Greetings friends! As we approach the end of the year, we’ve been taking some time to do some reflecting on our spending this year at Casa Frugal. While a big focus this year was on finding ways to ruthlessly slash our spending and fixed expenses in order to free up extra cash to throw at debt, there was one area in which we added an expense this year.
What was that area, you ask? Food. This year, for the first time ever, we purchased a share in our local CSA, which stands for Consumer Supported Agriculture.
What’s a CSA? Basically, it’s a local farm that grows vegetables and other produce. We pay a set fee to become members, or shareholders. In return for our membership, the farm provides us with a portion of the vegetables grown on the farm all summer long. The “season” lasted July-October for us, but I bet that in parts of the country that have longer growing seasons you could potentially get produce for more than 3-4 months out of the year.
At most CSAs, you can purchase different size “shares.” For example, this was our first year as members and we weren’t sure what we would get or if we would be able to eat it all. So we just purchased a quarter share, which was the smallest size offered. It cost us $238.50 including tax, and for that amount we got a ½ bushel box containing 5-10 pounds of produce every week.
We had the option of picking up the box at a local business or having it delivered to our home every week. That would have been nice, but there was an extra fee involved, so we elected to just pick it up. We ended up finding out that we could pick up our veggies at a business located just a block away from our home! So most days this summer I walked to get it.
The Best $238 We Spent This Year
This was easily the best $238 we spent this year. Not only did we get to eat fresh, locally-grown vegetables all summer long, but we reaped tons of other benefits as well.
- I lost almost 10 pounds this summer
- I learned a ton of new recipes because I sort of had to- I’d never cooked with things like kohlrabi before and at first had no idea what to do with it
- Our daughter (who is 16 months) now LOVES kale. Loves it, loves it. Seriously, no matter what I put it in she will eat it. That in and of itself is worth a lot, right?
- We got to try a lot of new veggies, some of which we’d never even heard of before!
- We just FELT a lot healthier eating a largely veggie-based diet
Overall, it was really great. Did we come out ahead financially? No, probably not, although I’m honestly not even sure how to go about objectively answering that question. Had we not been CSA members, I’m sure I never would have gotten the idea to buy rainbow chard and figure out something to make with it. So I guess I can’t say that I saved money on buying chard at the store, because I probably never would have even tried it!
I don’t think there are many “cons” to joining a CSA, but here are the ones that come to my mind:
- It’s pricey. The shares in our CSA range in cost from $238-$630 for 4 months of vegetables (all organic at our CSA and many others, by the way). You do get a LOT of vegetables, and many people feel that locally grown may be healthier than produce transported long distances. But still, you need to weigh that with the price.
- It’s hard to meal plan. I started menu planning about a year ago to help cut our foods costs and reduce eating out. But I had to give up on menu planning over the summer, because I never knew what was going to be coming in our CSA box. I just had to wait to see what showed up before figuring out what we were going to be eating over the coming week.
- You may have to be willing to learn some new recipes. If you are the type that likes to cook the same thing all the time (or your family prefers the same foods all the time), it might not be for you. Or else you might be finding yourself letting lots of food go bad! For me, exploring new recipes was part of the fun of joining the CSA, but if you are short on time or just don’t like to change up things in the kitchen, then a CSA might not be your cup of tea.
This was hands down the best $238 we spent this year. All things considered, our review is incredibly positive and we definitely plan to join a CSA again in the future. We liked the one we joined this summer and would enjoy being shareholders again- but right now there is a possible move on the horizon so we are not sure if we will still be in this area next summer.
Have you ever been a shareholder in a CSA before? If so, what was your experience? Would you do it again?
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Photo credit: Fresh Vegetables, creative commons (license), 10/30/15, with changes
I would probably do an CSA if I didn’t garden. So far, we’ve done pretty well growing the veggies we want/need. My sister have a CSA each spring/summer/fall and loves it!
Dee S says
I also planted a little garden this year. I think as I get better at gardening we will hopefully get more and more veggies that way, and maybe eventually not even need to do the CSA anymore.
Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says
That’s awesome, Dee! 10 pounds and a kid who likes kale – sounds like a great investment to me. 🙂 I did a CSA one year and loved it. Now we have lots of space and grow a large garden here at home.
Dee S says
That’s awesome Laurie. I’d love to have a big garden like that one day- we’re working towards that 🙂
Thank you for the article; it’s good to find out about CSA’s. We are presently reevaluating our food purchases and looking at what options we have for fresher produce and organic options.
Dee S says
CSA is a great option! We really loved it.
Abigail @ipickuppennies says
I haven’t done this since we don’t cook and live in Arizona. But I know people who love it. I’m wondering if you could compare your grocery bills during the CSA months to the ones previous. Maybe that’d help you figure out how much you saved.
And even if you didn’t save money, people pay a lot more than that to eat healthily — and the food isn’t nearly as fresh. It sounds like, if not a so-called good deal, then something at least provided excellent value.
Dee S says
I think it’s probably falling into the latter category- it provided excellent value, although I’m not sure if we exactly saved money.
That’s a great idea. We started our own garden this year after moving from an apartment to a house. We spent some money on seeds, soil, and tools but the veggies and herbs that we’ve grown and eaten totally paid back the initial cost. And the goods just keep coming. Gotta love home grown kale.
Dee S says
We are moving in the spring, but #1 on my list of requirements for our next home is space to garden! And I will definitely have to plant some kale since our daughter is such a big fan now 🙂
We joined a CSA once. We threw half the produce away because we didn’t know what to do with it. They didn’t give us very much every week, and we felt it was a rip-off. We still had to buy more produce to supplement what came in the box. It was largelyfood that was strange to us, and we have a fairly broad diet.
Oh bummer! I agree that there can be some really unusual produce. Once we got a greenish round veggie. We debated over whether it was a melon or a squash, finally deciding it was a small squash. I cooked it up without tasting it. Lo and behold, it was an heirloom cucumber! I’d never seen a round cucumber before- it was about the size and shape of a baseball. There were a bunch of other things that we sort of had to guess what they were, but we tried to get it all eaten. I would say that we probably threw away less than 10%. But I think what you get probably depends on the individual CSA, I’m sure they are all run differently.