Saturday, October 25, 2014 · 12:17 a.m.
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Fresh goodies ready for market. (Photo: Shawn Schuster)

It's your first time at a farmers market. Your significant other drags you along, but you don't mind because you're curious to see what a real farmer looks like up-close, anyway. You take a peek at a nearby carton of eggs and nearly faint from sticker shock. How on earth can they charge that much for a dozen eggs when you can get them for a quarter of that at the grocery store?

Although there are no double coupons or discount cards to help lower the price of what you find at the market, it's important to keep in mind that natural, organically grown food is simply not going to be cheap. You might even think that this local food should be cheaper because of small transportation costs or lack of expensive pesticides, but that's just not the case. The labor and risk involved is significantly higher, and many consumers are realizing that the extra cost is worth it for the quality of the product.

But if you think that you can't afford that extra cost for your food, realize that Americans spend the least amount on their food budget but the most on health care than any other country in the world. The connection is obvious, and it's not too late to shift your budget to concentrate more on your body's health through the food you eat.

Need some incentive? Here are five ways you can afford to eat organic, local food.

Most farmers markets accept EBT.
Did you know that electronic benefit transfer cards, or food stamps, can not only buy food at most local farmers markets, but they can also buy seeds and edible plants? So if you're on government assistance and have a green thumb, you could save a lot of money by growing your own food-bearing garden. Contact your local market to see if they accept EBT payment.

Think of your health.
As stated above, there seems to be a connection between our country's obsession with cheap, processed foods and our skyrocketing health care bills. Though I'm no doctor, I can say that I've known several people who have switched to organic and seen their health increase and their spending on prescription meds decrease.

Wholesome foods keep you full longer.
You could spend a dollar on that bag of Cheetos from the vending machine, but you know you'll be hungry again in 45 minutes. Eating food rich in fiber, like a good ol' apple, will not only fill you up faster but will balance your blood sugar, allowing you to stay full longer.

Every meal doesn't have to be organic.
So you can only afford that bag of organic kale this week. Great! Don't be afraid to start off slow and work your way into a healthier food routine over time. Every little bit helps.

Go for second-best.
One trick we see from the more frugal farmers market customers is to arrive right before the market closes to ask about discounts on perishables. Most farmers would be glad to get rid of the unsold produce rather than cart it back home and possibly let it go to waste. The natural, organic food that you see at these local markets is usually picked that day and has a very short shelf life because it contains no preservatives or additives that you'd find in grocery store fruits and vegetables, so it won't last until next market. Of course, the downside to shopping this way is lack of selection; you'd have to take what you can get.

Shawn Schuster is a writer/editor for AOL and sustainable farmer in Alabama. He can be reached on Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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