The summer harvest season has finally begun. Farmers’ markets are popping up, brimming with fresh greens, ripe strawberries, and luscious radishes. The first CSA shares of the season have been delivered, and gardens are coughing up a few plump berries and herbs. But when it comes to fresh summer produce, you should look for ways to economize on vegetables. There are two main aspects to this project: getting a good deal on the veggies, and making good use of them.
To get your veggies, you have several options:
Grow Your Own
Growing your own vegetable garden is a great solution. The more DIY you can be about it, the better deal you’ll get. Growing your own vegetables is one of the most economical ways to enjoy fresh summer produce, once you have a garden in place. Setting up your garden beds, buying tools and learning the ropes can be pricey the first year. After that, you’re looking at relatively small expenses for a lot of very high-quality produce.
This option works if you have the time to invest in gardening. Not everyone can maintain a vegetable garden. Some people don’t have the space. Some don’t have the time. Some just really don’t enjoy gardening. If you’re not going to grow your own garden, you may want to get creative about how you buy your veggies.
Plus: 16 Ways to Eat Healthy While Keeping it Cheap
Sign Up for a CSA
A CSA, or community-supported agriculture, is a program where a local farm sells shares of its summer produce directly to consumers. You buy a share for the season, paying up front. Then you get a weekly delivery of vegetables straight from the farm. You’re participating in the fortunes of the farm. If they have a great harvest, you get an abundance of produce at a great price. If it’s a lean growing season, you’ll get less.
It’s a great way to get fresh, local produce, but there are a few caveats.
For one thing, you need to be adventurous in your love of vegetables. You’ll get not only fresh heads of lettuce and juicy tomatoes, but a little of everything your farm grows, e.g., kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, and garlic--and sometimes vegetables you can’t even identify. So, if you’d prefer to stick with your two or three favorites, a farm share might not be for you.
In addition to the adventuresome nature of a CSA, you want to be sure a farm share is a good value for you. They all cost different amounts, and you get different quantities of vegetables. Find out what the rough size of your share will be each week and do some math to compare those prices to your local farmer’s market or grocery store. Are you really getting the better deal? Don’t assume it’s a good deal just because you’re getting it in bulk.
For a farm share to be a really good deal, you have to be sure you’ll use your full share of veggies each week. It’s like buying anything in bulk: it’s only a bargain if you use it. Seriously consider how many vegetables your family will eat, and how much time you’re willing to spend preparing and preserving your goodies. A farm share is a big commitment. If you let the produce go to waste, you’re wasting your grocery money as well.
Plus: Is Eating Out Cheaper Than Eating In?
Shop Farmers’ Markets
Farmers’ markets aren’t exactly a cheap source of summer produce, but they’re still often a great value. You may pay a little more for your food at a farmers’ market than you would at the local supermarket, but you’re getting much fresher, higher-quality produce. Often you’ll get things you just can’t find in the store.
To get the best deals at your farmers’ market, get to know the farmers who sell there each week. Ask about buying second quality produce, like bruised peaches or tomatoes. They’re not as pretty as the premium stuff, but they make great jams and sauces.
However you decide to get your summer produce, you’ll want to take care with how you use it. Getting a good deal on fruit and vegetables is just the first part of the equation.
Plus: 4 Reasons to Buy Regional Organic Food