I know I’ve mentioned it before but, for those of you who are new to my blog or who don’t follow my Facebook page, our household operates on a tight grocery budget: $100 to $150 each month for food. There are only two of us, so it’s not as difficult as it might be. We know people who are facing much greater challenges.
One way we manage our food budget is through planned spending. In addition to our monthly budget, I set aside savings to be used for vegetable gardening and for buying extra goods to put by at harvest time. These two fairly sizeable expenditures are not part of our regular monthly budget and amount to between $500 and $1000 per year.
This year, we didn’t have a vegetable garden. For the first time in more than thirty years we’re living in an apartment, with no garden space to call our own. Since we didn’t have a garden this year, I decided this year to invest in a Community Supported Agriculture share. I paid $525 upfront for a family-sized share of a local farm’s crop. In return, I received twenty-four weeks worth of organically grown produce.
The harvest is nearly complete here in the valley and my time as a CSA shareholder is drawing to a close. Will I be a CSA shareholder again? I learned long ago never to say “never,” but I doubt I’ll repeat the experiment.
There are many good things about Community Supported Agriculture: CSA shareholders support local small agriculture and, in doing so, are kinder to our environment. Shareholders visit the farm where their food is grown and became acquainted with the people who grow it. Food does not have to travel to market and it couldn’t possibly be fresher.
The biggest downside to being a CSA shareholder is, for me, the lack of control over what we receive. The farm determines what they grow and what their shareholders receive, and our CSA farm’s choices would not necessarily have been my own. All the food was healthful, but it was also repetitive. For example, I like kale—or at least I used to—but twelve straight weeks of it, in enough quantity to require its consumption at every single meal, was enough to make even me heartily sick of it. When it reappeared in the farm basket again two weeks ago, I was so dismayed that I gave mine to another CSA member rather than bring it home.
I realize that CSA’s vary from farm to farm and that not all of them do this, but I noticed that the CSA to which I belonged reserved some crops for retail sale only. Our CSA farm grew eggplants and cherry tomatoes, pickling cucumbers and various other vegetables that shareholders never saw in their farm baskets. I found myself checking to see what was on offer to retail customers but I could rarely afford to purchase these extras, even with a 10% shareholder’s discount.
So, if I don’t repeat my CSA experiment, what will I do instead?
Next week we begin participating in the Good Food Box program. The program uses subscribers’ prepayments to purchase produce at wholesale prices. Priority is given to purchasing local produce whenever possible but, when sufficient local produce is not available, local purchases are supplemented with produce from further afield. Boxes cost $10.00 each and subscribers can purchase as many boxes as they think their families might need. Good Food Boxes must be paid for by the last business day of the month and they’re picked up the third Monday of the following month. Anyone can participate in the Good Food Box program and, since more participants mean more purchasing power, the more people who join in the better.
I’m also investigating the possibility of leasing garden space next spring, in a community garden. If I can get enough space to make it viable, within reasonable traveling distance of our home, at a price I can afford, having my own garden seems a better alternative than purchasing another CSA share.
I’ll keep you posted on both of these projects.