It’s another week or so until my CSA kicks off in earnest, but the economics of eating locally have been on my mind since I had to plunk down my membership fee a few weeks ago. Yes, it’s not easy to pay $500 all at once for your food, but compared to the upward-creeping prices at the grocery store, I’m convinced it’s where the smart money is.
In fact, $500 is exactly what I paid to join the same CSA last year, despite the rise in conventional food prices. I asked my farmer, Patti, why this was. She’s relatively new to CSAs (this is her second year), and said she’s trying to strike a delicate balance between keeping the membership affordable, making a living herself, and not letting it grow too large to keep up with.
And though Patti has faced some increased costs of doing business—such as the corn she feeds her chickens—in some ways she’s better off than large, conventional farmers, being less dependent on commodity crops and fossil fuels. “For instance, with the chickens, I can supplement their feed with the weeds and grasses I pull from around the farm,” she told me. “They just love that stuff.”
It’s certainly worth keeping in mind, as stories like this rather simple-minded one in Newsweek start creeping into the national dialogue, talking about how organics are getting out of reach for many grocery shoppers. There may be some validity to that argument if you only buy your organic food from huge farms through conventional supermarket distribution channels, but the article completely ignores the fact that there are (many) other options.
In contrast, joining the CSA has actually helped my fiance and I keep our food budget under control. Last year, we spent very little money on groceries beyond our box share. That wasn’t so much a conscious decision as it was practicality: Why spend money on fridge-stable food when our basket was full of fresh food that needed to be eaten NOW? And in the process, we ended up eating much more healthily too.