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post #21 of 37

For us, our CSA memberships have been frugal.  We've generally been able to use most our share, and end up only needing to shop for extra fruit, bread, cheese and stuff they wouldn't have.  

 

Our farmer is pretty smart, I think, about the variety of foods and our share keeps us in onions/garlic past the CSA season.  I too find a lot of what we get (eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers to name a few) last way beyond any I'd purchase.  

 

We're lucky not to be as picky as other members (about more unusual crops or spicyness) and I think we get extra sometimes of those things, as well as other stuff that he knows are favorites (arugula, spinach, carrots).  There's also a 'take as many tomatoes as you can use' policy toward the end of the season that we appreciate (though we grow some of our own too).  There'll also be boxes of 'oddities', like weird shaped carrots or stuff that broke apart, that we can take any of for nothing.  Perks like that probably help maximize what we get out of our share, since we really do use up certain things.      

post #22 of 37

I think CSAs are a skill, actually. They can be frugal, but obviously not if you don't know how to use them or don't like seasonal produce.

 

Yes, CSAs will give you just greens in the first part of the season. That's just biology, actually. Many people may criticize that, but all plants start the season by growing leaves. Only later do they develop their fruits or tubers. We do get a few special treats like asparagus and radish and green garlic. It's the season of greens.

 

This is my third year with a CSA. If it's going to work for you, you have to adapt to it. You can't expect it to fit unobtrusively into your diet if you're just looking to replace your frozen corn kernels or your can of green beans. It won't leap out of your fridge and start stir-frying itself.

 

I think the most success with CSAs comes when you see it as the central part of your diet. Instead of going "will we have chicken or beef tonight?" you're thinking "ok, I've got kale, bok choi, radishes, green garlic, lettuce, (etc)... I could do a stir fry, or maybe an omelette or souffle or a quiche would be good, or maybe some curry would be nice." Then you add whatever else you have to that: "I could put chicken in the curry, or maybe just chick peas." Or "The cube steak I have will be perfect in the stir fry." You start with your veggies. If you just do your meat/veggie/starch dinner and are just looking to replace your frozen corn kernels on the side, it's just not going to fit.

 

In three years, I have had very little produce go bad on me. Maybe three items?

 

Eating seasonally has been a simple requirement up until the recent petroleum age. Our ancestors would not be able to relate to us not even knowing what season things are available in, or how to deal with food that is only grown in a certain season.

 

It's hard for me to imagine how the food might not fit together. The food harvested in a given season has fit together for a long time. Only recently have we had recipes that call for asparagus and butternut squash together (seasonal gymnastics). Seasonal food fits together very nicely. Apples and acorn squash. Tomatoes and garlic and basil. Eggs and asparagus. Carrots and potatoes and parsnips in a thick stew.

 

CSAs aren't magically frugal by themselves, you need to develop the skill to make them so. The produce is just a tool; you have to actually wield them. You could say you might save money by doing your own car tune-ups, you can buy the tools, but it won't happen unless you learn how to tune up your car and then actually do it.

post #23 of 37

 

laohaire, I love what you said here:

 

"Eating seasonally has been a simple requirement up until the recent petroleum age. Our ancestors would not be able to relate to us not even knowing what season things are available in, or how to deal with food that is only grown in a certain season.

 

It's hard for me to imagine how the food might not fit together. The food harvested in a given season has fit together for a long time. Only recently have we had recipes that call for asparagus and butternut squash together (seasonal gymnastics). Seasonal food fits together very nicely. Apples and acorn squash. Tomatoes and garlic and basil. Eggs and asparagus. Carrots and potatoes and parsnips in a thick stew.

 

CSAs aren't magically frugal by themselves, you need to develop the skill to make them so. The produce is just a tool; you have to actually wield them. You could say you might save money by doing your own car tune-ups, you can buy the tools, but it won't happen unless you learn how to tune up your car and then actually do it."

 

 

 

 

I completely agree!

post #24 of 37

There does seem to be a big difference in what a CSA offers though.  I think my farmer was going for more exotic gourmet stuff when I would have preferred the one that offered more every day stuff.  I didn't mind getting lots of greens or heaps of asparagus (who would mind that!!!) I mean thats what we get in june around here.   But stuff a little more familiar would have been nice (I am just bitter about the spicy lettuce still LOL) and a little less diversity and instead enough of any one veggie to make a meal.

post #25 of 37

Yeah, having an insubstantial amount of a veggie would irk me too. A single small eggplant - yes, you can just add it to a casserole, but I really want two eggplants to make a good dish (eggplant lasagna for example). I don't mind some exotic stuff but I too would want the exotic stuff to be a side interest to the main staples. We have a tradition of what we consider staples, so they do go together and there are plenty of recipes. And I can figure out a way to squeeze in one odd thing to a bunch of staples, but it would be annoying to have produce that was grown just because it was unusual.

