Since summer is just around the corner, here are some tips on how to get the best produce for the lowest price. Local farmers markets, subscription services, or just slightly imperfect produce are a few ways to save money on fresh fruits and vegetables and eat well.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
CSA is a way to buy locally grown produce directly from the farm. You are getting the best local bounty while supporting local farmers. Usually, sign-ups open between December and April, or until the farm fills up. Members typically pay a membership fee up front, like Costco; although some farms offer payment plans. And then you pay the weekly fee and receive produce throughout the growing season.
With this kind of opportunity, you are getting the freshest produce delivered straight from the farm. Some CSAs deliver to your house. While others deliver to a central address in your area and you just pick it up from there. Some let you specify the kind of produce you want. Others let you decide on the amount of fruits and vegetables (usually by poundage) and the farmers provide you with a variety of the freshest seasonal produce.
I've seen specialty items–produced locally, such as honey or fruit preserves, offered in addition to fruits and vegetables at different CSAs. This is a great way to sample products you otherwise might not have access to.
You will likely get some things you might not be familiar with. But most CSAs send out email newsletters with recipes and tips for storing and using produce. Hearing directly from the farmers about what they do with their bounty is a great inspiration.
The price will depend on your local area and the frequency and the quantity of produce you will be getting through the CSA.
In order to find a local CSA, just google CSA and the name of your town or state. Local Harvest is also a great resource.
Prices at the farmers market might not be cheaper than those at your local grocery store, but no one can compete on freshness! Buying tomatoes or apples that were picked the night before is worth a small markup. I've also seen some things at a much lower price than at a local grocery store, such as a humongous bunch of kale for $3. Check out your local farmers market for deals and freshness.
Get to know the farmers, talk to them and ask them if they reduce the prices at the end of the day. You might be able to strike a deal. After all, loading and unloading unsold produce costs them money. It's worth inquiring about buying in bulk too, especially if you like canning or have other ways to preserve the produce.
By some estimates, as much as half of all produce grown in the U.S. is discarded or used to feed the livestock because of appearance. This is a tremendous waste. But, thankfully, someone stepped in to fill the gap.
Imperfect Produce is a company dedicated to bringing you the produce that might have slight cosmetic imperfections. And yet, perfectly delicious to eat. It is a subscription service, so fruits and vegetables are delivered to your doorstep. Your order is customizable to fit your wants and needs. There's also an organic version. You can get 20% off your first box with coupon IMPERFECT20.
As awareness grows around food waste, hopefully, there will be other companies who step in with similar business models.
If you don't want to commit to a weekly subscription, check with your grocery store about discounted fruits and vegetables. My local, non-chain, grocery store sells slightly imperfect fruits and vegetables at a significant discount. Everything is perfectly fine to eat, something might be just a tad overripe and needs to be eaten or cooked immediately. During the summer, I've seen them discount boxes of peaches or tomatoes that are considered too ripe to sell by the pound but they will be perfect to cook, can, or bake with.
Here are a couple of easy recipes to help you use some of the produce bounties.
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 medium Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
- 3 green onions sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Whisk first five ingredients in a large bowl.
Add cabbage, bell pepper, and onions. Toss to coat.
Garnish with sesame seeds and serve immediately.
Roasted Butternut Squash With Feta
Butternut squash doesn't exactly spell summer, but if you shop at the farmers market or get a CSA, you'll see them with the earliest signs of fall. This recipe is so delicious and so easy to make, it's worth having it in your wheelhouse. If you want to make it low carb, omit the breadcrumbs, they aren't essential.
- 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
- 1/2 small yellow onion or 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
- 6 oz. crumbled feta
- salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Toss the squash, onion, olive oil, thyme, salt, pepper, and feta in a large mixing bowl.
Pour the mixture into a large baking dish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
Bake until lightly browned on top (about 35-40 min.)
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