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CSA subscriptions?

A few years ago, when I started reading up on the Slow Food Movement and Eating Locally, etc, I bookmarked a local farm that does a CSA subscription. I keep looking at it every few months, thinking it would be fun to do but trying to see how it balances out financially. Keep in mind that my garden spits out more zucchini, yellow squash, and lettuce than I can keep up with.

I shop at Henry's (the chain - Sunflower Market - that was bought by Whole Foods) and even when they don't have sales I can load up on produce and bulk grain items for about $10/week. We went to the Farmer's Market one Saturday and, as an experiment, I started with a $20 bill to see how far it would go. My $20 (plus an extra $1 so I could buy a HUGE head of cauliflower) gave us veggies and a dozen fresh eggs. The veggies lasted a little over a week (tomatoes, cauliflower, strawberries, free squash thrown in, turnips, and a bag of spinach). Granted, the cauliflower was so huge it was a side dish for a lot of meals AND a good portion of my work lunches. I know it's better supporting local farmers than my grocery chain, but with the exception of the tomatoes everything else wasn't THAT much better than what I get at Henry's.

Anyway, the CSA would end up being about $20/week (although they offer every-other-week plans) for a small share. Does anyone take part in a CSA plan? Do you find it's just as cheap as shopping for groceries? Or, do you think the extra cost is worth it? Do you get it delivered to you or do you go pick it up... and is that a little inconvenient?

I just feel like this would be more of a "doing good" effort than "saving money" thing. Help me figure this out!

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  1. We've been part of a CSA for a little over a year now. I love it! I find that even if you're right about being able to stock up on veggies and bulk grains for ten dollars a week at Henry's, which I find a little hard to believe, that you'll still likely save money with the CSA since you won't be at the grocery store where you'll be tempted to pick up the sorts of things that might otherwise drive your grocery bill up.

    In terms of CSA vs. farmers market, our CSA is defintely a better deal than our local farmers market. And, more importantly I like that we've committed to a farm and to buying local organic produce. Left to my own devices I would likely go to the farmers market some weeks but not others. We pick up our box a few blocks from our house and it works out fine.

    Being part of a CSA also keeps you very tied to the seasons which can be a good thing or not depending on how you feel about winter veggies, but even some place like Henry's is generally stocking things from all over the place to give us the illusion that we can have anything we want any time.

    Even if in the end it is a "doing good" thing rather than a "saving money" thing, Is that really a problem if you feel you can comfortably fit it into your budget? Whether its the living and working conditions of farm laborers, pesticides, or the 1/5 of our national oil budget spent on transporting food and cooling food so that we can have tomatoes in Februrary there are plenty of reasons to be a do-gooder on this one.

    1 Reply
    1. re: China

      Well, there's only 2 of us to feed and I only pick up about 1/2 to 1 pound of something bulk (oats, flour, beans, rice, barley, etc) once in a while. It's always surprising to me, as I have my credit card ready for the bill and then usually end up handing over cash because it's under $10. Now, if I pick up anything canned or boxed, or meat or seafood, then the cost goes up, but those aren't items covered in a CSA anyway.

    2. I second China on the pros of being part of a CSA. It's great to know exactly where your food is coming from, and also to have a relationship with those growing the food. Also, think of the great spinach scare of last year. Another plus, which could be considered a minus, is that you become exposed to a lot more types of vegetables than you would if you shopped in a grocery store. Also, in major harvest season, you generally get far more than you need, and can freeze to use in the winter months. Be warned though, someone once told me, and I am finding it to be true, that it takes a few years before you really learn how to use up or put up all of the veggies before they go bad. Supermarket veggies seem to be bred to keep for a really long time, while small farm veggies don't last more than a week at best - even cauliflower.

      But really, I find it to be a win-win. I get great, fresh, local veggies and I support a neighbor in the process. I also eat a whole lot better than I would without it. With all those pre-paid veggies in the fridge - I have to eat them.

      1 Reply
      1. re: hilltowner

        Ah yes - being "forced" to eat my veggies is the biggest perk of joining a csa! It is wonderful.

        The only down side for me has been the pickup time/location hassle. If it is not easy for you to get to the distribution site during the pickup hours, it can really be stressful. I think this year I will be joining a csa that offers coupons to their farm stand and farmers market instead of a set weekly pickup, as then I can choose exactly what I want, when I want it. It's more flexible and will allow me to supplement what I grow myself while still supporting the local farm. Perfect!

        As for cost, I can't buy a week's worth of high quality, organic or IPM produce for less than the cost of the csa. Especially when you consider the offerings that tend to be more expensive - peas, tomatoes, melons, berries, some herbs, etc - there is no way I can beat the csa price at the store.

      2. We're headed into our fourth year with our CSA, so I guess we like it enough to keep returning. It's been great in that the quality of produce has been wonderful, it's forced me to try some new things, and it's helped me really think about the trials of farming. The tough part has been zuchini...we just get a little sick of it during bumper crop time.

        We eat a LOT of veggies, and I still go to our farmers' market. It's on Saturday, our produce pick-up is Wednesday. That keeps us pretty well-fed. Our price for the CSA comes to about 14.80 per week. We think it's a good deal money wise (compared to grocery store produce we would buy). I do wish we lived in an area with a longer growing season, though.

        We've had friends who have dropped out after one year. One couple was not satisfied with the variety; another couple missed the Farmers' Market.

        1 Reply
        1. re: debbiel

          I get sick of the zucchini that comes out of my own garden... what would I do with another shipment?? I guess, if anything, I'll get a chance to learn how to freeze and can veggies for later.

        2. Sharing in the same risks as the farmer as well as the bounty helps connect my family to the food we eat. Our CSA (five year members) allows us to pick certain crops which has been very helpful. The children love to eat sugar snap peas, green beans and raspberries straight off the vine. In New York where we live the season is from Spring to late fall and I would like my children to understand that in a real and meaningful way - not to take for granted the foods we eat.
          Visiting the farm every week is a beautiful sensory experience, and a community event . We have also eaten many vegetables I would not ordinarily buy. We get flowers too, see the barn swallows feeding their young, watched the calves turn from gangly new borns to hulking cows, seen new born chicks, watched the sheep get shorn... It is about far more than whether I get a bargain bag of vegetables

          2 Replies
          1. re: serveitforth

            I know some farms allow their members to visit or even help out a couple of days a month to reduce their cost. Unfortunately, the farm near me isn't set up for that (or even visits). I think it would be very interesting to get to visit the actual vegetable crops that I'll be getting later.

            1. re: leanneabe

              That is too bad. We are very lucky here - we have six CSA's in the immediate area and more in a 20 mile radius. Some here allow you to pay less money upfront in exchange for farm work, weeding, distribution etc.

          2. I can't use all the food I'd end up with as a CSA subscriber. However, our local CSA runs a stand at our weekly growers' market where they sell whatever is left over or in great abundance that week, so I can support them without committing to a membership.