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Before I first joined a CSA, I was under the impression that a farm share would be significantly more expensive than buying produce at the grocery store. Paying a lump sum of money at the beginning of the growing season made it feel that way, and the prospect of getting produce that we didn’t like seemed daunting. Despite my reservations, I finally decided three years ago that it was time to give it a try. I loved the idea of getting fresh, local, organic produce and supporting a local farmer. What I didn’t realize at that time was that joining a CSA can be a great deal financially.
My summer farm share at Vanguarden CSA in Dover, Massachusetts costs $500 for about 22 weeks of produce. This farm isn’t certified organic, but they don’t use chemicals, which is good enough for me. The organic certification process is very expensive and time-consuming, so many local farmers don’t bother with it. I split my share with a friend, so I pay $250 for my portion of the vegetables. This comes out to $11.36 per week, and it doesn’t sound so expensive when you look at it that way. For my family of four, this is a good amount of vegetables to get us through the week, although I do supplement my farm share with fruit and additional vegetables from the grocery store and farmer’s market.
I came home from the farm with a lovely bag of produce yesterday, and I decided to go on a field trip with my children to our local Stop and Shop. I wanted to compare the price of the produce I got from my farmer with the price of those same items at the grocery store. We planned to calculate the price of organic vegetables wherever possible so we would be comparing “apples to apples” (although sadly, there aren’t any actual apples at my CSA!). I was surprised to find that only two of the ten items I received in my farm share this week were available in an organic version at Stop and Shop.
CSA Cost Breakdown
These are the ten items I received in my share this week with the Stop and Shop prices listed:
1 lb. organic carrots: $1.29
2 lbs. cucumbers: $2.20
1 lb. organic tomatoes: $3.99
6 oz. grean beans: $1.50
1 head Boston lettuce: $1.99
1 bunch basil: $1.49
5 ears of corn: $2.00
1 lb. potatoes: $1.49
½ lb. green peppers: $.99
½ lb. onions: $.75
The grand total for these items at Stop and Shop was $17.69. My farm share cost for these items was $11.36. So the farm share cost $6.33 less even though all of the food from the farm was organic and most of the food from Stop and Shop was conventionally grown. If I had gone to a natural foods store, I probably would have found more organic items for comparison, but I’m sure the cost would have been even higher.
Occasionally there are a few items in my farm share that nobody in my house will eat. Fortunately, there is a “trade bin” where people can swap an item they don’t want for something they do want. If you’ve been putting off trying a CSA share, I encourage you to look into it. You can find a farm near you at Local Harvest. But I should mention that my farm isn’t even listed on that website. There are so many farms out there, and it’s worth looking to find one that is right for your family. Some shares include fruit and flowers, some shares involve pick-your-own, and some have great websites and blogs to help you use your produce. I was nervous to try it a few years back, but now I don’t know how I would live without it.
Update: The number of weeks at my CSA can vary from year to year. This year’s summer share at my farm will actually last 21 weeks, not 22, so the weekly cost is $11.90.