by Laura Edwards-Orr
This is the 3rd post in our series, Six Ways to Shop Your Values without Breaking the Bank.
These tips to help you get the most for your money and make the most impact with your purchases. And remember: When you make one change for the better, you’ve made a solid move in the right direction!
Read the previous posts here:
Shop Your Values Tip #3: Community Supported Agriculture. Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is a way to buy directly from a farm in bulk – two birds, one check! To join a CSA, you pay a lump sum in the off-season, which entitles you to a weekly share in the farm’s harvest. Most CSAs focus on vegetables but depending on your region, you can find a CSA that includes eggs, meat, cut flowers, herbs, jams/jellies, and cheese – basically anything that can be grown on a diversified farm.
The cost of a CSA membership ranges from $400-900 depending on the quantity of food (usually determined in pounds) and the range of products. A standard share is usually based on what you might use to feed a family of four. So, many farms offer a half share for smaller households or smaller budgets. It is typical, as well, that farms offer members a payment plan to cover the cost of a share in installments - usually two or three payments over the course of several months. Knowing the cost up front, breaking it up into smaller payments, and generally being able to plan in advance for the expense, makes a CSA membership an excellent way to cut down on your food costs.
A few seasons ago, I wanted to nail down the economics of my own CSA share to understand exactly how much grocery money I was saving. One share cost $400 and my household split the share with another couple; each of our households paid $200 for the season.
Many weeks, extra produce is available - either for free or a small price
We had pick-ups on the farm for about 18 weeks, which works out to $11.11 per household, per week. For that $11/week, a typical share contained greens, herbs, flowers, broccoli, watermelon, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, beets, leeks, onions, potatoes, green beans, peas, scallions, fennel, cabbage, cauliflower - if it grows in New England, we ate it.
Beyond what was packed, boxed and bagged for us each week, the farmer also left large piles of extra tomatoes, squashes and herbs every week for anyone who wanted more. The result of joining a CSA was a summer “free” (the money spent in the winter was long-gone in my mind) of produce. Additionally, because of the seconds offered by our farmer, I was able to can and freeze fresh product for the winter. What budget master could say no to this plan?
Laura Edwards-Orr started her career as a local foods advocate at Farm Aid - America's longest running concert for a cause. She now works for Plainville, MA based Red Tomato where she connects farmers across the Northeast with access to wholesale markets, like grocery stores.
Laura also works as a freelance writer, researcher, and data nerd for organizations and businesses working to create family-farm based food systems and value chains. She lives in Providence, RI with her husband, toddler twins, horse, dog, and two cats.