If your family is like ours, we eat lots of fruit and vegetables. We especially like fresh organic fruits and produce when possible, but we also like to keep the costs under control. Below are my top 5 recommendations plus some bonus tips on how to get great produce for lower prices in Maryland (This advice applies to anywhere in the United States although you’ll need to follow my links to find cheap produce in your area–read further for some great kitchen gadgets to help you make the most of your produce:
1) Shop at Costco warehouse stores. We love shopping at Costco (Read my review and list of organic foods available there). One of the great things is that they stock lots of organic fruits and vegetables, both fresh and frozen. Availability varies from store to store, but at the Costco in Columbia, MD they reliably have organic bananas, gala apples, “power greens” (Kale, spinach) and frozen organic corn as well as pineapple and various berries. Another great thing about Costco is that it is more Earth-friendly to purchase in bulk. I highly recommend Costco for everyone, you don’t have to purchase very much food there to make up for the membership price. Find a Costco location near you.
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2) Shop at Asian markets. There are several of these in Maryland. One of the better ones is Lotte, but also in Laurel there is the Super Best – We are always surprised at the cheaper prices at Super Best–but note that we tend to find that the items we buy there need to be consumed quickly as the cheapest items tend to be near the end of their shelf lives.
There are plenty of other Asian markets around…for example H-mart and Lotte in Ellicott City/Catonsville. And my current favorite Great Wall in Catonsville. You won’t find very much in the way of organics, but you will find a huge, unusual variety of fruits and vegetables and they’re suspiciously cheap. For example 3 bunches of green onions for $1. To find your nearest Asian market, just Google Asian Market in your city/state.
3) Get your fruits and vegetables wholesale by the case. Wholesale fruit markets aren’t for the faint of heart. You need to have time and a sense of adventure to make this happen, but it definitely does pay off. In Jessup, Maryland there are two places where consumers can go to get wholesale produce at the central distribution point.
That’s right you can go the place supermarkets and restaurants get their fruits/vegetables and save. Below is a video that explains what to do if you decide to go to the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market – Conowingo Drive, Jessup Maryland. Note that when you go, you should probably expect to pay with cash and you’ll have to stop at a guard gate to explain what you’re doing there.
If you’re mainly interested in organic produce, you’ll want to visit Class Produce. Class Produce isn’t far from the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market, but it is a bit easier to access. Class does take credit cards and my experience with the staff there is that they are very helpful and welcoming to families who want to purchase wholesale. It is very important to note that you really need to place your order ahead of time. Visit their website to get more information and to request a current price list. They are located at 8477 Dorsey Run Rd, Annapolis, MD 21401 in an industrial area. (410) 799-5000.
PRO TIP: For the freshest perishable fruits and vegetables (ie-berries) arrange for pickup on Mondays or Tuesdays. It seems that Class produce and other wholesale sellers get their deliveries late Sunday nights, so it’s strategic to pick up your fruits and veggies early in the week to get the freshest foods possible.
4) Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group or “farm share”. Local produce is delivered to your home or central location at predetermined intervals. This is a great way to get super-fresh food and help keep local farming viable. A great example of a well run CSA program is Gorman Farm, which is kind of on the border of Columbia and Laurel. You have to be on the ball to get into a CSA program–there is a window of time when you can sign up each year and generally there aren’t many openings because of course the farms don’t produce an unlimited amount of fruits and vegetables each year. There are lots of these but here is a list that the Washington Post provided a few years ago.
5) Farmers Markets – There are a few farmer’s markets around Howard County that have fairly decent variety and prices. Locations sometimes change but for instance the Howard County General Hospital and the Miller Library are two reliable places to find markets. Here is a resource with an up-to-date list with hours and days (typically farmers markets take place once per week in the specified location).
PRO TIP: One great thing about Farmer’s markets is the ability to actually talk to the people who grew the crops. This means that often you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of how pesticide-happy the farmer was when growing them–often you will find a farmer who is actually using organic farming methods but who hasn’t yet been certified in organics and that can lead to significant savings.
Bonus #1 You can subscribe to a weekly fruit and vegetable box delivery. We’ve been using Hungry Harvest to get weekly organic deliveries. The company drops the box on our porch every Friday. We can pick the items we want to have in it week by week. This particular company says they give you cheaper prices because they deliver “ugly” fruits and vegetables. We haven’t really found this to be the case for our organic box. We suspect it may be more likely if we subscribed to their non-organic offering. We also think it must be a local produce partner that is tasked with delivering our order. If you’re interested, please use this link to sign up-We will both get a $5 credit on our next order.
Bonus #2 Not-So-Cheap Fruit and Vegetable Options: Grow your own. Ok, this isn’t directly buying fruits or vegetables, and it can in fact be expensive rather than cheap, but it is fun, educational and great exercise to have a garden.
If you’re new to gardening, you might want to have a look at the home gardening programs and information provided by the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension–it is a great resource. If you live in outside of Maryland, check with your state’s department of agriculture for similar programs.
This year we got 3 Aerogardens hydroponic systems, so we’re growing year round now. At the moment, we are raising Italian herbs (parsley, thyme, mint, two kinds of basil…and had the cat not eaten it, we would also have chives), roma tomatoes, and chamomile. Miracle Grow is the manufacturer and they definitely do make it easy. Unfortunately, even though the plants don’t need any herbicides or pesticides (since they’re grown indoors), the required nutrients that you add to the water isn’t organic. We aren’t that concerned about this, but I am trying to determine whether there is an organic substitute we can use. Having said that, we REALLY love the Aerogardens. My favorites are the tomatoes and basil. The basil grows like crazy!
There are different price points for getting an Aerogarden. The Aerogarden Elite takes 6 seed pods, and gets great reviews. There is also a 9-pod system that may be worth consideration, especially if space is not an issue.
Bonus #3 Also in the expensive rather than cheap column, but worth it is a trip to Larriland Farm in Northern Howard County to pick a variety of fruits and vegetables. They have apples, peaches, broccoli, kale, spinach, melons, potatoes, pumpkins, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and more. Check their website to see what is ready for picking.
BTW, Larriland Farm uses “integrated pest management” which they say means that they use much less pesticides than a typical farm. I have spoken to them about this several times and they say that they mostly only use pesticides when they have severe problems. It may not be organic farming, but at least this sounds like a huge improvement over the norm. You can read about how Larriland uses this system here. There are many pick your own farms throughout the USA–here is a curated list.
BTW, here are some of the gadgets I recommend that are great to have in the kitchen when cooking with produce:
- InstantPot – This is a digital pressure cooker/slow cooker/rice maker/yogurt maker and more. We use ours every day. Here is my full review of the Instant Pot.
- Vitamix or Blendtec blenders – You’ll love making smoothies and vegetable soups in these professional blenders.
- Spiralizer – This is a three-blade spiral slicer for vegetables. So many fun things you can do with this including zucchini noodles.
- Julienne peeler – This is a great way to peel veggies.
- Corn Stripper – Well, the name makes me laugh, but it’s a great way to get the corn off the cob.
- Produce bags – These bags will help keep your produce fresh much longer.
- Juicepresso – A great way to juice. Definitely an improvement over our Jack La Lane.