Buying three whole lambs direct from a farmer might not seem like a ninja budgeting move at first glance, but it’s a great way to trim your ballooning grocery bill if you’re handy in the kitchen.
(We did all buy chest freezers last year, after all.)
A lot of budgeting advice suggests that planning your meals, buying in bulk and shopping around at different supermarkets is the best way to reduce your food costs.
But there is a way to cut out the middle man altogether, while supporting farmers and being kinder to the environment.
Under the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription model, you can buy shares in a farm’s harvest in advance for a set period, like a year, and receive a portion of the harvest.
You can pay a set fee upfront or in fortnightly or monthly instalments, so you know exactly how much you will spend each week.
This year, organic lamb and beef farmers Sally Ruljancich and Colin Trudgen in Victoria’s South Gippsland region have about 112 families in their CSA membership, with annual shares ranging from $200 to almost $2000.
For one thing, eating organic meat becomes much more affordable with a CSA membership as you can save money by buying whole animals.
It’s cheaper than buying choice cuts from a butcher’s, but you’ve got to be confident in your culinary skills to deal with different cuts of meat.
“Over the whole animal, it’s cheaper,” Ms Ruljancich says.
“If you only want to eat cutlets from an organic retailer then we are not going to be able to help you with that, but if you’re comfortable cooking from the whole animal – because you’ll get all the roasts and you’ll get ribs et cetera – then that is a highly economical way to eat organic meat.”
The origins of CSA
CSA was started in the 1970s by organic vegetable farmers in Japan.
It is based on the principles of Teikei, which includes the principles of mutual assistance and mutual acceptance.
Ms Ruljancich says she and her husband base the price of their lambs on the expectation that each animal will grow to 20 kilograms.
Some years families get more meat than they pay for, while other years, like during the region’s drought several years ago, they receive less.
The sharing of those risks and benefits is central to how the CSA model works.
“There is risk and reward embedded into the principles of community supported agriculture,” Ms Ruljancich says.
“If we have a bad year, they (the consumers) are going to have a bad year, if we have a good year, they’re having a good year.”
But if you stick with a CSA scheme for the long term, say for five years, you will usually come out financially better off, Ms Ruljancich said.
‘No nasty chemicals’
Faye McArthur, who lives with her family of four in central Gippsland, ordered three lambs, some beef and potatoes from Ms Ruljancich’s farm at the start of this year.
She knows each fortnight to set aside $70 to cover the cost of the meat and she can choose which cuts she would like throughout the year.
“We know every fortnight that money is coming out for our meat and so then we know throughout the year that, unless something absolutely devastating happens on the farm, we know we’re guaranteed meat for our family,” Ms McArthur said.
“In the summer we say we would like predominantly barbecue cuts for our lamb and then come winter we want it done in stew-type roasts.”
Ms McArthur said she also enjoys knowing her money is going directly to farmers, and that the meat is delivered in compostable bags rather than plastic packaging.
“The product is awesome,” she said.
“I know when I’m feeding my family that they are not eating any nasty chemicals or hormones.”