Using a CSA to Save Money on Groceries

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by Elle Martinez · 19 comments

What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)?

When you sign up for a CSA, you’re shareholder or member that has a economic relationship with a local farmer or farms. Typically members pay an upfront free to be a member for a year. In return members get share of the crop or livestock. The benefits to the member is fresh food such as produce or meat delivered either to their door or a nearby location on a weekly or so basis. The farmers smooth out their finances with a steady source of income.

According to information I found on NC State, it was first started in Japan. The original term for it was teikei or “food with the farmer’s face on it”. It took off over the next decades, but the idea of people supporting local farmers remained in tact.

Why Join a CSA?

There are many reasons that  people join in. I found a great explanation from a CSA in New York City on why people should join a CSA:

Buy Local

  • Your support helps small local farms stay afloat.
  • Connect with the food you eat by meeting your farmers and exploring the farms.

Eat Well

  • Buy the freshest food for your family.
  • Explore new foods and learn to cook with them.
  • Find out that beet greens aren’t just good for you, they’re tasty too!

Be Healthy

  • Eat more fresh vegetables and fruit.
  • Share healthy eating habits with your kids. Expose them early to a variety of regional produce.

Protect the Environment

  • Support farmers who take care of their land by growing food in ways that take care of the soil.

For us, the main reason we’re joining is to improve our health while supporting the local economy while keeping our food expenses reasonable.

Weighing the Costs of CSAs

I started by examining our grocery spending over the last year. For the two of us, we’ve spent on average $200-$250/month. Some months were more as we bought dry goods in bulk at Costco and some months were much less.

The costs for the program we’re looking at is $22/week plus a yearly $15 membership fee.

What’s included in a typical small box? While it varies according to what’s in season, I found a listing of last season’s packages. A great option with this CSA is that for most week, there are alternate boxes you can sign up for and adds on like more fruit. Having some choice on what we get was very appealing to us.

  • 10 Ears Of Corn, Cucumbers, Blueberries, Field Tomatoes, Peaches, and 1 Surprise Item From The Farm
  • 10-12 peaches,1 personal seedless watermelon ,6-8 ears of corn ,1 pint blueberries,Tomatoes , 2 sprite melons
  • Field or Roma Tomatoes, Bell pepper, Peaches, Potatoes, Butternut squash, Sprite melon, Cherry or Grape tomatoes

Besides having a variety of choices each week, the portions seem reasonable for the two of us. There have been times where we buy more to get a discount, but we’ve had to dump a portion of it because we didn’t use it in time. If we start having more than we can eat or store with this program, we can simply out of the following week’s delivery.

I think we’ll be able to shave a little off our grocery bill and improve the quality of the food we’re getting.

Feedback from a CSA Member

Since we’ve just recently signed up for our local CSA, I wanted to ask some people who have participated. Some bloggers have been kind enough to answer my questions. Today I wanted to highlight Matt from Debt Free Adventure who has been working hard to get his family completely debt free. Since he’s a practical and frugal personal I was really interested in hearing his take on the finances involved with a CSA.

What motivated you and your family to participate with a CSA?

My wife and I live on a .17 acre lot in a suburban neighborhood with limited space to grow our own food. It’s important to us to support local farmers who are growing food properly rather than conventional farms who are growing toxic, nutritionally bankrupt food – every dollar spent on food is a vote for what type of food you want.

We also enjoy experimenting with new foods and belonging to a CSA gives us a fun opportunity to do just that.  Lastly, while we’re working to get out of debt we both work full-time which leaves us limited time to spend planning, growing, and harvesting our own garden.

What foods are included with your share of the CSA? Meat, produce, dairy?

The farm we share with offers shares of vegetables, fruit, eggs, chicken, pork, and fresh flowers… but we only subscribe to the veggie share because we have other farmers who supply the other staple products.

How frequently do you receive your food?

Our CSA delivers produce once a week for 19 weeks and offer us, to a certain extent, the ability to pick and choose the produce we enjoy the most so we don’t end up with things we don’t enjoy.

I know one complaint/excuse people have about joining is the price, have noticed that to be an issue for you?

We budget the money every year and simply set aside 1/12th of the money every month so we have the cash saved when spring rolls around.  We have also ran the numbers and found our CSA to be more cost effective than buying produce weekly from a grocery store.

