For a couple months now, I’ve signed up for a local CSA. I mean, I call it a “CSA” but it is really a delivery service that sources organic produce from multiple farms, mostly local, and highly seasonal for a flat weekly rate. CSA-lite, so to speak.
For $32 a week, I get a crate full of organic vegetables delivered right to my front porch. I’ve gotten everything from carrots and cabbage to garlic scapes and hakurei turnips. Since most of the produce is sourced locally, everything is super fresh. They let me indicate preferences if I decide I’m not in the mood for, say, kale. And if I need to skip a week or add one or two items, I can ask them to pack me extra item they stock extras like grains, beans, and dairy.
It’s a great service but I’ve wondered, from a purely financial perspective, am I paying more or less than I would at the grocery store for the same items?
To satisfy my curiosity, I did a cost comparison between the CSA items in my most recent box versus the cost at my local Whole Foods (using Instacart prices, which uses the exact pricing in Whole Foods stores). I chose Whole Foods for my comparison grocery store– over, say, the discount supermarket a ten-minute walk from my house– because: (1) it’s the most likely to have comparable, organic produce and (2) it’s more convenient than prowling the farmer’s market stands.
There were a couple items that Whole Foods did not have, namely: Hungarian hot peppers and bull’s horn peppers. For those, I chose what may or may not be suitable substitutes.
|CSA Item||CSA Quantity||WF Item||WF Quantity||WF Cost|
|Organic Beets||1 bunch||Organic Beets||1 bunch||$2.99|
|Organic Fennel Bulb||1 bulb||Organic Fennel Bulb||1 bulb||$2.90|
|Organic Eggplant||1 eggplant||Organic Eggplant||1 eggplant||$3.82|
|Organic Green Beans||0.75 lb||Organic Green Beans||0.75 lb||$2.47|
|Organic Tomatoes||0.5 lb||Heirloom Tomatoes||0.5 lb||$4.04|
|Organic Carrots||1 lb||Organic Carrots||1 lb||$1.54|
|Organic Dandelion Greens||1 bunch||Organic Dandelion Greens||1 bunch||$2.50|
|Organic Garlic||1 bulb||Organic Garlic||1 bulb||$1.48|
|Organic Thyme||3/4 oz||Organic Thyme||3/4 oz||$2.69|
|Organic Red Leaf Lettuce||1 head||Organic Red Leaf Lettuce||1 head||$2.49|
|Organic Hungarian Hot Pepper||0.5 lb||Poblano pepper||2 peppers||$2.42|
|Organic Bulls Horn Pepper||1 pepper||Cubanelle pepper||1 pepper||$1.19|
|CSA Total||$32.00||Whole Foods Total||$30.53|
We see that the CSA and Whole Foods prices are more or less even, with the CSA costing a little more for a fully organic haul.
Why I’m Sticking With My CSA (Even Though It’s More Expensive)
Even though my CSA is slightly more expensive than Whole Foods organic (let alone discount supermarket non-organic produce), there are a few reason I want to stick with the service.
For one, my CSA forces me to incorporate lots of vegetables into my rotation, whereas otherwise I have a tendency to eat meat and carbo-load. It also pushes me to eat seasonally and try out new recipes with vegetables that I might otherwise choose myself. Lastly, and this is the big one for me, they deliver groceries right to my door. Do you understand how lazy I am!? So very, very.
And so, pseudo-CSA, you are here to stay.
Have you ever signed up for a CSA? What was your experience?
5 thoughts on “Is My CSA Saving Me Money?”
I did a “real” CSA a few years ago (single farm, pick up at the farm), and I had mixed feelings about it. I definitely loved the sense of seasonality that I got from it, as the produce progressed from greens in the Spring to squash in the Fall. And I loved trying vegetables that I didn’t normally cook with. My biggest problem was that the quantities never seemed to be quite what I wanted. There would be four beets in a box, which was about 1/4 what I wanted, and four giant zucchini, which had me making zucchini bread like crazy. I also really like going to the Farmers’ market, and I missed doing that when I went to the CSA. So I’ve gone back to the Farmers’ market, and I generally find that it works better.
Farmer’s markets are a great way to get seasonal, local produce! We also get weird quantities sometimes– what am I supposed to do with two pounds of carrots and exactly one tomato?– but it’s been a fun challenge to become more flexible and adventurous in my cooking.
We had similar experiences with CSAs, and the joy of vegetables just arriving on the porch was muted by the work of actually washing & cutting up all those vegetables – turns out everyone I live with is lazier than me so if I don’t do that, nobody eats anything, and it goes bad. We also had to do a different one every year we got one, because since I basically always chose the cheapest CSA with least packaging, the farmers kept choosing other more lucrative things over selling through the CSA (cheapass people are a terrible market to cater to, turns out. Our most beloved farmer took the next summer off to roof his own house because it was a bigger gain for him than the CSA)
So after 5 or 6 years of having our tastes & cooking skills expanded, now we just do the farmer’s markets, to get the same seasonality but without the veg i don’t like and in the amounts I want. But in the meantime I did really need to learn to cook with what farmer’s grow around here, so I’d recommend a CSA to anyone who’s never done it!
All the washing and prep has been driving me a little up the wall. Our compost pile is overflowing. One thing CSA has really reminded me: plants grow out of the dirt. Oh so very much dirt.
Good on you for finding a balance through farmer’s markets! All the freshness, but a lot more choice, I bet.