Cheap Veggies via a CSA

Mr. Tisdale and I have long been fans of CSAs (community supported agriculture). We first got involved in “single source” foods when we lived in Baton Rouge and frequented the fledgling Red Stick Farmers Market. At the time it was a tiny market with a handful of loyal farmers and customers. Now it’s quite established, from what I hear.

When we moved to Louisville in 2002, we scouted out every single farmers’ market in town. (In fact, while I was interviewing for a job, Mr. Tisdale’s job was to check out the farmer’s markets and grocery stores to see if Louisville was worth moving to. What he found weighed heavily in our decision to move.) There were a number of markets, but many, like the Bardstown Road Farmers’ Market, were too expensive for us. This is a lovely market, but it’s best for folks with unlimited disposable incomes who want to support farmers who sell their heirloom produce, preserves and baked goods at three times the going rate of grocery chains.

Mr. Tisdale and I are all for supporting local farmers, but as cheapskates with a goal (retirement by age 45), we think that locally grown food should also be affordable.

Early on in Louisville, we got involved in a CSA that was associated with a Catholic Workers group in Old Louisville. (Check this out if you are unfamiliar with Catholic Workers.) It seemed ideal: it was cheaper than standard CSAs, and the pickup location was within walking distance of our house. They also offered a discount for families who could volunteer 8 hours or more of hard labor a week. Mr. Tisdale had the time to devote and the desire to learn how to grow vegetables in a new climate, so we (or he) climbed on board. It was great: Mr. Tisdale learned new gardening skills, we got a discount, and the vegetables and fruits were stellar. But after a year or two, a new family took over the CSA, and our portions grew smaller, the vegetables became filthy, and much of the paltry produce was tiny and picked too early. Prices also increased.

Even more annoying than the crapy produce were the weekly, weepy emails that were sent out by the family. The couple were new to farming, but they believed that we subscribers would have the patience to see them through their eye-rolling mistakes. The clincher communication was an email from the wife who said that there would be very little in our baskets that week because she had an emotional breakdown when her new baby wouldn’t stop crying; she decided to not harvest the vegetables because her son needed her more, and she knew that we subscribers, being tolerant and generous folk, would applaud her choice. Some of the subscribers may have given her that latitude, but you can be assured that Mr. Tisdale and I did not (vegetables always come before children in our book). Needless to say, we did not renew our subscription the next year.

We tried a few more CSAs, but they were too expensive for our modest budget. In response, Mr. Tisdale increased our vegetable growing, but as serious vegetable eaters, it’s hard to keep up with the amount of vegetables we go through.

Finally, we found a CSA that we are very happy with. Fresh Stop has everything we like: excellent value (just $12 a week or $6 if you receive food stamps), abundant produce of excellent quality, and within walking/bicycling distance of our house.

This week we picked up our first share, which contained:

  • A girnormous Swiss Chard bunch (3x the grocery amount)
  • head of cabbage
  • green onions
  • huge bunch of kale (2x grocery size)
  • 4 yellow summer squash
  • small bag of sugar snap peas
  • broccoli head
  • small bag of pole beans
  • large head of red leaf lettuce

It’s a fabulous deal for locally grown vegetables.

Fresh Stop doesn’t have their own farm; instead, they purchase produce directly from 3-4 Amish farmers. Having more than one farmer to rely on means they have more variety than many CSAs.

After trying a number of local CSAs, we recommend Fresh Stop highly. Not only do they provide excellent produce at exceptional prices, but they are dedicated to reaching people in “food deserts”–low-income urban neighborhoods where it is typically impossible to acquire fresh, healthy vegetables at all. Fresh Stop claims that 75% of their clients are designated low-income according to WIC guidelines.

The only downside to Fresh Stop, in my opinion, is that they reduced delivery to every other week, rather than weekly. This is a real bummer. But for $120 a share for a season (or $60 if you are receive food stamps), Fresh Stop really can’t be beat. We just hope they will continue, as we have become dependent on their fabulous produce and excellent prices.

This is our third year with Fresh Stop, and the only thing that could make us happier would be if pickup was every week, rather than twice a month.

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