Grocery stores are meant to make us spend money. Using local farms near you to buy groceries could significantly lower your food bill.

I have a love-hate relationship with grocery shopping. I always have. As a kid, I loved going shopping with my mom because she always let me pick out my own snacks, but as an adult, I’ve found that fitting grocery shopping into my schedule each week is actually much harder than it seems (I have no idea how my mom did it every couple of days!).

Between juggling multiple freelance clients, a rambunctious dog, and working on a few side hustles, the hour or two it takes to get in and out of the grocery store is valuable time. Plus, when I do go to the grocery store, I find myself opting for less healthy, but more convenient meals.

I needed a solution because I could not sustain myself on ramen and frozen meals. Luckily, there was a very obvious option staring me straight in the face: farms. 

Today, I’ll show you how I’ve utilized local (and not so local) farms to save time and stay healthy!

CSAs

How I Used Local Farms To Slash My Food Bill - CSAs

CSAs, or community-supported agriculture, are boxes of locally-grown, farm-fresh food that can be sent straight to your door. If not, they can easily be picked up at a local meeting spot or farm. If you live within 20 miles of a local farm, chances are, you have access to a CSA program. 

I get CSAs weekly. I get a box of vegetables, and some fruit, that feeds my husband and me for the rest of the week. We get so many vegetables that we’ve gone pescatarian (we live in Maine, so we have to eat lobster, it’s the law). We have even made it a point to gift some of our extra produce to family and friends in need.

How CSAs save you money

CSAs can be off-putting to some people because, typically, you have to pay for an entire season’s worth of fresh produce upfront. And, most of the time, you don’t even get to know what’s in the boxes. But, there are some serious savings to be had – some that I certainly didn’t know about when I first considered getting a CSA. 

For one, the number of vegetables I get in my CSA every week could easily be split with another small family. If you want to share yours with a neighbor or family member, that cuts the price in half, and you still get more vegetables and fruits than you can likely eat in a week!

Secondly, for those who live in rural towns without grocery stores, you can easily save on gas! While some CSAs require you to meet the farmer at a pick-up location, many will deliver food straight to your door. This means fewer trips out of town, which can be extra beneficial during the current pandemic.

How much do CSAs cost?

How I Used Local Farms To Slash My Food Bill - How much do CSAs cost?

The price of the CSA will vary depending on a variety of factors, including:

  • The size of your share (you can usually get a single or family size).
  • How often you get it (weekly vs. monthly).
  • Where you live.

Mine costs $400, runs from June – September, and is intended to feed a family of two to four. Again, that may seem like a lot of money, but when I factor in how much my impulse buying costs me when I go to the grocery store just looking for squash, it more than makes up for it. Plus, my husband and I definitely don’t waste as much food, in part because the locally grown vegetables are so tasty. 

You can search for local CSAs in your area and get a better idea of how much they may cost you. Also, know that since CSAs are run by your local farmers down the road, they’re more apt to be a little flexible. So, if you want to only sign up for a half a season or you can’t pay in full upfront, it pays to call up the farm and ask if you can work something out. For example, the farm that I get my CSA from offers weekly, or monthly, payment plans. 

Where to find CSAs

Anywhere there are farms you’ll likely be able to find a CSA program or two. In my case, my mother-in-law works for the largest organic state agriculture organization in the country, so she was a handy resource when we were looking for CSAs. 

If you don’t have a plant or farm nerd in your family, LocalHarvest is one of the best resources available for countrywide CSA searches.  

Farmers’ markets

How I Use Local Farms To Slash My Food Bill - Farmers' markets

Farmers’ markets are, well, exactly what they sound like: a gathering of farmers who sell their produce to local consumers. Even major cities have large farmers’ markets once or twice a week.

What’s especially great about farmers’ markets is that it’s essentially like going to the grocery store, but outside (weather permitting, of course). There are typically vendors of all kinds that offer fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, herbs, and sometimes even wool socks! 

How farmers’ markets save you money

One big way farmers’ markets can help you save is by forcing you to use cash. Yes, larger farmers’ markets do accept credit and debit cards, but you’ll hear from any farmer that they greatly prefer cash. 

How does this help you save? Well, when my husband and I go to the market, we take out a set amount of cash, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Rather than spend $100 – $200 at the grocery store stocking up on veggies, fruits, and meat, we spend maybe $60 a week at our local farmers’ market. And in turn, we get fresh, mostly organic, food for less. Plus, instead of throwing away half of our food, like we used to when we shopped at the grocery store, we eat every single thing we get from the market because, well, it tastes a lot better. Plus, we’re forced to buy less if we’re going to stick to our budget. 

In addition, once you know the tips and tricks to shopping at the market, it gets even easier to save. For example, we buy all of our dried herbs from a farmer that lives about 20 minutes away from us. He sells jars (the same size as the ones you find at the grocery store) for $1.99, rather than $5.99 like the grocery store does. The same goes for bags of potatoes. We buy a five-pound bag for the same price as a two-pound bag at the grocery store. 

