CSA movement once again this year because based on my analysis it is just not a frugal move for this family.
Many years ago we did purchase a 1/2 share of a CSA with an aunt of my husband's. The time could not have been worse. We had an infant, pick-up was near their home (not ours) requiring us to drive, and the narrow pick-up time of Thursday from 4pm - 7pm.; I was either working at my legal practice or juggling a tired infant after having worked most of the day. Throw in far too many greens in the basket, and you had one annoyed frugalista. This just didn't add up.
Testing my theory I took a $20 bill to the market the next season, when we were not a CSA member. I bought two times as much produce, all things I knew we'd eat, and was convinced -- CSAs are not frugal for our family. It boils down to two reasons: we are short on time and we place a higher priority on purchasing food for a good price over underwriting a farm.
To maximize a CSAs cost, one needs time. Lots of it. If you go with the set time and day for a delivery, you need to have it locked in to your schedule. If you opt for the market share CSA that is becoming common (i.e. meet us at our stand at the market and make your selection) you again need to have a set day/time frame you can go, and cross your fingers the weather cooperates. When new-to- you items appear in your weekly share you need time to be creative, even if recipes are provided. And what it you simply hate it? You're stuck with it.
Our home has two kids, three cats (two of which are seniors with health issues) and dual business-owning parents. We have flexibility over our schedule, but very little "free time". Living in Madison you can guarantee there is a local farmers' market nearly every day of the week, except Mondays it seems. Multiple vendors ensure competition on price. I can take a lap around the stands and figure out which produce looks the best, and is at the best price (I'll pay more for better options). Being disciplined we do try new to us foods, but in a reasonable amount, during a week when we have the time. There are the You-Pick parties, on-site, at the farm thrown in as an enticement. Again, on a day and time set by the farmer, not you. If you cannot tell, my control freak is emerging. Control freak has a negative connotation associated with it, however, to be frugal one needs to control his/her money. Embrace the control freak within!
Lastly, CSAs are a wonderful way to take ownership in a farm. Supporting locally grown foods is something I support without question. But I am not interested in owning a farm, even a sliver of a farm. I am not a farmer. I do not want to weather the weather. Bad crop this year because of drought? You'll see the impact in your weekly share -- far fewer options. This point seems to escape many people. What, you're frugal and you don't belong to a CSA? they ask me. Our chosen way to support local farms is to frequent their stands on days markets work for us, pick our own fruits and veggies when we take a trip, and enjoy the fall festivals so many farmers offer at the end of the season (thing corn maze!). As for investments for business -- I prefer the much more diversified index fund through my broker, not a farm.