Buying Organic

Buying Organic

Honestly, I have a difficult time buying fruits that are twice as expensive just because it says “organic” on the labeling. Is it really organic? How do I know? Is it an investment in my health or a marketing ploy to get my money?

Sign at the commissary

I have the luxury of shopping at the commissary where name brands are not as expensive, and organic goods are also offered. But for non-military folks in this area paying $4.19 for a gallon of milk and using $4 for a gallon of fuel to get to the grocery store, people are buying what they can afford. That’s the main reason I’m adamant about having a garden. Saving money and saving the environment seem to go hand in hand on this one. Especially with my hesitation of forking over twice as much money because someone, somewhere “claims” it’s organic.


I’ve found stores like Trader Joe’s and The Heritage Store have easily accessible organic food, but it is expensive and all the way in Virginia Beach. I noticed the strawberries, blackberries and blueberries at the Heritage Store are the same ones I buy at the commissary. That either means the ones at the Heritage store aren’t actually organic, or the ones at the commissary are but no one’s bothering to tell us.

Same berries I buy at the commissary

Because organic is more expensive, if we buy it, we try to stick to the main 12: Apples, carrots, celery, cherries, grapes, kale, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears, bell peppers, and strawberries. (Those with thin skin.) I am willing to pay more if my meat is grass-fed instead of corn-fed and not full of hormones. But what about eggs? How do I know if they are truly cage-free unless I visit the farm? I don’t feel like I need organic chocolate, coffee, muffin mix or pasta. I’m researching. I’m open to learning, but I’m not sold yet.
 I looked up farmer’s markets in Norfolk and found  Norfolk Farmer’s Market and Craft Fair brought vendors in about 4 times a month during the summer and fall. Sounded perfect. Why hadn’t I discovered this earlier?  Many of the vendors were backyard farmers. Couldn’t get more local than that! On our way out to the car, I asked my man if he grabbed the address. He shook his head but said he looked at the directions on Google and didn’t recognize any of the streets, which we both thought was strange. I ran back in and wrote down the address……until I got to the state. It was Norfolk, Connecticut!  I was so disappointed. Augh! I went back outside. “You’re not going to believe this…” I started.

Local farmer’s markets are not abundant in Norfolk, Virginia but I did find one–the Five Points Community Farm Market on Church Street but for all the talk about buying local, besides being  expensive, we found a scarce amount of produce offered there.  You really have to make the effort to shop organic.

I looked into CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) programs that deliver whatever is in season to a group of subscribers. The cost for one season is between $200-$250, annual CSA subscriptions ranged between $600-$800. We go back and forth on whether it’s too expensive or whether it’s worth it. I think it would be a good deal for a family of five, but not for a family of two. My husband thinks we most likely spend $600 a year on fruits and vegetables anyway. We’ve discussed and disagreed so much, the year has passed and it’s too late to take part in a CSA now anyway. The deals at the commissary are just too good. I constantly compare prices on the outside to the commissary. I’m paying half what I would pay on the outside.

This past week we visited the Virginia Beach Farmer’s Market on Dam Neck Road. It’s open all year, every day. There was a family of farmer’s quietly shelling peas in the back as folks roamed through their stall. The market offered a large array of fruits and vegetables, including homemade jams and honey at twice the price of the commissary. Frustrated, I sat down and removed my sun hat complaining to my man.
“We can either help the environment or help our bank account. It shouldn’t have to be one or the other.”
“But Jennifer, these are smaller farms. They have to sell at a higher price than these huge farms out in California and Florida who can produce more and sell cheaper,” he said.
If it is local and isn’t shipped from one side of the earth to the other, why isn’t it cheaper? Local should equal cheaper. Is that just me?

I want to buy local. I want to buy organic. I want to be healthy and eat less pesticides and sprays. I don’t want to spend the entire pay check doing it. There must be a way. It might just be this area. I shopped at Eastern Market every Saturday in D.C. and it cost me an arm and a leg. I bought only what I needed for the week. My mother in Kentucky claims the Norfolk area is expensive, she doesn’t pay as much for her fruits and vegetables or her milk. My cousin in Georgia swears the farmer’s markets there are cheap. What’s wrong with this area?

I feel I could be doing more, that I’m not trying hard enough. Whenever I look at those prices, I try to tell myself, “It’s investment in your health, girl. An investment in your health!” Then I look at my wallet and I hear something totally different.

I still plan on trying the Farmer’s Market in Portsmouth. It’s open the first and third Saturdays from 9:30-11:00 and first Fridays of the month in the evenings from 6-8 p.m. Maybe I’ll see you there? Just look for the frustrated blonde with the big sun hat.

I do have to give it to Hampton Roads for easy access to info on the internet. There are people out there really trying, starting committees, trying to spread the word. Hampton Roads Buy Fresh Buy Local puts out a food buying guide twice a year due to the work of a dedicated group of people. They even have recipes on their site. Farmer’s Markets Hampton Roads also lists all the farmer’s markets in the Hampton Roads area from Williamsburg to Chesapeake.Give them both a try. And if you don’t live here, punch in local farmer’s markets into google. See what you come up with and let me know what your area offers! And how their prices compare to your local grocery store.

My biggest question and the one that continues to haunt me is how do you know if it’s really organic? Because they say it is? I had a conversation with a man in the airport who supervised a grocery store in a small town in Connecticut. He told me most of the organic produce sold there was shipped from overseas. There was no USDA, no organic-certified anything. “They say it’s organic, so we have to sell it as organic.” That makes me nervous.  I’d really rather grow it myself.

