Kitchen TipsNutrition

Healthy Eating on a Budget: Local Produce

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Eating healthy foods can be expensive, especially here in California. Sure, we have lots of locally grown produce, but prices for everything and the cost of living in general are pretty insane. The two things I hear often from people of all ages, especially families, is that eating healthy foods is expensive and time consuming. I am not one of those people who is going to disagree with you and tell you it just takes work. You can try as much as you want, but eating healthy is still going to be more time consuming and expensive than a quick trip to taco bell or a packaged meal from the grocery store.

So, what are some things you can do to reduce the cost of healthy eating? Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing a few tips to make healthy eating more efficient and cost effective. Today’s tip? Shop local for produce.

We have many options available in our area for purchasing produce: Safeway, a local store with only produce, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Costco, and a weekend farmers’ market. These options each have their own pros and/or cons: Safeway is expensive and not great quality, the local produce store carries good produce at an affordable price, Whole Foods is expensive, Trader Joe’s doesn’t have a great selection, Costco has huge quantities (a pro or con depending on the item), and the weekend farmers’ market takes time and sometimes can be expensive (you have to get there early and pick around).

So, what do we do? Well, although we get a few produce items at Costco (lemons, avocados, etc.), we mostly stick to the farmers’ market and the local produce market. Although these are great, most people don’t have access to these resources in their area. It also requires a lot of meal planning so things don’t go to waste. Recently, however, we started taking advantage of another option: a CSA share.

A CSA share (short for Community Supported Agriculture) connects local farms and farmers with people interested in directly purchasing their crops. This reduces costs for both the farmers and the consumers and greatly shortens the transit time, leading to fresh-picked produce. Now, a quick warning about CSAs: they can vary greatly depending on your area or the farm. I was a part of one in the DFW area almost 10 years ago and most of the items travelled a great distance (and it wasn’t always a good deal). In Stuttgart we had a CSA-type delivery from a local farm store which was an excellent deal. It really depends on your area.

Once you sign up for a CSA (some have small fees to join or you have to pay a bit to purchase or rent a bin- ours did not), you receive (usually weekly) shares of produce from your local farm or co-op of farmers. The farm that provides ours is located less than 40 miles away and offers pick-up locations all over the bay area. Our pick-up location is about 12 minutes away. We pre-pay and then unload our box of goodies into our own bags and bring them home. Here is a peek into this week’s box:

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This week’s box included tomatoes, carrots, beets, green beans, corn, onions, a really unusual cucumber (looks liked a striped ‘c’), parsley, poblano peppers, and garlic.

So, that’s great but how does this save money or help me eat healthier? Well, I hope the healthy eating is evident, because you receive a weekly load of fruits and vegetables! I can guarantee you that we eat many more vegetables when we’re receiving a CSA share than when we don’t. We refuse to let all this wonderful produce go to waste. We also get to try out things we normally wouldn’t purchase. In addition, the produce is phenomenal because it is all fresh and in season. Those tomatoes were picked a few days ago and will go bad if we don’t eat them this week. That tomato in the grocery store was picked several weeks (or, sadly, even months) ago before it was ripe and trucked across the country. It is no wonder that most people complain about the quality and taste of tomatoes these days.

Wondering how in the world you’re supposed to know what to do with some of these things? Some CSAs include recipes with the box or share them online. Our Stuttgart box usually included one recipe a week for more rare items in the box. Our current CSA box includes two recipes a week! I’ll even share one or two (if they’re good) later this week to give you an example.

For the saving money element, the truth is that it depends on your area and the CSAs available to you. We could choose between 5 or 6, so I looked for affordable ones with some flexibility (we started with a 4 week test subscription). For the quality and type of produce, it is definitely cheaper than a store (or even the farmers’ market) because it cuts out side costs and is picked with the knowledge of exactly who is receiving it and when.

Although this is a wonderful option for us, I don’t know what the options are in your area. The best way to find out is to visit Local Harvest, a website that provides information on CSAs, farms, co-ops, farmers’ markets, farm stands, etc. in your area. Just enter your location and what you are looking for to learn more about opportunities in your area. Don’t be afraid to call places to learn more. See if you can get a test subscription to see if a CSA share would be worth it for you. When we started our CSA we gave it a few weeks to see if it was worth it. After our first box we weren’t quite sure, but after a few more we were sold! If you do decide to join, be sure to find out the policies for starting and stopping, vacation holds, etc. Some CSAs (mine in TX) did not allow you to skip a week once you joined so you had to find someone else willing to pick up your box that week. This one allows a few weeks of holds while others may have different policies- just find out so you aren’t stuck paying for something you can’t use.

Check back in a few days for the recipes and more tips on eating healthy efficiently on a budget.

(If you’re located in the bay area of California, feel free to send me a message if you want more information on our CSA.)

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