How To Price Shop for a CSA Farm Share:
How to Price Shop for a CSA?
What’s the value of a CSA?
Remember... the old saying "you get what you pay for" is true, even when it comes to buying a CSA share!
Devon Point’s CSA Cost $ X per week vs. Farmer Joe’s cost $ Y per week:
Is the lowest price the best choice?
Is it really that simple? If it is, just make up a spreadsheet of local CSA’s and pick the lowest weekly cost. What if anything will that tell you?
When joining a CSA it’s important to first realize that there is NO “Standard Vegetable Share,” we point this out because each grower has a different idea of what each weeks share includes. To try to do an accurate CSA price comparison you would have to look at a variety of variables in order to get an accurate representation of value. Some variables you would want to consider: how the food is grown, the quantity of each weeks share, variety, quality of the product, convenience and your overall experience.
A CSA is only worth the value you place on it. In order to establish the value you must be armed with knowledge. Start with how your food is grown, this is the largest cost center to the grower, a cost that will be passed on to you.
Quantity: Each CSA Share is subject to growing conditions, time in the season, the planting choices and management techniques your grower has utilized. Every week is a bit different and will vary tremendously from one farm to the next.
Some CSAs offer a one-size share, while others offer a choice of sizes. Don’t hesitate to ask the farmer what to expect each week, (number of items) and qualify what that really means. If a bag of salad mix is an item, how big is the bag? If potatoes are an item, how many pounds do you get? What is the diversity in each week’s share? Will you get 10 pounds of carrots, one tomato and nothing else? Or will you get a good selection of diverse vegetables?
Devon Point Farm’s ‘Half’ share is 6-8 items weekly, and the ‘Full’ share is double that, 12-16 items weekly. How big are the items? The portion size of each ‘item’ is quite sizable at Devon Point… for example, a bundle of beets is usually over 1.25 pounds; a bundle of carrots us usually at least 1 pound; bag of salad mix is 1/4 to 1/3 of a pound; tomatoes as an “item” can range between 1 and 3 pounds for a half share depending on the week and the amount we being harvested; potatoes and onions are usually 1 pound for a half share and 2 pounds for a full share, and so on.
Growing practices dictate cost: Consider a few of the more well known Growing Practices used by CSA’s in New England, any of which may be used by your farmer.
Conventionally reared crops: These are crops that growers may use chemicals to manage fertility, weeds, fungus and insects are arguable less labor intensive and cost the grower less to produce.
Naturally raised crops: This is seems to be a more subjective term that may be deceiving whether intentionally or unintentionally. It’s tough to qualify what is meant by this terminology and therefore a buyer must beware and learn to qualify exactly what and how a natural grower is rearing crops. Often conventional growers will say they are Naturally raising crops to increase profits without committing to more rigorous labor-intensive standards and to avoid a more expensive protocol that involves no chemicals or certified Organic products.
Organically reared crops: A grower who is Organic incurs more expenses then the previously described growers. Growing organically is more labor intensive. It requires more manual labor, more expensive and often less efficient management practices and products for weeds, fungus and insects. This increase in cost must be passed on to the consumer in order for the grower to remain financially sustainable.
“Beyond Organic” is a terminology that we use to define a grower who has looked at the Organic Standards and has chosen to take the growing practices a step further. The Organic standards permit the use of certain metals (like Copper Sulphate), certified chemicals, fertilizers and other management assets that are based on established defined standards. Growers who look to go Beyond Organic may choose a path where no chemicals, manufactured fertilizers, heavy metals or other permitted Organic management practices are used. Farming beyond organic is the most labor intensive and costly method of these growing styles. At Devon Point Farm, we are proud to go ‘beyond organic.’
Quality: Quality depends on how you define it. A organic apple that has some spots on it may be defined as higher quality then a perfect apple that has been grown using conventional chemical. But for the sake of this comparison of CSA Values quality is related to the condition of the crops, how well the crops were cleaned, how fresh they look, how long they keep once you get them home, the flavor, the smell and the collective eating experience.
Convenience: Time and fuel are money and a factor. Accessibility, pickup times, traveling out of your way can all influence your idea of convenience.
Experience: Joining a CSA is not just about picking up your food. You can do that at a Corporation called Wal-Mart, Stop & Shop, Price Chopper, Whole Foods, the farmers market or even a roadside stand.
The CSA is for the customer who wants the experience of seeing where and how their food is grown; it personalizes your food, helps you appreciate it more and allows you the time and experience to connect to your grower and other like minded members of the community. This experience will always vary from one farm to the next and it’s important to recognize that aspect.
In the end the cheapest price will always be the most expensive. Your time, your travel cost, the quality of product, the quantity and the growing practices are all going to reflected in the total cost to you. If you are simply shopping based on price, a big corporation is going to be a far lower cost for you then the lowest price CSA.
The Farmers Market option is always there and many of our CSA members started out at shopping at Farmers Markets. Farmers Markets are an alternative to shopping at a Corporate Grocer. Farmers Markets do not allow a customer to see how the food is raised and handled, this part of the experience is lost, the quality is often compromised by the lack of refrigeration, the true origin of the food is subject to the integrity of the grower, the costs vary greatly and too often accessibility is an issue.
A premium CSA is the greatest value for you, your family and your community. Keeping a discerning environmentally conscious farm in business in your community has it’s own value. That farm will keep the dollars you spend circulating in your community. It will keep the watershed clean, the wildlife abundant and managed open space that is a value to everyone.
Join Devon Point Farms CSA for all the right reasons; you will realize the benefits daily. You deserve a premium experience; your body, your health and your mind will notice the difference. Come see why so many members of your community, call this farm their farm.