock up on AFFORDABLE produce, you can do the following:

1. Word of Mouth

Pictured is a screenshot from a local community-driven Facebook group

One of the BEST ways to find out about the best deals is to ASK members of your own community! But with social distancing in place, it’s not always easy to just wander around your block. Thank goodness for the internet! Speaking of which, did you know that there may actually be a Facebook group or the  Nextdoor app that focuses on all things local in your community. In fact, many passionate residents and associations have created online forums for other residents in their cities, towns, and neighborhoods. These types of community groups serve as a great resource to not only get to know one another but can also serve as a springboard for different resources. I am a part of three online community groups dedicated to my town, and I can’t tell you how often I have seen posts from thoughtful residents who announce sales and discounts around town.

If you are especially privy to wanting to learn where the nearest farmers markets or produce stands may be located, this will be one of the best types of platform to reach out to! Heck, you may even find that you have a neighbor down-the-road with a surplus bushel of cumquats to give away-for free!

2. Go Wholesale!

Image of Sanwa Farmer’s Market. Photo courtest of Bill Waller

Purchase WHOLESALE produce…seriously! There are wholesale stores that specialize in selling bulk produce for restaurants and other foodservice operations. Many of which are open to the public. The beauty of purchasing in bulk is that the price of your produce will often be significantly cheaper than what you would find at your neighborhood grocery store.  The biggest wholesale suppliers include Costco and Sam’s Club. Now, if you are local to the Lakeland/ Tampa region, consider these smaller, locally operated establishments:

  • Sanwa: This Tampa-based wholesale market has a rich array of produce varieties from around the world, and specializes in Asian specialties. Whether you are looking to stock up on oranges, or are interested in trying goodies, like fresh jackfruit or durian, then you will be in luck! Click here to learn more about Sanwa.
  • Plant City Farm & Flea Market: This market is one of the best-kept secrets of the area. If you are an early riser then I recommend going here first thing in the morning because many of the produce vendors sell out by noon. Although they are open 6 days out of the week (except Sundays), Wednesdays are their busiest days. So if you are not into big crowds, you may want to avoid hump days! Click here to learn more about this market.

3. Farmers Markets

Image of a local farmer’s market. Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Markets, Inc.

Maybe buying wholesale produce isn’t your thing (no judgment here!). If you’re still interested in buying local, maybe a farmers market might be up your alley. Depending on where you live, farmer’s markets will operate on a seasonal basis.  Nevertheless, Farmers markets are my favorite because 1) It’s a great excuse to get out of the house; 2) Farmers Markets are a fantastic way to get to know your local farmers and growers in person; 3) The goodies you purchase from a local vendor will often be sold at a much more affordable price than what you find at a grocery store. This is because produce is typically grown locally and seasonally.

One reason for this is because farmers markets eliminate the consumer from the ‘middleman’, which is often a distributor. Also, what a cool way to get to support your local economy! And don’t let Covid-19 deter you. Many farmers markets are still open (many with extra social-distancing precautions). There are many farmers markets (including our local ones) that are ALSO EBT-friendly, and offer incentives that allow you to DOUBLE your produce intake. If you are from the Tampa Bay/ Lakeland area, consider supporting the following markets:

  • Tampa Bay Markets: This Network of vendors has monthly farmer’s markets throughout the bay area. Click here for more information on their locations and hours.
  • Temple Terrace Farmers Market: Click here for more information.
  • Lakeland Downtown Farmers Curb Market: Click here for more information. 
  • Ybor City Saturday Market: Click here for more information.
  • St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market: Click here for more information.

4. Eat Seasonally

Image courtesy Fresh from Florida

What exactly does eating seasonally mean? Think about it this way. Do you ever notice that there is usually an abundance of produce at your grocery store during certain times of the year? For example, for those who live in Florida, ever notice that stores, such as Publix, will often sell and display an abundance of juicy, luscious strawberries, marked at affordable prices? That’s because these produce varieties are usually grown during certain seasons of the year. You see, when a variety of produce is in season (i.e. strawberries) and the weather, climate and soil conditions are favorable, the supply is typically abundant, and therefore, due to a high supply, prices typically drop.