 

I prefer produce that is grown because:

- there is a tradition of it

- it is a delicious tasting variety

- if it is a fall/winter item, I'd like it to store well too (root veggies)

 

I am lucky because our CSA allows you to choose what you take home. They offer different size shares, and each size confers a number of units (I get 10). Then each item is labelled with how much of it is a unit. I got a head of lettuce whose size could only be described as "ridiculous" (huge, that is - and absolutely succulent) for one unit. A pound of radishes as another. Half pound of dry heirloom beans as another. Etc. I could have taken a pound and a half of beans if I wanted, and just less of other stuff. And if I hate parsnips (I don't) I could avoid them entirely.

post #26 of 37

We have had two different CSAs -- one which we had for 2 years and had a really great experience with and one that we had last year and didn't enjoy--at all.  At this point, we've opted, instead, to use a company that works with several different farms and we have so many "credits" each week that we can use to select what produce we want.  I LOVE it - there's practically no waste and it's easy to get as wide of a selection of veggies as we need and that we'll eat.  

post #27 of 37

I bought in this year to a new CSA.  

 

It's been awesome thus far.  We have the option of going to the farm on Wed or Sat *or* picking from the selections at the farm stand at a Wednesday evening farmer's market here in town.  We can pick and choose to fill our grocery-store size bag, though there are some limits on certain items (one baggie of baby spinach, for example).

 

Today my options were:

three different kinds of lettuce

baby spinach

tat soi

bok choy and a similar green

kohlrabi

chard

baby kale

kale

arugula

broccoli raab

two kinds of radishes

salad turnips

 

And eggs were extra this week.  There's also a pick your own field where you can wander and pick at will.  Right now it's sugar-snap peas.  The herb garden is still getting established, but will also be available later.  They also provide recipes.

 

We eat a LOT of greens.  I also grow greens and peas and we still need more.  Tonight I sauteed the tops of the radishes and turnips with olive oil, garlic, and onions and then threw in some mixed up tat soil, arugula, and baby kale.  Topped it off with white beans, a splash of vinegar, and dished it out over corn pasta.

 

I'd avoided CSAs where you don't get to choose your share.  I'm allergic to soybeans, carrots, and tomatoes and all three are very popular here.  Wouldn't help me much to get a july box full of lovely purple carrots, fresh edamame, and a heaping crate of tomatoes. 

post #28 of 37

I've belonged to a CSA for three out of the past 5 years (took 2 years off in the middle).

 

Mine was not a choice kind and my cooking skills have moved from poor - to barely adequate.

 

Given those 2 facts, I did not find it to be frugal.

 

I'm doing it again this year - but as a challenge to sharpen my skills and get more veggies into the family, not to be frugal.

 

When you do your own shopping, you can make adjustments to what kind of week you're having. Gotta pot luck - more greens for a huge salad. Know you won't have much time in the evenings - less food that requires chopping. Stressed and pressed for time - nothing that requires following a new recipe and lots of thought. With a CSA, the veggies come - no matter what kind of week you are having - whether you are ready for them or not. You can't adjust on the fly (unless you have one of those new choice ones) so it might not really be frugal.

 

Not to talk you out of it - I love mine. I'm doing it again. I'm doing it for the challenge. I like that I can pick it up all bundled and not have to shop at the grocery store. I'm splitting with a neighbor and only have to do pick-up every other week. I just want you to do it for the right reasons and for me, it wasn't frugality.

 

I'll also add that even though they gave me recipes, it was often for quantities that I didn't have (or didn't work with my split) and then required other ingredients I didn't have on hand. Sure - you good experienced cooks know how to substitute and bravely improvise - and I'm a little more comfortable doing that now - but see above - cooking skills (knife skills, vegetable identity skills) have moved from poor (abysmal?) to barely adequate. It was hard for me that first year.