We also plan our meals around the produce each week and simply add meat from our grass fed 1/4 beef in the freezer and add beans and/or rice from our organic bulk stash in the basement.  Altogether it is very cost effective.  I actually wrote an article that details all of the ways we save money on groceries, most of which center around healthy, organic food.

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Thanks again to Matt for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope his perspective can help you decide if joining a CSA is right for you. If you’re currently a CSA member and would like to share your thoughts on it, please contact me for a follow up post on the topic.

Thoughts on Joining a CSA

I’d like to get your take on community supported agriculture and how it affects you. How many of you have participated with a CSA? What have been some fo the pros and cons of joining? Have you been able to save money on groceries?

Photo Credit: krossbow

About Elle Martinez
Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..

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  • http://www.DebtFreeAdventure.com Matt Jabs

    Another point to make about purposing to eat healthy food is that, statistically, it will help reduce your healthcare costs. This is another example of the high cost of low prices.

    • Elle

      Great point Matt – looking at total cost is a bit harder with food choices because you have to examine the effects. When we made the transition to cut back on processed foods, my husband dropped about 30 lbs and that’s without any change in his exercise routine. I lost some weight, but I also noticed I felt more energetic (until the first trimester!).

      Curious to see how the CSA program will work for us this year.

  • http://ifartfairydust.blogspot.com fairy dust

    I have been a CSA member/recipient for about 4 different years over the past 10 or so. Last summer, I signed up for a “medium” share, which is probably like your small box. In theory, we received about half what the full-share folks did each week for 23 weeks. There were some things about it I really enjoyed like fresh mesculen greens and fresh fruit, but as with every other year I’ve done it, by the end of the 23 weeks I was vowing “never again.” I got so sick of carrots that seemed to come by the bushelful in every.single.box. I kid you not, I was smuggling them INTO the organic sections of local grocery stores because I didn’t want anymore. Even our local wild squirrels and bunnies got tired of them. I was also kind of ticked that the full-share people seemed to get all the good stuff and we medium-shares got what was left over. I get that they paid more so they got priority, but it still irked. I wanted the same items they got, just not as many, but half the time I got more carrots while the full-share folks were getting the fresh raspberries or purple tater fingerlings, and there were none of those items in our box.

    Regarding cost, our medium share priced out at $17.50/week over the 23 weeks, and I really don’t think I’ve ever spent $17.50/week on produce, and we eat a LOT of fruit and veg. So after all was said and done, and even though I feel Spring is coming and there’s this automatic urge to sign up for Summer Veggies Yum!, I’m not going to this year. I’ll go to the local farmer’s markets and support them that way :)

    • Elle

      @FD:Thanks for sharing your feedback on CSAs. I’m hoping that our more food savvy friends can help on the weeks we’re stumped on what to do with the produce. We have some talented friends that we may have to rely on this year for recipes. At the very least maybe we can barter with them! :)

  • http://thecollegeinvestor.com Robert

    I was looking into CSA last year, and I found the costs to be really expensive. YOu had to sign up for 6 months, and it started at around $500. That is about $20/week, but I didn’t see the value in getting that amount of product each week, especially since I didn’t have a choice of what to receive.

    • Elle

      Robert, that was our concern as well- the upfront cost for some others seemed a bit too much for us to commit to. This will be our first year, so we’ll be watching carefully how this will work for us. Having options with our boxes (based on the newsletters selections I reviewed) eased our minds too about this test run.

  • http://www.frugalconfessions.com Amanda L Grossman

    Yay for CSAs! I learned about these in college during my environmental studies major, and I found out a little bit ago that a community center right by our home has a program–woohoo!!! Now I just need to sign up….

    As an aside, I grew up on a dairy farm, so I am particularly interested in CSAs.

    • Elle

      Amanda – please let me know if you do sign up for the CSA and maybe we can compare notes and blog about it :)

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  • http://travel-and-farming.blogspot.com/ CSA while you travel

    Lots of questions to think about here and persuasive writing to encourage people towards CSA. I think they main issue where I live, England, is people just don’t know about CSA and are not aware of it. People need to expand their minds!

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  • http://www.bucksomeboomer.com Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer

    I’ve looked into it here, but the lack of choice and price made it a no-go for us. Instead I’m trying to patronize the local farmer’s market more often.

    We get inexpensive produce at Sprouts here, but it’s not all locally grown.

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