As you may have followed, Atticus and I decided to pay some booku bucks in March for a 19 week series of weekly farm boxes, filled with local, organic vegetables and berries. Not only was this an experiment in 1)finding new flavors and dishes to make, 2)learning what and when things are in season around here, and 3) just getting more produce into our diet.
This was a financial experiment as well.
Abstract: Disregarding health benefits (organic/produce) or community economy aide (money to local farm), will paying $26 a week for vegetables help or hurt our specific grocery budget? Will it simply mean $100 extra spent each month, or will we actually save $26 or more a week to balance the purchase?
Six weeks in, I have some interesting results and conclusions.
Before we began getting our vegetable box, we generally spent between $55-75 a week in groceries. Since we have been getting our boxes, this bill has gone down to $30-45 a week. Adding in the $26 CSA fee, the total sum technically is $56-71 per week currently, or roughly the same amount as before.
In sum, the CSA experiment has revealed that, even without a conscious effort to cut back on our grocery list (“WE CAN ONLY EAT RICE NOW!” for example), it has not made us pay more than we always have. Instead, our grocery budget remains stable (or up to $10 less per week) while infusing our diet with loads more fresh, healthy stuff.
Of course, if one were to buy the same vegetables from your average Albertsons (non-local, non-organic), it would most likely be considerably less than $26 so technically, I guess one could argue that we’re still paying more than we should be for the same thing (if you don’t put much behind the organic label especially).
The thing is, though, that we never would think of planning a list that included 2 fennel bulbs, 15 carrots, one cauliflower, 2 tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, 2 squash, walla-walla and green onions, turnips, beets, brocolli, parsley, 2 heads of lettuce, collards and chard… We just wouldn’t. I mean, who would? Who does? Really, who does that?
I mean, we’d maybe get a token apple or nectarine. A bag of potatoes for good measure. Bananas? But mostly pasta sauces and cans of cream of chicken to make casseroles and stroganoff otherwise. You know. The usual. The easier. The comforting.
Having the vegetable box has made us completely switch our grocery list around. When you’re looking at 20 carrots and 3 heads of lettuce in your fridge you have to. There is no way out at that point.
The first question you freak out about is, “How can we eat all this before it goes bad?” and subsequently, you plan for meals where cauliflower is the star, carrot cake is dessert, vegetable soups for lunches, berries for breakfast…and when you’ve finished your list for the week you’re surprised to see that all you have on it looks something like:
Having the CSA has forced us to think of our food as produce-centric rather than produce-enhanced. When you have that much green stuff in your fridge, you quickly learn that it isn’t “pork chops with corn and potatoes” but rather Baked Zuchinni-Squash-Tomato …with a side of one slice of ham and a gigantic salad.
It’s not because we’re transitioning vegetarians, not because we want to flaunt our veggie-meals to our hipster friends. No, it’s out of SHEER DESPERATION.
So, for the price of the same price, we’ve made ourselves think in a completely different way and get some darn good recipes out of it. We have essentially forced ourselves into a better and surprisingly tasty diet…for free.
Now that’s a screamin’ deal if ever I saw one.