 

 


Edited by Ellien C - 6/3/11 at 6:59am
post #29 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by laohaire View Post

Yeah, having an insubstantial amount of a veggie would irk me too. A single small eggplant - yes, you can just add it to a casserole, but I really want two eggplants to make a good dish (eggplant lasagna for example). I don't mind some exotic stuff but I too would want the exotic stuff to be a side interest to the main staples. We have a tradition of what we consider staples, so they do go together and there are plenty of recipes. And I can figure out a way to squeeze in one odd thing to a bunch of staples, but it would be annoying to have produce that was grown just because it was unusual.

 

I prefer produce that is grown because:

- there is a tradition of it

- it is a delicious tasting variety

- if it is a fall/winter item, I'd like it to store well too (root veggies)

 

I am lucky because our CSA allows you to choose what you take home. They offer different size shares, and each size confers a number of units (I get 10). Then each item is labelled with how much of it is a unit. I got a head of lettuce whose size could only be described as "ridiculous" (huge, that is - and absolutely succulent) for one unit. A pound of radishes as another. Half pound of dry heirloom beans as another. Etc. I could have taken a pound and a half of beans if I wanted, and just less of other stuff. And if I hate parsnips (I don't) I could avoid them entirely.


 

Thats simply freaking amazing.  That is the ideal CSA in my mind and I would be all over that.   

post #30 of 37

Ours works out to about $15/week. It includes eggs, a little fruit and herbs. If you are willing to put a little time and effort in menu planning (which I do anyway,) it's worth it.

post #31 of 37

Hi Bokonon.  I've recently arrived in the OC (unfortunately) and have been looking for a CSA.  If you don't mind me asking, what CSA did you use?  Have you come across any canning shares?  I relocated from Denver, which had a lot of great options and I've been disappointed with the CSA's, farmers markets, and organic lifestyle here in the OC.  Thanks!

post #32 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by MsFortune View Post

Anyone have experience with CSAs and find this to be frugal?  

 

(CSA = community sponsored agriculture - you buy into a local farm thing where you get a set box of fruits/veggies on a set basis.  It is what is in season and you do not pick it)

 

I did this a few years ago, but I felt like my boxes were full of stuff that went bad, making it not a bargain.  But I did not know what to do with kale, bok choi, etc.

 

Anyone find a way to do this and be frugal?  The price is good, I just don't know what to do with all of it, so it gets wasted.


My neighbors subscribe to a CSA, and they are saving money on fresh produce. They gave us their pick-up coupons this spring when they were travelling and it's like a veggy grab bag. 

 

It is easy to find out what to do with the things in the CSA box. The farmer labeled things and all I had to do was google for the vegetable name and the word "recipe" and see what came up. Then I picked based on what sounded good, feasible, and what else I had on hand - because there is always rice and chicken, we did a lot of stir fry.

post #33 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by krunchyk View Post

Hi Bokonon.  I've recently arrived in the OC (unfortunately) and have been looking for a CSA.  If you don't mind me asking, what CSA did you use?  Have you come across any canning shares?  I relocated from Denver, which had a lot of great options and I've been disappointed with the CSA's, farmers markets, and organic lifestyle here in the OC.  Thanks!



I live in San Diego so I am not familiar with any OC CSAs.

post #34 of 37

The CSA I used to belong to for a few years in spring and fall as I usually travel over summer was a good deal some weeks and a bad deal other weeks. They do have a webstore where I could change my order and get different items delivered, oh and they deliver which rocks! Most of the time I would just get what was in the assigned box but after a couple of times of getting way too many of one item and not enough to make a meal of everything else I decided to check out the webstore and get what I wanted each week. This lead to me spending more than my share's amount each week! I was using a large share of $40 each week for me and my daughter (were vegans). When I was shopping at grocery stores I would usually spend $50-60 on fruits and veggies each week so I think it is more frugal for me. But aside from fresh fruits and veggies which were about 75% of our diet we would eat a lot of bulk grains and nuts and about 10% processed 'meat' items.

post #35 of 37

So much depends on the CSA... we live in a very "CSA dense" region with 20+ CSAs to choose from (and that's jsut the veggie ones, we also have meat, egg, bread, fruit, and raw milk CSAs).

 

Over the past few years we've belonged to two different CSAs... both cost roughly the same amount and had the same muber of weeks, but for us only one of them ended up being economical.  The CSA we've kept long term has both set weekly amount (one pound of this, one of those, a pint box of the other, etc) and "all you can pick" items.  Members are always welcome to come out to the farms (this CSA is a three farm cooperative) and harvest as much of the "you pick" items, herbs, and flowers as you want... so we'd get, say, 5 tomatoes in the weekly share but then as many more as we'd like to go out and pick.  It saves us money (especially on items like tomatoes where we can pick 50-60 lbs of local, organic, on the vine tomatoes a week for canning/oiling/drying) and it's a fun family outing... I take the kiddos and a picnic and we "go to the farm".