The commissary is known to buy from local farmers. There are signs in the produce department saying which foods are from which local farms. If you take a minute to read the signs though, not all produce is from local farms. If you notice in these pictures, one sign claims tomatoes, corn, peppers, pumpkins, and ornamentals, yet they stand in front of cucumbers. The other picture doesn’t have any fruits or vegetables listed or photographed. What am I buying and from where?

Local Virginia farms

I visited the DeCA website under Below customer service, it has “contact us.” They ask that we try to contact our commissary locally before contacting them. I found an article written back in 2006 about how the commissaries in the Hampton Roads area were having a 6 month local purchase produce test trial to buy more food from local farms instead of The Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia (DSCP) as they had for years. The article claimed the test was succesful. But here I am in 2011, wondering if it is still in effect. I emailed the local store director at the N.O.B. commissary who not only replied back within two days but also called me.

He couldn’t speak for all the stores but N.O.B. buys almost all their produce from the Military Produce Group (MPG) which buys from local Virginia Farmers. The names of the farms are hung in the produce department. If  there is a bad crop or weather ruins the crops, the commissary still buys produce within the United States.

Strictly organic section at N.O.B. (Naval Base)

The store director explained each commissary has an “organic department.” If it is organic, it is labeled organic. Made me think of the berries. They most certainly are not labeled organic. That means organic berries are not available where I shop. What does that tell you about the other store where the label said organic but obviously wasn’t? See how difficult it is to know who’s telling the truth? Who do you trust? What is really organic?

Other places to contact are EXCHANGE and COMMISSARY NEWS at Executive Business Media, Inc.; 825 Old Country Road, Westbury, N.Y. 11590 and Family; the magazine for military families at which are always available to pick up at the commissary.

Related articles:
Why Mom May Not Be Buying Organic (
Buying Organic (or not) (
Thrifty Guide to Buying Organic (
Buying organic affordably (
Buying organic isn’t as easy as I expected! (
Commissary Shopping Primer (
Shop at the Commissary, Shape up your food bills (
Guest Post: Commissary Shopping (
Commissary Ethics: What THEY Should Know! (
Shopping at the Commissary 101 (


15 responses to “Buying Organic

  1. Mary Pat Bliss

    And just think…….you get to doo all this research again when you move!!! heh-heh

  2. I grow some of my own vegetables, but also shop at a Co-Op locally owned grocery store. I know it’s organic there, because it’s like a religion to these people – they are dedicated. I believe you can also trust that food in Farmers’ Markets are organic – it’s just how these people (the farmers) live. The problem I have is with giant supermarkets – I do not trust them when they label produce as organic – they are giant corporations and who trusts a corporation anymore.
    Glad you’re growing you own – me too. You can’t beat the taste. Enjoy your summer!

    • Thanks for the encouragement Boomers1earth! Co-Op locally owned grocery stores…..I didn’t know about those. I’m thinking they must be really small? I’ll have to look into that! I appreciate the info. And thanks for writing your blog. I looked at your organic post—a lot of good information! I do believe your generation can change the world. My mom’s a baby boomer and she’s always grown her own food. I’m learning from you guys so keep writing! 🙂
      Together my generation and yours will change this generation.

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  7. Honestly, I think in order to sell and grow your own fruit, you must have a unique level of determination and dedication. For that reason the majority of the population is just too lazy to raise organic food, and I think it’s a shame. I recently found out that my favorite local fruit-market actually has much of its food imported. From here, we as humans can only raise awareness of the organic problem, and educate others on growing their own food. It’s great to see someone else caring about the Earth. 🙂

    • hbliss23, you are a true inspiration. Thanks for the encouragement. When I see young people like you, aware and educating yourself, it gives me great hope for the future. 🙂

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  9. Great post! I’ve been through the same dilemmas. Actually, recently, I purchased one of those half price deals for 2 weeks worth of fresh fruit and veggies (it was $25, regularly $20 a week) – all local, mostly organic. And now I’m subscribed, but I can put it on ‘hold’ as often as I wish with no charge – so whatever weeks I want, I can pay $20 and pick up a bag filled with fresh, local fruits and veggies. I actually really like it – they even give recipes with ideas for how to use the items (like dandelion leaves – that was a fun one!) – so it forces me to expand my horizons.

    • So it’s like a CSA on sale–to get you to try it out? How interesting. I wish we hadn’t waited so long on making the decision, which was really just me. Sometimes I wait so long to make a decision–that is the decision! I’ll look into that when we move. They seem to be pretty popular. Glad to hear yours is working out so well for you. I’m more likely to try it. I like how you can put it on hold when you want. That’s brilliant.

  10. Yes – it’s similar to a CSA – not called that though. They even deliver to your place of work if you pay a little extra. Which I don’t 🙂 cause I’m cheap like that.

  11. You both should be commended for your effort and commitment. There aren’t always easy answers. But at least you’re trying to figure out solutions. Not enough people are doing that. Keep it up, and good luck.

    • Thank you, geoffgrant! Gosh, we appreciate that. After reading Thomas L. Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded, I felt so helpless. But like your ‘Clean technology is answer to jobs, jobs, jobs’ post says, so much of it has to do with the government. They have to make the laws of change that will create the big differences. Makes me want to run for office. 🙂
      Voting only goes so far. Maybe I shoud go stand on their front lawn with coffee from Filter Coffeehouse–the snazzy one you spoke of in D.C., and give them a copy of Thomas Friedman’s book! Yeah, probably get arrested.

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