The reality:

While it will always be hard for most of us to justify dropping $16.99 on a jar of organic almond butter, shoppers have so many more choices than they did a decade ago, says Laura Batcha, director of marketing at the Organic Trade Association. “You can find a ‘value’ option without ever leaving organic,” says Batcha. For example, private-label products such as those in the Whole Foods 365 Organic or Safeway’s O Organics lines offer organic at a lower price than name brands. And many organic companies now offer deals through organic coupons. (Check out Delicious Living's coupon portal.) And if you’re truly strapped for cash, try honoring organic just for the “dirty dozen." See The New Dirty Dozen.

Beyond the price at the checkout stand, it’s shortsighted to ignore the hidden cost to the environment and your health that comes with conventional agriculture, says Jake Blehm, director of operations at the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit that studies organic farming techniques and the effects of organic farming in the U.S. and other countries. “When a pesticide is sprayed, it kills bugs, then it kills fish, it gets into drinking water, and it eventually affects our health,” he says. Most surface waters are now polluted and agriculture is the number one polluter, says Mark Van Horn, Director of Organic Farming at the University of California–Davis. “We’re losing a lot of pollinators [such as native bees, butterflies, moths, and beetles]. It’s possible that’s because of pesticides,” Van Horn says.

Those environmental and health costs aren’t reflected in the price of synthetic pesticides, Blehm explains, and therefore they aren’t reflected in the price of conventionally grown foods. Looked at this way, he says, organic food is actually cheaper. “When regular milk is $2.99 and organic is 35 cents more, you have to ask: What’s it worth to you, to your kids, to not be getting sublethal doses of pesticides?” says Blehm. See Pesticides and Your Health.

Still, in terms of availability and affordability (why some dub it “elitist”), organic does have growing to do. “We need to engage with urban gardeners and farmers and policy action groups to ensure that low-income neighborhoods are able to grow, buy, and sell organics,” says Bob Scowcroft, director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation. “We need to work across cultures, in multiple languages, to understand each other’s needs.” This is starting to happen, he says. We’re beginning to see urban planners, food security activists, organizations devoted to hunger and obesity issues, and organic activists working together.