by eating better and by growing as much of your own as you can. I did want to speak to the part about organic produce being so expensive at the farmer’s market. It pains me to say that didn’t surprise me, but that’s NOT the only method for finding and acquiring organic produce (or meats or dairy or eggs for that matter). Please know that farmers’ markets are really the top of the top of the food chain, in terms of pricing. That’s the only way that farmers can afford to sit there for the whole day, or hire someone to sit there for the whole day. It’s a very expensive proposition business-wise, and pricing will reflect that. It also pains me to say that a lot of farmers bank on (literally and figuratively) the fact that farmers’ markets are frequented by folks who can afford that pricing. Not to say that’s the only type of person to shop there. But if a person is a) looking for high quality produce and b) on a strict food budget, farmers markets are definitely not the way to go.
What you might try instead, is one of several other options. First, look for bulk buyer clubs and/or farm-to-consumer buying clubs. We have a few up here, and I’m pretty closely affiliated with one of them. The folks in our buyer’s club wanted more affordable foods, direct from small-scale growers like me, at a price that was better than the farmers’ market (or the organic section of the grocery store for that matter). So a bulk buy of, say, tomatoes, will have the coordinator contact a few different growers, and work out a big buy, all at once, at pricing that is better than the local markets from the consumers’ point of view, and better than the wholesale markets from the grower’s point of view. The grower only has one or two dropoffs to make, and they know exactly how much of which type to bring. It’s a really potent concept for both the grower and the consumer. I would be very, very surprised if SoCal doesn’t have several such groups. For top-notch product, at the best pricing, you can’t really beat that.
A second option would be to find a regional list of growers, or a national list like localharvest.org and find local growers, then work with the growers directly. That can give you more options, but it’s also more legwork for you to search out and find these folks.
A third option would be to haunt classifieds like craigslists, Little Nickel and the like, either in print or online, and read through their Good Eats or whatever the category is called, to see who’s selling what. That also takes more effort on your part because it’s easy to miss a once-in-awhile listing. But many very good micro-growers who can’t afford normal advertising, or who are brand new, will start there.
It has always really bugged me that organic produce is priced so high as to be out of reach for folks who want, or need, to eat better. One of our ongoing battles here, is to really run a tight ship cost-wise, and really nail down our break-even point, so that we can offer that high quality food, for a price that folks can afford. It’s an ongoing battle, but it’s doable. And we’re definitely not the only ones doing it. I do hope you can find local growers, and/or local buying groups, who can help you get high quality foods, for less than the boutique pricing that you’ll find at the farmers’ markets. Let the folks who can afford to shop there, shop there. I’m positive that with a bit of elbow grease, you (or anyone) can find the same high quality, for a lot less. And of course I applaud your efforts (and anyone’s) to grow as much of your own foods, as you can.