I’ve been reading up on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). The basic premise is this-you buy a share in a CSA Farm upfront, then for the entire growing season you get a weekly “basket” of whatever vegetables are in season at the farm. Most of the CSA farms are small organic operations. Some of the farms offer half shares, where you only get produce every other week, or discounts if you help work on the farm for some prearranged amount of time. Also, some of the farms offer pick up at several locations (like a farmers market as well as at the farm) or even delivery for an additional cost. According to the information I read some farms offer newsletters and special events for their shareholders as well-like harvest festivals or meals.
According to my friend Evelyn, who has done this in the Portland OR area for the last 3 years or so, the basket is actually a rather large box. She says that you have to learn to use up whatever is in season, and to quickly process whatever you aren’t going to use for either freezing or canning etc. She also likes the fact that she has been introduced to new vegetables such as celerac and endive. Evelyn keeps an organic household, so she really saves a lot of money over buying the same produce at the local organic market.
My question is if you are looking at it from a frugality standpoint, is a CSA share cheaper than buying veggies at the supermarket or growing them yourself? I know that it depends on the cost of the share and the amount of vegetables that you get. The shares at the 3 farms around me run between $300 to $500 dollars for a 5 month period. I have emailed all 3 farms to ask what the typical contents/volume of a basket is (the actual produce will change depending on what is in season). How much of what you get can be put away for future use via canning or freezing is another variable. Then you have to take into account the amount of time, effort and money saved over trying to garden myself.
To be quite honest at this point I am not sure how financially worth it the whole thing is. On the other hand I like the idea of supporting local agriculture and eating organic produce (but not enough to spend the money on it at the regular stores). I have a feeling that in the end it is going to wind up being sort of a gut feeling sort of decision, even though I would rather base it on hard facts and math If anyone has any experience with CSAs or advice on how to figure out the financial benefits of one please enlighten me!
If you are interested in finding a CSA in your area, you can check on Local Harvest (also you can look for farmers markets and food co-ops on there). I found three listed that are within an easy drive for me:
Sunny Hill farm in Whitney Point NY
Hilltop Daisy farm in Whitney Point NY
Pure Grown LLC in Norwich NY
There is also one in Apalacin NY, but that is a bit farther drive for me (although very convenient to the Binghamton/Johnson City/Vestal area).