Unless you are actively growing food or are involved in the food industry, it may seem daunting to try to figure out what and when certain foods are in season. Fresh from Florida has a fantastic user-friendly resource that helps to inform the public about the different crops in season year-round. Click here for more information.

For those who are especially money-conscious, purchasing and eating produce grown on a seasonal basis can actually be one of the most affordable options. For example, the months of December-March are typically when Central Florida experiences strawberry season.

5. Go Frozen…or Can it!

An image of fresh, canned, and frozen peas. Photo courtesy of Ovia Health

Depending on where you live, you may not always have access to fresh produce. When that’s the case, try purchasing produce that’s either frozen or canned. Fruits that are either canned or frozen are typically picked at their peak ripeness, so their nutritional qualities are often intact (relatively speaking!). Ripeness aside, a household can often save a significant amount of money on purchasing this variety of produce.  However, if you’re watching your sugar or sodium intake, please be sure to check the nutrition labels. There are some canned varieties that pack their fruit in corn syrup, as opposed to water. Similarly, there are some canned tomato varieties loaded with extra salt.

6. Grow your own produce, or join a community garden!

A garden bed of cabbage located at the Plant City Commons Community Garden

Maybe you were naturally born with a green thumb. Or, you may be interested in developing one! If you fall somewhere within this spectrum, perhaps growing your own produce may be of interest to you. There are countless benefits to growing your own produce, including the ability to become self-sufficient, becoming more connected to the Earth, and of course, fostering a deeper sense of appreciation to knowing that you harvested the fruits and veggies on your plate.

What if your property is too small to garden or plant on? You may consider wanting to join (or even establish) a community garden. Community gardens typically consist of a couple or a few acres of land where community members have the ability to lease out a portion of the grounds to grow their own plants. Community Gardens can either be run by a church, a Parks and Recreation Department, a school, a neighborhood association or a grassroots organization. Many community garden networks also offer workshops or events, such as community potlucks, for their members.

For those who are novice planters, the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences has public satellite campuses that provide resources that can better equip you with the skills you’ll need to effectively grow your own food. If you are based out of Plant City, check out the link to a recent article I wrote about the Plant City Commons Community Gardens. If you are based out of Tampa, check out the feature I wrote on The Well and the Urban Progress Alliance’s Garden Trust 4Us community gardening initiatives.       

7. Forage!

A man foraging for mushrooms. Photo courtesy of Civil Eats

Yes…if you’re into camping or love the outdoors, foraging may be of interest to you. Heck, doing so can also equip you with some rad survival skills. The only thing that you may have to pay for when foraging for food is your time and maybe a little calorie-burning energy. There is a great variety of plants that are located in nature that are either edible upon picking-or after boiling them down. Some edible plants abundant in Florida’s nature include dandelions, mulberries, loquats, and Maringa-the list goes on! However, I strongly advise that you do plenty of research and use precautions before you begin picking beautiful berries from trees and luscious leaves during your next hike. Many plants are still poisonous and unsuitable for human consumption! Florida Foraging and Eat the Weeds are fantastic resources for those who may be interested in learning more about foraging across our state.

A safe alternative to foraging in the wild is to visit and support local food forests, spaces intentionally created for the picking of food, edible for human consumption. There are food forests open to the public in located in Plant City, and if you’re up for the trip…visit the ECHO’s food forest located in Fort Myers.

Concluding Thoughts

I want this particular article to serve as a resource to our Central Florida/Tampa Bay community. Therefore, I intend for this to be a living document. Also, as a disclaimer, not all of the aforementioned resources contain locally-sourced produce. As a final disclaimer, many of the entities that I listed may have abnormal hours or temporary closures as a result of Covid-19.

 Do you have any other tips on how to obtain affordable produce?? Are there any local establishments that I accidentally left out?!? Please comment below!