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What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) And Is It Right For You?

By David Bakke

There are lots of times when I choose to write on a topic that I know a lot about and I just bang out an article based completely on my own personal knowledge. They are fun, pretty easy to write, and informative. However, I also sometimes write about topics regarding personal finance that I know nothing about. When I choose to do an article like this, there is significant research and learning that goes into it. Such is the case with this piece on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). I knew nothing about it before the writing of this article, but I did a lot of research and learned a bunch that I’d like to pass on to you. I hope you find it interesting and helpful.

CSA Defined

Community Supported Agriculture is basically a community of individuals who agree to support a farming operation where both the growers and consumers share in the risks and the benefits of food production. The distribution usually consists of a weekly delivery or pick up, and they mostly consist of fruits and vegetables. Some have also gotten into meat and dairy items as well.

History

CSAs first gained a foothold here in the U.S. in the mid-eighties. Most CSAs are based on smaller, labor intensive farms. The fruits and vegetables grown there are for the most part completely organic. No pesticides of any kind are used. The concept has expanded and evolved over the years, and there are lots of variations that have come into existence.

Benefits: For You and the Farmer

Basically, you buy a membership in a particular farm at the beginning of the year, and then you receive a “box” of vegetables and fruit each week throughout the growing season. But the benefits for both sides extend far beyond just these points:

For the farmer:

  • They are able to get out and market their product at the beginning of the year, before the grind of 16-hour days set in during the prime of the growing season.
  • They receive payment earlier in the season, which can be key to a farm’s long-term and overall success.
  • Farmers have a personal interest and relationship with the people who eat their vegetables and a CSA gives them a chance to connect with these people on a much more personal level.

For the consumer:

  • You get to eat the freshest food you could ever ask for.
  • Exposure to new vegetables and new ways of preparing them.
  • You’ll get to visit “your” farm.
  • Kid tends to gravitate more towards vegetable from “their” farm, even if its veggies they’ve typically never eaten before.
  • Get to begin and maintain personal relationship with “your” farmer.
  • Support hard-working farmers and clean, healthy, and organic foods.

The Savings

For consumers that had previously purchased only organic fruits and vegetables, they stated their savings to be approximately 30% by switching to a CSA. This is a very significant savings amount, especially when considered over the course of a year. A CSA can help consumers avoid the inherent mark-ups at more normal grocery stores that offer organic food while also offering fresher food as well.

Should You Consider It?

This is by no means all there is to learn or know about CSAs, but I think it’s a good place to start. Is it something worth looking into? Well, to answer that question, I would first answer these few questions first:

  • Does your household currently eat, or plan to eat in the near future, enough fresh fruits and vegetables to make it worthwhile?
  • Is there a CSA in your area?
  • Are you willing to assume a certain amount of risk?

If the answers are yes, I say check it out.

For my household, investing in a CSA is definitely worth taking a hard look at. We eat lots of fruits and vegetables and we eat lots of organics. However, there are some other questions that I would have. Among them are:

What restrictions do you have in the produce you get? In other words, you will only get what your particular farm grows, so is there enough variety in that for my household or will I still need to supplement it with trips to the grocery store? Secondly, you save money on what you buy, but what exactly do you end up buying as a result of the CSA? Do they have “packages,” do you get to pick and choose whatever you want? Do you have to take what they give you?

I plan on looking into a CSA in much more detail. I want to look at the websites of a few that are available to me locally, and I want to call them and ask them these questions. I’d also like to visit one before making the investment if that is allowed. I think that if the diet of your household is conducive to a CSA (or you at least want to adapt your diet to organic fruits and vegetables for health reasons), then you could definitely save money by investing in a CSA while also giving back to the community.

If you’d like to learn more, check out this link on Community Supported Agriculture and a publication from the Department of Agriculture on the subject.

Has anyone out here invested in Community Supported Agriculture? I would love to hear you feedback and commentary below.

(photo credit: 16502322@NO3)

David Bakke
David started his own personal finance blog, YourFinances101, in June of 2009 and published his first book on ways to save more and spend less called "Don't Be A Mule..." Since then he has been a regular contributor for Money Crashers. He lives just outside Atlanta, GA and most all of his free time is taken up by his amazing three year old son, Nicholas.

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Comments

  • http://stretchyourdollarwaukesha.wordpress.com/ Skirnir Hamilton

    I looked into this this summer for my area in Waukesha, WI. There are a few reasons that I chose not to do a CSA. 1. I know I would suppliment. I buy bananas and apples weekly year round. The farm may have apples, but not all summer. 2. There are too many vegetables that I have never cooked with before and I have a household of myself, my husband and my son. While we love trying new things, sometimes our cooking is what interests us today and not what food needs to be used up in the fridge. IE if I did a CSA, we would have to change our habits a bit to avoid waste. When I have lettuce that needs to be used, I don’t tend to make my family have a salad, if they aren’t interested in one. Today that doesn’t lead to much waste, with a CSA, it would. 3. The cost of the local CSA (Can’t remember if the smaller size was a half box each week, or was it one box every two weeks.) I spend around $15 per week on produce at the local grocery store. But if I added up the number of weeks of the CSA and what I normally spend on produce each week, I still don’t add up to what the CSA would cost. So I have not done the CSA and just do the local grocery store and farmer’s market when I can. (Our local farmer’s market is only open 9 to 12 on Saturday, which does not work well for us, as my son and husband have their musical instrument lessons on Saturday morning in a neighboring city.)

    • David

      Skirnir

      Thanks so much for your detailed response.

      As I said in the article, I’ve never tried it before, so its great to have the perspective of someone who has actually “been there”.

  • J Masloski

    truying to decide whether or not to try this. Thanks for the info.

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com David/moneycrashers

      J:

      Let me know how you decide–I’ve yet to have any real, direct exposure to this type of thing, and I am curious as to how it all works “real world”.

      Thx for commenting

  • Sherry Parsons

    I think the trick to having a CSA be a financial savings is to learn to plan your menu around your “box”. If you like to cook, like to experiment, and enjoy menu planning (which is an important part of keeping food costs down in any budget), you’ll enjoy a CSA and get a savings from it. If you are a family who enjoys spontaneously deciding what to eat and making exactly what you are in the mood for, a CSA won’t work well for you. Many CSA’s offer a “mini” share..this can be a good way to try it out.

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