Earlier in the summer I joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, paying $525 for 20 weeks of vegetables, eggs, and cheese. I’m considering re-upping my membership for winter, but first want to re-consider my hefty investment. The program costs me about $11 more per week compared to buying groceries at my local chains. Does joining a CSA make financial sense?
Cost is the first thing I considered. For the 20-week summer program, I paid $365 for good-sized portions of about seven vegetables, including lettuce, tomatoes, corn, beets, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and garlic. I paid another $100 to receive freshly made goat cheese (chevre or feta) and $60 for a half dozen free-range organic chicken eggs that are free of hormones and antibiotics.
That amounts to $26 a week! Before joining this CSA I spent roughly $15.50 for vegetables, one dozen eggs, and a block of cheese each week. So I am spending $10.75 more per week to be part of the CSA. What gives?
The winter share costs even more – $815 for 30 weeks or $27 per week. I will receive a bit of meat each week and the vegetables will taper off in the winter. Each week the farm will give me 1-1.5 pounds of grass-fed ground beef, pasture-raised pork (chops, bacon, sausage) or 1 pasture-raised chicken and veggies. My $815 farm grocery bill also includes a half-dozen eggs and goat cheese.
Clearly, the CSA is not my cheapest grocery option. On top of the extra cost I have no control over what food I receive, and I must drive 60 minutes round trip (significantly further than the nearest grocery store) to pick up my grub on the farm.
A true bargain hunter weighs the total value of a purchase, however, not just the cost. Here are the seven factors that swayed me.
1. I have never eaten healthier. No matter how many times I told myself before joining the summer CSA to stock up on veggies, I rarely bought more than two vegetables per week at the grocery store, usually lettuce and broccoli to cook with dinner. Now that I have so many delicious vegetables in my kitchen, I eat salads almost every day for lunch and create dinner recipes around the greens in my fridge.
2. I am eating organic. Cost has kept me away from organic in the past, even though I believe pesticide-free food is healthier in the long run. When I have a direct comparison between organic and non-organic at the grocery store, I always go for the cheaper option even though I would like to eat organic. As a CSA member, I pay the entire cost up front, so I’m not continually persuaded to shop by price.
3. I am supporting local jobs and the preservation of the farm. I am proud to put a few dollars into my local economy and ensure the landscape near me remains green. If the farm went out of business, who knows what developers would build.
4. I am reducing my carbon footprint. Driving to the farm once a week is the only foul air created to transport my food to my table. No planes, trains, or huge cargo vessels required.
5. I am meeting neighbors. CSA members pick up their vegetables at the same time each week, so I bump into locals. Last week the woman in front of me shared a fantastic tip on killing zucchini mold with a mix of baking soda and Ivory soap. During pick up, kids enjoy petting the baby goats, ducklings, and young cows on the farm.
6. I don’t have to choose what to buy. While the CSA does not offer the huge variety of vegetables available at a mainstream grocer, I also don’t have to decide what to buy each week. That’s one less decision to make.
7. The food tastes really good. The tomatoes make excellent fresh salsa and pasta sauce, the goat cheese seems to fit with every meal, and the fresh corn is worth fighting over. I have noticed, however, that the food goes bad a day or two quicker than store bought. It is a good thing I am a freezer diva.
If you are curious about joining a CSA, visit LocalHarvest.org. You can browse farms by state or find CSA programs within a certain number of miles of your zip code.