It is that time of year again, when my family signs up to participate in a local CSA. The term CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” The basic idea is that you invest in a share of a local farm for a given season. In return, the farmer shares his harvest with you on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for that season. Our CSA costs $700 and entitles us to a half bushel of produce every week from mid-May until the end of October.
So why would a family with such a tight grocery budget spend so much money on a CSA share?
- If you are committed to buying local or eating organic, there is simply no cheaper way to get your veggies. I’ve priced out equivalent amounts of produce at Publix, Whole Foods, and Kroger. While we do not eat an all organic diet, this gives us the opportunity to eat largely organic produce and helps to support a local food supply. There are some great books at the local library about why you should eat local, but if you don’t have time to read them, just think about the peanut butter recall. It should give you one good reason to think about local food.
- When the food budget is tight, it’s easy to think you can’t afford fresh produce. Committing to purchasing it in advance, means you won’t be tempted to skimp on your veggies.
- It’s almost unthinkable to waste produce that has been grown and hand picked just for you. You will not want to waste it.
- The produce in our CSA is so abundant that we can eat it year round (see this weeks menus from February)
So how do you make the most of a CSA:
- Choose a great CSA. Be sure to ask around and find a CSA that has a good reputation with people you know. Although sharing risk is part of participating in a CSA, choosing the right farm minimizes the risk your family is taking. If you live in Franklin, TN or surrounding areas, we use and love Delvin Farms, you can visit them here.
- Be prepared to do some extra cooking. It takes time to clean and cook fresh produce. Dittos on preserving it, but if you let it rot in your fridge, you haven’t saved anything.
- Be prepared to preserve the extras. Imagine enjoying your produce year round. It’s time consuming in July, but popping open the canned tomatoes in January is easy!
- Be open-minded in your eating. There are tons of great resources on the web for learning to cook unfamiliar veggies (and you are sure to receive some). Experiencing new tastes is part of the fun.
- Stick with it for more than one year. I am convinced that it takes more than a single season to maximize your value. You have to adjust the way you cook, learn to preserve your produce, and learn to enjoy some new foods.
- Share with others. If you can’t use everything in your share, consider splitting it with another family that has different preferences from your family. Maybe they love salad greens and salad fixings and you prefer squash and cooking greens.
- Learn to eat vegetarian part of the time (or all the time). Making this produce the centerpiece of your summer meals increases the value of the CSA and saves money on groceries.
- While you are saving money on other groceries, start putting away money for next years share. We put away $35 every two weeks to cover the cost of our CSA and the wheat we buy for grinding.
Participating in a CSA may seem like a budget buster if you haven’t planned ahead or you aren’t willing to be flexible in your eating and cooking habits, but with a little forethought it can be a great money saver and lots of fun!