How much do farmers’ markets cost?

I’ve talked a little bit already about how much certain items at the farmers’ market costs, but I want to take a second to point out that, yes, some things will indeed be more expensive at the market. 

For example, meat. The meat your buying at the grocery store comes from packing plants around the country, while the meat you buy at the farmers’ market comes from the guy up the road that has a smaller, but more ethical farm. So yes, to make money, that farmer will have to charge a little more. 

It’s due to this, however, that my husband and I have been able to eat way more plant-based meals (who knew fresh vegetables make you feel better!). We’ve severely limited our meat intake, and we honestly haven’t missed it. Our budget hasn’t missed it either! 

Where to find farmers’ markets

How I Used Local Farms To Slash My Food Bill - Where to find farmers' markets

You can find farmers’ markets in much the same way you find CSAs – use LocalHarvest. Or, you can always check your city’s website, which should have the location and time of any farmers’ markets near you. Remember to check neighboring towns too – my husband and I have found that the market in the next town over is much larger than our own and worth the short trip.

Local farms

How I Used Local Farms To Slash My Food Bill - Local farms

Local farms are pretty easy to explain – they’re simply farms that are in your area. Now, certain farms are going to offer more than others. I’m going to focus mostly on farm stands (located at, or near, the farms themselves). Farm stands are an often forgotten about way of getting produce. 

In the heavily farmed areas around me, you’ll see sign after sign along the side of the road advertising cucumbers, tomatoes, and my personal favorite, fiddleheads (it’s essentially asparagus that grows in a bog).

How local farms save you money

You usually can’t buy a whole week’s worth of food at a local farmstand, but if you have one near you, you can go a couple of times a week. That way, you don’t end up wasting food. Food waste alone is likely half of your food budget

How much do local farms cost?

Items at farm stands are usually half the price of what you find at the grocery store and much tastier. By buying from a farm stand, you’re essentially cutting out the middleman, and buying directly from the farmer – the lower cost will show that. 

Where to find local farms

Local farms and farm stands are easier than ever to find. You can do a simple Google search for “farms near me” and, assuming you have your location services on, a list of local farms should pop up. 

You can also visit localfarmmarkets.com, which will bring up a list of farms, farmers’ markets, and farm stands in your area. 

What if you live in a food desert? Can you still get access to fresh ingredients?

Food deserts are areas (many times, urban areas) where it’s hard to buy affordable, fresh food. For example, the South is food-desert heavy. Food deserts are also often areas with a higher poverty rate. 

So, what do you do if you live in an area like this? Luckily, these days, there are plenty of ways to get fresh food delivered to your door.

Meal delivery services

Meal delivery services don’t just come with fresh ingredients, they also come with recipes, so you don’t even need to think about what you’re making – which is honestly a lifesaver for me on nights when I make dinner. My husband is the chef, and I…well, I try. 

We’ve tried a handful of meal delivery services by now, and two of our favorites are Home Chef and Freshly. Home Chef has a huge selection of meals and unique recipes that you can usually make in under 30 minutes. Freshly, on the other hand, has meals already made for you, you just need to pop them in the microwave or oven. Again perfect for me when I’m in charge of “making” dinner. 

Misfits Market

How I Used Local Farms To Slash My Food Bill - Misfit Market

Did you know that there is tons of produce that never even makes it to the grocery store because it’s deemed “ugly”? It tastes the same, it’s just slightly misshapen. The good news is that if you really don’t care what your vegetables and fruit look like (hey, it’s all going to the same place anyway, right?), you can save a TON if you use Misfits Market

We used them at the beginning of the pandemic, and received a 10-pound box every week for just $22! After we started our CSA program later in the summer, we ended up having to cancel our Misfits Market boxes for a while because we just couldn’t possibly eat that many vegetables. And while some of the vegetables had some bumps and bruises, it all tasted delicious! 

You can try growing your own food

If all else fails, and you just don’t have access to fresh food from farms near you, you can always try growing some of your own food. Certain fruits and vegetables are incredibly easy to grow – like tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and herbs. And you can grow all of these in large pots if you don’t have room for a garden outside. 

Summary

As an adult, I’m just not a fan of the grocery store, but luckily, as I’ve found, there are many ways around going to a crowded store filled with often overpriced food. Now is one of the best times to support your local farmers, whether that’s through CSAs, farmers’ markets, or farm stands. So, try finding local food near you. Your wallet and your tastebuds will thank you.

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About the author

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Christopher Murray is the Senior Editor at Money Under 30. Chris received a BA in English Literature and Gender Studies from Smith College. He now lives in Maine with his husband where he spends his free time watching reruns of The X-Files and dreaming of traveling in a refurbished VW Bus while writing the next Great American Novel.