Bypassing the Grocer Could Slice Food Costs

Ever-increasing food costs at grocery stores have strained Americans' wallets. But now, some are skipping the supermarket entirely and going straight to the source in hopes of easing their pocketbook pain while ensuring they get the freshest food.

Community supported agriculture may not be a new idea, but it's gaining traction across the country, in places such as Sandy Spring, Md. There, a group banded together six years ago to buy directly from a local farmer.

Carolyn Heeley, a mother of two, originally joined the group because the vegetables are organic.

"In the beginning, I thought it was a little pricier, but I didn't care because it was better quality," she said. "It was healthier for my kids."


But now that grocery store produce prices have risen dramatically, Heeley said she's saving a lot of money.

"Financially, it's much better," she said.

For $595, each member gets a box of produce weekly during the 21-week growing season. It's filled with the freshest fruits and vegetables, straight from the farm -- whatever is ripe and ready. That averages to about $28 a week, and this week, the delivery contained nine different fruits and veggies.

"Now that it has proliferated and is affordable, this is just -- I'm so excited, I can hardly stand it," said Erin Johnson, who co-founded the Sandy Spring CSA.

Some of the 370 members of the group economize even more by splitting a box. But it all adds up to lower prices for purchasers.

In fact, "Good Morning America" compared the price of the same items they received as part of their bundle to similar items at a local grocery store and found the same products would cost $39.36 -- $11 more than what CSA members pay.

In fact, people who participate in a community supported agriculture program could potentially save about $250 a year.

Consumers aren't the only ones benefiting. The process works well for farmers, too, because they know in advance what their revenue will be.

"It's definitely an economic model that farmers can adapt," said Pam Roberts of Calvert Farm, which organizes the Sandy Spring group.

Ditch the Milk, Buy the Whole Cow

Farmers aren't the only producers taking advantage of community supported agriculture -- ranchers have reaped the profits, too.

Rancher John Chaney originally got into the business because he wanted to provide natural grass-fed beef to consumers.

"It happened that it saved folks money, as well, so it kind of came together," said Chaney, who owns the Against the Wind Ranch in McDowell, Va.

It's worked out for patrons like David Fox and his wife, Maryann. The Washington, D.C., couple literally has half a cow in the basement freezer at the cost of roughly $2,000.

David originally started buying beef in bulk because he loves grilled steak and ribs. Later, he noticed his family's grocery bills were holding steady.

"It wasn't really until I started looking and paying attention that I noticed, 'Wow, we've saved a ridiculous amount of money,'" David said.

A 9-cubic-foot freezer, such as the one the Foxes have, costs about $375 and will hold half a cow made into familiar cuts. Ranchers said that amount will feed a family of four for a year, and that buying beef in bulk could result in $1,500 net savings annually.

On one recent night, the Foxes enjoyed two nice New York strip steaks, which cost them $6.30 a pound. Had they bought them from their local supermarket, the price would be about $16 a pound. The savings for cheaper cuts of meats, such as ground beef, aren't as dramatic.

One thing that may discourage people from buying in bulk is that consumers have to pay the full price up front, which can be difficult for some to swallow. But the bonus is that when food prices fluctuate your savings are locked in.

Information on CSA

For more information on community supported agriculture, check out the links below and send in your questions here:

Calvert Farm

Against The Wind Ranch

Organic Consumers Association

Community Supported Agriculture