The Complete Guide to Getting Started with CSA’s

Published on September 9, 2015 By Lauren

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  • CSA's

    I have been a couponer for a long time and still love the thrill of a great deal, but some of my eating habits have changed in the last few years, which has forced a change in some of my shopping habits!  Just like many of you, my family and I have been trying to eat more healthily, specifically eating locally and organically, or grass-fed if meat.

    In the past I’ve discussed how to save on organic food and great tips for buying organic produce in the grocery store. Today I want to focus on saving money on local food.

    It can easily be very costly to eat locally and organically, but there are also some great options for finding local, organic produce and meat, without breaking the bank!

    I have come to love CSAs!

    What it a CSA?

    CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which means that you are supporting local farmers and businesses.  When you join a CSA, you are essentially purchasing a share of the harvest generated by that farm or collection of farms; some even consider you to be a member.  You can pick up your “share” on a weekly or monthly basis.

    You can find CSAs with a variety of of products: some handle every food and kitchen item possible (it seems that way, at least) and some are much more specialized.  Since each CSA is so different, I going to share some details of the three that I use, but you’ll have to do a bit of research to find the best local options for you.  You can start by searching for CSAs (or co-ops) near you here.


    CSA #1: Produce

    I shopped around a lot and had a few good options, but the one I chose is the only one I could find which let me choose the produce I would receive for the week. Most CSAs have a weekly share which you can pick-up from the designated drop-off site, but that share will contain several of the veggies (and possibly fruit) harvested for the week, but you may not have any choice in what those will be.

    I was not thrilled about that idea, because while I’m willing to try new things, I already know that I don’t care for beets and radishes, and felt like I would be upset if my box for the week was full of mostly those. That’s why we chose The Crooked Barn in Marcellus, NY as our produce CSA.


    They email me an order form each week with several produce options and I can select which ones I want for the week. You can see that they offer 2 sizes of shares – small and large. Our household only needs the small share, but it’s plenty for us!

    We go to the farm to pick up our bag of produce each week, but if we lived a bit closer to the farm they would deliver (and that delivery option costs a bit more).  The pick-up is on the way home from my husband’s job, so this works for us. We paid $325 up front for our small spring/summer share, which promises 10-20 lbs of produce per week for 20 weeks.  This comes out to $16.25 per week.

    Now, the amount of weeks and the weekly amount of pounds are subject to the weather and harvest, but this is our second year in this CSA and we have never experienced that to cause a loss.

    We love all of the produce, there’s a lot of it, and the weekly cost of only $16.25 is amazing. $16.25 could not buy the same amount of local and organic produce in the grocery store or the farmer’s market!


    CSA #2: Meat

    This was one of our best discoveries!  A butcher’s shop called Side Hill Farmers has opened in Manlius, NY which features local, organic, grass-fed meat, dairy, and produce from farms from all over the county.  They do have an actual physical shop where you can buy meat, produce, dairy, local products, and even daily soup and sandwiches, but the big savings are in the CSA they offer.

    The CSA is amazingly flexible: they offer 1 month or 4 month memberships and you receive a freezer bag of 15 lbs of meat, already frozen. The meat is packaged beautifully, both labeled and vacuum sealed. There are 4 packages to choose from, each available in the 1 month or 4 month membership.

    Each package is priced differently and offers different types/cuts of meat.  You can look at the website to go into much more extensive detail, but the 4 packages offer a value package of both beef and pork, a high end package of more expensive cuts, a beef only package, and a ground meat only package.  Let me give you two examples of packages that we love to get.


    We often do a 4 month subscription to the family package, which has both beef and pork: 6 lbs of ground meat, 5 lbs stews and roasts, and 4 lbs of prime cuts.  The cost is $129 per month, or an average of $8.60 per pound.  We also like the ground meat package, which is 15 lbs of ground meat, either beef only or beef and pork, and each pound is individually wrapped.  The all beef option is $90 per month (for 4 months), which comes to $6.00 per pound.  The option that includes ground pork is slightly less.

    The cheapest I can find organic ground beef in my local grocery store is $6.99 per pound. They may have a bulk pack which comes out to a lower per pound price, but is not packed in 1 pound portions. In addition, the product description says, “Product of Uruguay.” I’m happy to pay $6.00 per pound to eat meat that comes from a farmer next door!


    If you can’t find a shop or CSA like this near you, you can also look into purchasing a whole or half cow.  You can read more about that here.

    CSA #3: Fish

    I love to eat fish, but some research alludes that there can be health concerns related to pollutants or toxins found in fish.  The research actually goes both ways on that issue, but Wild for Salmon, the company through which I do the buying club, is committed to sustainable harvest of wild salmon.  You can read more about why that is important at their website, where you can also check for or start a buying club near you!


    I find that high quality fish can be very expensive, but I found a local buying club (similar to a  CSA) where I can make a purchase bi-annually, pick it up near my home, and the prices are more affordable. Just as an example, Alaskan Sockeye Salmon is $14.99/lb at Wegmans and $12.95/lb through the buying club.

    There’s a huge list of items available, a variety of salmon products, white fish, and shellfish. Participating in the buying club does require a large purchase twice a year, but a little budgeting can easily make that possible!

    If you can’t find any good CSAs near you, you might think about looking into Co-ops.  They are similar to a CSA but the most notable difference is that a CSA connects you directly to local farmers, where as a co-op contains somewhat more of a middle man.  Both are great options when you’re looking for affordable ways to eat healthy!  You can read more about my experiences with co-ops here.




  • You’re wasting a lot of money by buying organic. Organic has become a marketing scheme to sell to the elite. Look up the allowed pesticides for organic farming, and you’ll be surprised at all the nasty stuff allowed. Buying local does have merit. The important thing to do is wash all your produce.

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