 

The CSA we had for one year and then never again was structured differently... no farm visits and while each week had an "all you want to take" item, the majority of the weekly share was pretty slim for the cost.  Maybe a melon, a head of lettuce, and "as much kale as you want".  While that's nice and all, it would have made more sense financially to go to the store, especially since the weekly shares never got much more involved than that... although we had a "family share" it was never enough veggie to make it through a week, and although I appreciate the organic/local/biodiversity aspect I still have a budget and a family to feed.  I need our CSA to provide all the vegetables we're going to eat during the CSA season as as much preserved for after the season as possible.

 

So from a strictly economical perspective, research each CSA option and get as much feedback from current and past members as possible.  And from a "how to eat" perspective, I think it takes some time to shift from the modern food market mind set where you base your meals (to a greater or lesser extent) on what you want to eat because every option is always available if you can afford it, back to the local/seasonal mind set where it doesn't matter how much money you have... these are what the plants are growing and you need to get creative within those limits!

 

I will say it's a great experience for our kids since on the one hand they enjoy Iron Chef and see the weekly share as a sort of kitchen stadium challenge and on the other they get to really explore produce in depth and in sequence... they enjoy and appreciate the fresh melons (or kale, or tomatoes) more in part because they only get them during that short season.  And during that season we eat them three times a day!  lol

post #36 of 37

I think that it is easier for me to eat in a CSA model because I grew up with a mom that gardened, grandparents that farmed, etc.  So, when tomatoes come in, of course you eat them three times a day for the season!  When green beans come in, I expect to eat them every single day for a while.  My parents and grandparents never learned to succession plant, so we always had a huge, 3-4 week crop, then it was over. 

After that background, a CSA that gave me 1-2 servings of a vegetable at a time was sort of a let-down.  I had expected to be rolling in it, like you are when it's your own garden.  LOL.  I just had the wrong expectations of a CSA, that's all.

 

Betsy...who has eaten greens for at least one meal every single day for the last 5 weeks, but is seeing the end...All that's left is chard at this point.  But, I tasted our first turnip this week, and the cherry tomatoes are thinking of turning.  Yay for garden season!

post #37 of 37

I love my CSA, although we're not doing it this year because my baby has some health issues and we're in the hospital enough that figuring out CSA food on top of it is too much. But we will next year for sure. Ours was really economical (especially for organic produce) because I was able to preserve so much of it. Ours worked out to about $45/box with delivery, and fed our family of three well + probably about 1/4 of our winter veggies (frozen).

 

I agree that there's a set of skills to it. You also have to like experimentation. Here's what helped me with ours:

 

1. The internet seems to have info on how to cook just about everything, but so does the library.

 

2. Like people have said we have a few "dump veggies in" recipes that go with most things. Our go-to ones are: soup (minestrone-type, or when a huge influx of something came in, cream-of-that.); "hash" - basically a stir-fry that includes potatoes and sometimes some sausage or ham or ground beef or tofu, seasoned differently depending on the ingredients; stir-fries themselves. Also salads and slaws. I agree that you have to be willing to eat a whack of whatever for that week. My son is still awed at what asparagus can do to your body. :)

 

3. I learned some neat ways to preserve or use vegetables. For example, the spring greens. Lettuces we just buckled down and ate salads, and sometimes I had to give some away. But other greens I was able to chop and blanch into cubes (ice-cube tray size) that I throw into stews to boost the veggie count. Or some, like spinach, you can use to make different kinds of pesto; freeze again and there's pesto for the winter. Sweet potato puree, frozen, went into baking; squash went into soups or baking. I also diced and blanched sweet potato for hashes, soups, stews and curries, and sliced and blanched some sweet potato fries. I blanched and froze corn, green beans, and peas. I froze strawberries on trays. With cherry and regular tomatoes, I roasted them with garlic and olive oil for a very simple sauce but next year I'll do actual marinara I think.

 

4. Meal plan on the day you get your produce, or get the list of what's coming.

 

5. When desperate, I gave away some produce. This actually ended up being frugal because I would say I got way more back in friendly reciprocation - banana bread and cookies and a bottle of wine. :)

 

 

 

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