Community supported agriculture and tour budget: Is it worth it?

Fresh vegtables and pasta in a photo illustration

We joined a CSA this year, our first time venturing into the realm of Community Supported Agriculture. I have been intrigued with the concept for several years, as I have friends who rave about their weekly boxes of fresh veggies from a local farm. A special deal popped up in my Facebook feed in late winter and I decided to do it.

We shelled out $475 ($450 for the CSA and $25 one-time delivery fee). The reason I finally took the plunge is because the CSA was coming from a farm in Salem, Connecticut, (about 30 miles from my home) but was being delivered to a farm in our town (about a 7 minute drive up the road). So the convenience factor weighed heavily in the decision.

The $450 applies to a season that started the last week in May and will run through November. That's 25 weeks, equaling an expense of $18 a week. The box of vegetables provides about 5-10 lbs of produce a week. From May through October we typically shop for veggies and fruits at our local farmers' markets (we are blessed with several near our home), where we easily spend around $40 a week. The CSA does not include fruit.

So, $18 a week for vegetables that are grown 30 miles from my home. The farm we use is not certified organic but they are a member of CTNOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) and they use all-natural practices. They are not certified organic because the process is cumbersome and costly for small farms that live in the edge of their finances at all times.

After picking up our box this week, I browsed PeaPod — a local grocery delivery service — to see how much the same veggies, grown who-knows-where-in-who-knows-what, would cost me. The bill came to $23.27. #winning

Pros of Joining a CSA

For me, the pros of this CSA are many:

We are meeting vegetables we have never met before, including garlic scapes, kohlrabi, chard, bok choi, and Chinese cabbage. The farm sends an email on Monday (in advance of Wednesday delivery) outlining what they expect to have, providing a link to information on each vegetable, and a suggested recipe that takes into account a lot of what's in the box.

We are expanding our culinary horizons — when I get the email, first I investigate veggies I don't know (kohlrabi! It looks like a spaceship and tastes like a sweet radish) and then I Google recipes for them. I have made some fantastic dishes with chard, bok choy, and Chinese cabbage.

Our daughter is in heaven. She Who Wishes to be Vegan is so happy to be loca-voring.

Related >> Household Budgets for Beginners: Simple Tips for Success

We are helping to support local farmers — in this case not just one, but two. Because when we go to the farm to pick up the box of veggies, we often will buy eggs or meat from that farm as well.

Supporting local farms is important.

I love their weekly email. It's like reading a Steinbeck novel. The farm is owned by a husband and wife and over the winter they had their first baby, who came 14 weeks early! So in addition to the rigors of farming, they have the rigors of new parenting and the rigors of a preemie baby. Can you even imagine?

Cons of CSAs

There are some cons:

There are three weeks in the summer that I knew we would not be around to enjoy the vegetables. I made arrangements with a nearby soup kitchen to have them pick up my share and use it for their clients. And if there are folks who miss their pick up, the farm donates those veggies to another soup kitchen.

Sometimes it is a challenge to get it all eaten. In the spring, there was SO MUCH LETTUCE. One week there were four different bags full of different lettuces. Now, we love salad, but honestly. That much roughage is rough. I started giving some of it to my friends, for which they were grateful.

I anticipate that if the spring was all about lettuce, the fall will be all about squash. The good news is with those, I can store them in a dark corner of the pantry and they can last through the winter. How Little House on the Prairie of me!

The CSA movement is definitely growing. Farmers like it because it gives them an influx of cash up front at the start of the season. According to LocalHarvest.org, CSAs first appeared about 25 years ago, and have grown in popularity since. Of the 2 million farms in the US, 80 percent are small farms, and of those, the majority are family-owned. Data collected in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that 12,617 farms in the United States reported marketing products through a community supported agriculture (CSA) arrangement. That was the most recent information I could find. The USDA link and LocalHarvest.org can help you find a CSA near you.

How about you? Have you done or are you currently in a CSA? Why or why not? Add your thoughts in the comments!

More about...Frugality

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
9 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jennifer Gwennifer
Jennifer Gwennifer
4 years ago

I have not done a CSA before but want to! It’s hard as a single person because many CSA shares are often enough for 2-4 people. Some farms offer “half-shares” but not all. A friend of mine went in on a CSA share with a couple from work and they split it every week. This farm share was unique in that in addition to the cost of the veggies you were required to work 8 hours helping out at the farm (just outside town). As they were splitting the share the couple did 4 hours and she did 4 hours.… Read more »

Latoya @ Femme Frugality
Latoya @ Femme Frugality
4 years ago

This is something I should consider. I love fruits and veggies, but the selection at some of our local retailers leave so much to be desired. Because of this, I haven’t been eating as many veggies because of the selection offered.

kiki
kiki
4 years ago

I used to years ago. I just had trouble figuring out what to cook. I tend to start with a recipe and get the ingredients. I have trouble starting with an ingredient and finding a recipe. It just didn’t work for me, I wasted way too much food. I do go to the farmer’s market, which here in America’s veggie patch (a.k.a California) is wonderful, inexpensive, and year round.

Cautious
Cautious
4 years ago

I don’t use a CSA because I grow so much in my backyard. If I didn’t garden I would do a CSA. You are right it is important. I would like to offer suggestions on zucchini and pumpkins. Zucchini can be chopped and frozen. Simply take it out when you want to use it. If you bake, substitute raw zucchini puree, or cooked pumpkin puree for the oil in your recipes. Pumpkins are my favorite to grow and eat. I roast those beauties whole, then peel, slice, dice, and puree. Then freeze into containers, and we eat pumpkin until spring.… Read more »

Get Rich Slowly
Get Rich Slowly
4 years ago

This is a common problem. To me, the key is not to learn recipes so much as basic techniques upon which I can improvise when the spirit moves me (which is not likely on a Monday night — more like Saturday). That means knowing what vegetables take well to roasting, which are excellent raw, which have greens that taste amazing (beet greens!) — combined with a solid back up of basic pantry ingredients on hand at all times. With a little practice, I can’t think of a single vegetable I haven’t found something to do with thanks to heat, steam,… Read more »

shares