|Save cash and eat well: Buy into
|By Erin Peterson
Eating healthy doesn't have to be expensive. In fact,
it can also be fun and educational.
Everyone knows eating more fruits and vegetables is
good for you -- the new Department of Agriculture, or USDA, food
pyramid encourages it more than ever before -- but paying for all
that produce can be costly.
Government studies show a family of four typically
spends more than $850 on fruits and vegetables annually. And if
you're trying to meet USDA nutrition guidelines or are buying organic,
that number is likely to be much higher.
What's a shopper to do? After all, there aren't many
places to buy produce -- either at the local supermarket or take
a short drive to a farmer's market, right? Actually, however, there
is a third -- and usually less-expensive -- option: a nearby community-supported
agriculture, or CSA, farm.
CSA farms sell "shares" of the crop -- anywhere
from six to more than 1,000 shares per farm -- which entitle you to an
agreed-upon amount of whatever the farm produces through the growing season.
It also gives the small farmer operating capital for the year's
production. Every week during the growing season, typically 15 to
30 weeks, depending on the location, members receive a box or basket
filled with the week's harvest of fruits and vegetables. The weekly
share may also include items such as flowers, milk, eggs, honey and
Prices vary significantly. Starting at $300 per share
and topping out at more than $1,000, the fee is usually paid in
advance of the growing season. Each share is typically enough to
feed a family of four, though half shares are sometimes available.
Each farm has different options, so you'll want to check to make
sure the food you get will be enough -- and not too much. Some offer
different prices depending on whether the produce is delivered to
your home, picked up at a central location or picked up at the farm
itself. Some CSA farmers offer monthly payments.
Because of the different foods available at different
points in the season, the actual amount of food will vary but can
range from as little as five pounds a week, when greens are in season,
to well over 20 pounds, when tomatoes and potatoes are harvested.
As an example, here's what Green
Cay Produce in Boynton Beach, Fla., might include in a typical
weekly box to shareholders during the winter:
|4 pounds tomatoes
||2 pounds tomatoes
||4 ounces mesclun mix
|2 pounds summer squash
|| 1 head of broccoli
|1 head of broccoli
|8 ounces mesclun mix
||4 ears of corn
|bunch of chard
||1 pound summer squash
|bunch of radishes
||bunch of herbs (monthly)
|6 ears of corn
|bunch of herbs (monthly)
CSAs tend to be a bargain for what you're getting,
says Dan Lass, a professor of resource economics at the University
of Massachusetts at Amherst. "We've collected careful data
comparing a share from a CSA to the same amount and type of produce
purchased from a supermarket," he says. "There can be
a substantial monetary benefit -- from $200 to more than $400."
The food is also very fresh -- often harvested the
day that members pick it up -- and usually is grown organically.
The average U.S. food item travels some 1,500 miles from the farm
to your house, losing significant nutritional value along the way.
What's more, it takes 40 times the amount of energy to produce a
calorie of packaged food as a calorie of fresh local produce.