Are you interested in saving money, while promoting your local economy and eating delicious, even organic food? Me, too. I’ve found a way that my family will get garden-fresh organic produce for half of what I spend at the grocery store for non-organic fruits, veggies, and herbs. The answer? Purchasing a CSA FarmShare. Read on…
Look: I’m no hippie and I wear leather shoes – this was a purely economic and gastronomic decision. I want to eat good food that hasn’t traveled across the country to get to me, because when you can buy strawberries in Massachusetts in March, that’s a pretty good sign that they’re non-native. As such, my requirements were stringent: I needed local, weekly pickups of a box of food manageable to the size of my small family.
It turns out there’s a name for what I was looking for: a CSA/FarmShare. CSA is an acronym for “Community Supported Agriculture,” and over the past 20 years, it has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Farmers offer a number of “shares” (aka FarmShares) to the public, which typically consists of a box of vegetables and other farm products. Consumers purchase a share and in turn receive a box/bag/basket of seasonal produce each week throughout the growing season.
This is a mutually beneficial relationship. The farmers can market their food before they start their 16-hour farm days during the growing season. They receive the share money early enough to help the cash flow, and they have the opportunity to meet the people who eat their harvests. The consumers get food that’s as fresh as possible, and the share often provides different types of veggies than a person generally eats, which helps to vary one’s diet. Most of the above info is from LocalHarvest, which allows you to find local food by a zip-code search on their Web site. You can also source other local food sources by Googling “buy local [your state].”
It’s getting to be the end of FarmShare sign-up season but I was lucky enough to find a share available at Enterprise Farm in Whately, MA. They’ve recently lowered their share prices so I paid $400 for a 26-week share. My family will get a small box of locally grown/organic food each week, from June 1 through November 30. (Yes, that works out to $15.38 a week, which is about what I’ve been spending on rubbery tomatoes, Watsonville strawberries, and a mixed bag of salad that invariably goes bad before I can eat my way through it.)
Turns out that “my” farm currently has 400 members who specifically support the farm by generating cash flow for seeds, supplies, and additional staff. The subscriber/members create demand among growers for their business, which results in a greater variety of produce, and affect distribution by influencing growers to grow the crops that Enterprise Farm wants to offer.
OK, so that’s great. But what’s the bigger picture? I mean, this is a finance blog, not a food blog, for goodness sake. Well, in 2004 the analysis firm Civic Economics published the Andersonville Study of Retail Economics (Andersonville is neighborhood in Chicago). The study compared the economic impact of 10 Andersonville businesses and their chain competitors. It determined that “locally owned businesses generate a substantial Local Premium in enhanced economic impact.” For every $100 in consumer spending with a local firm, $68 remained in the Chicago economy, but for every $100 spent at chain stores, only $43 remained in the local economy. Moreover, local economic impact was $179 for every square foot occupied by a local firm; for every square foot occupied by a chain store, local economic impact was $105.
Another study by the same firm, published about Austin, TX in 2002, showed that locally owned merchants generated more than THREE TIMES the local economic activity of their competitor chain stores on equal revenue.
Ultimately, local merchants generate substantially greater, more-positive economic impact than chain firms. Additionally, when you buy food from local farms instead of at chain supermarkets, you help to protect the farmland and biodiversity in your local area.
And, best of all: no more rubbery tomatoes! June first can’t come fast enough!