A bunch of fruit sitting on a table

Join a CSA for Your Health and Your Wealth

Being a savvy consumer means a lot of things. It can refer to a person who knows how to get the lowest price on whatever he or she is buying. It can also mean finding the best value—the highest quality product for the most reasonable price. Or, it can refer to someone who shops ethically, according to his or her values.

A bunch of fruit sitting on top of a wooden table

However you define “savvy consumer,” becoming one requires research and education about the products that you buy, in keeping with your individual priorities. When it comes to shopping for food, today’s savvy consumers know where their food comes from, and, if they do things right, they save money, too.

The locally grown food movement has been gaining momentum. At the same time, the high cost of food is challenging all of us to find new ways to cut costs without sacrificing healthy eating.

Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) are popping up all over the country. Through a CSA, consumers can choose to buy shares in a local farm and then receive portions of the farm’s produce once it is harvested. In some areas, CSAs have become so popular, there are waiting lists to join.

Go local

Food that has not been genetically altered, harvested prematurely or infused with chemicals to be able to withstand a 1,000 mile or longer journey from the farm to your table tastes better. Members of CSAs tend to eat seasonally. And they eat very fresh produce, which has been proven to be much more nutritious.

How CSAs work

Members of CSAs pay dues, which buy shares of a farm. These dues go directly to pay for seeds, fertilizer, water, equipment, and labor. Then, the harvest is divided between shareholders. Cost to produce can vary widely from one CSA to another, depending on regional location and other factors.

Cost versus benefit

Undoubtedly, it is cheaper to grow your own fruits and vegetables than to buy them at the grocery store. For example, one expert estimates that it costs about $3 for a tomato transplant that will produce up to 25 pounds of the summertime fruit favorite.

It doesn’t get more local than growing produce in your backyard, but not everyone has the skills, expertise or resources to start a farm out back. Home gardening is not the only option for someone who wants to reap the benefits of eating locally produced food. Participating in a CSA can be a great solution.

By joining a CSA, you may not get a better price dollar for dollar, but it will undoubtedly prompt you to cook more often. Members tend to eat at home more because they are getting boxes of delicious, fresh produce every week.

Local community

Another benefit of the CSA program is that by supporting local agriculture, consumers support their own community. During a time of economic hardship, where consumers choose to spend their money can make a huge impact, either positively or negatively.

Find a CSA in your area

The federal government recently reported that there are 12,617 farms participating in CSAs in the U.S. The Local Harvest organization has undertaken the massive project of maintaining a database of all of them.

Keep in mind that community agriculture programs are grassroots entities, so each one is entirely unique.

To get started, go to LocalHarvest.org. Search their network by typing in your zip code. An Internet search may turn up more results, but don’t give up if the Internet doesn’t yield anything promising.

Go to your local farmers’ market and take note of the names of the farms that attend. Talk to their representatives (the farmer is likely to be right there sitting at the table). Sample their produce, and form relationships with the farmers you like. Get their contact information.

It is important to know that with a CSA membership comes the “shared risk” that farmers face every year. If say a hailstorm comes and wipes out all the peppers, there will be no peppers in your box that season.

Before you join a CSA

Learn all you can about the CSA, before you join. Find out exactly what items you can expect in your box and when. Find out, also, what happens if you are unhappy with the produce after you join.

If you pay month-to-month, make sure you can cancel easily. If you pay a one-time annual membership fee, find out if it is refundable.

 

 


Up Next …

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4 replies
  1. Heather says:

    It sounds fun, but I’ve seen a local CSA that charges almost a thousand dollars for the season. (We live in the Northeast, so there is no fresh local produce in the winter.) At that price, it’s much cheaper and more convenient to buy produce at a local store or farm market. But many people are planting a garden this year. I’m growing a couple of tomato plants, and some herbs and flowers.

    Reply
  2. Jill says:

    My husband has an underlying medical condition so my family will not be participating in our normal summer activities this year. My boys (15 and 10) and I have decided to take up gardening as our new summer pastime. We’re already enjoying lettuce and spinach. We’ve also planted tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and cantaloupe. It’s so fun to watch things come up – if only the weeds wouldn’t come up with them! 😉

    Reply
  3. Tammy Wimpee says:

    Getting my 3rd box of produce this coming Tuesday from a local CSA. The produce has better flavor than store bought and the fruits are so sweet. It can be a challenge to cook something you’ve never cooked before, like bok choy or an unusual specialty squash. But I’ve found that it’s easy to look for recipes by googling it or look on pinterest or ask a friend who cooks often. I’ve used allrecipes.com with success, too. Get the larger box and share with a neighbor, split the cost and get more bang for your buck. Personally, I like supporting our local farmers and the side benefit of eating organic, tasty produce.

    Reply
  4. Linda Pries says:

    I grow the produce I enjoy and use the most. This year is my first year for blueberries and peas. Also putting in zucchini, cantaloupe, green and wax beans, beets, carrots, and tomatoes. I am fortunate to have the help of a friend to care for my one raised bed as I am limited mobility and can only manage the plants in my container gardens.

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