Adventures in CSA (year 2 week 10): Holy savings, Batman!

When I first looked at my friend’s CSA box, I hadn’t expected there to be a ton of savings built in, since there wasn’t a ton in the box. Sure enough, there were 3lbs of heirloom tomatoes, but I hadn’t expected that they alone would be the “cost” of the entire CSA box! Just as a reminder, the program my friend is in works differently than the one I’ve been using; it’s more open-ended, in that you pay for a season and you keep reaping as long as there’s a season and stuff’s still growing. Mine is a week-by-week program, so there’s no up-front commitment. And, as my friend noted, if he picks his own, he gets substantially more than I saw in the “picked for me” box. So there’s that, too. In other words, if you’re interested in getting some serious value, going in on a program like this may be better – assuming you can absorb the up-front payment and don’t want/prefer to buy on a weekly basis.

For my part, having the flexibility of opting out of a given week’s box is a really fabulous thing, since some boxes have more or less of what I want. It’s also nice not having the pressure of trying to find someone else to pick up the veg if I’m not around, Lastly, I like fruit – and there’s no fruit in my friend’s program due to space constraints and such. I realize that some, like Tammy, don’t get fruit in their boxes (and she wishes she did!), but having had it last year…I’m spoiled used to it. I want my fruit, too. The big perk I wish my program had is the one my sister’s CSA (at yet another farm) has…a bin for trading items that you don’t want. It’s like a “leave a veg, take a veg” box. WANT. This would give me a place to put all those extra cukes without making so much tzatziki that we’re drowning in it. But I digress…

In other words, lots of pros on either side, and a few cons on each side (mine’s more expensive than his, but I get flexibility that he doesn’t have, etc.). What this does speak to is the incredible variation in programs in my area.

Here’s how things worked out for my friend’s box – going off a base of $13.89 assumed price per week, based on (approximately) 18 weeks in the $250 season:

Year 2 – Summer Week 10
Grocery Store Unit Price (per lb) Grocery Store Total Item Cost
Heirloom Tomatoes 3.45 $3.99 $13.75
Green Pepper 0.26 $1.49 $0.38
Eggplant 1.09 $1.49 $1.63
Jalapeno Peppers 0.13 $3.99 $0.53
Boston Lettuce (head) 1.00 $2.29 $2.29
Cherry Tomatoes (pint) 1.00 $3.99 $3.99
Grocery Store Total Cost $22.57
Year 2 Summer Week 10 Savings (Deficit) $8.68

If you live in Eastern Mass or Rhode Island, I can definitely say that it’s hard NOT to have access to a decent CSA. So, feel free to explore. If you’re not in this area and you don’t know where to go to get in on one, use the CSA locator on the Local Harvest web site and see what’s in your area. Clearly, it can be worth it. BIG TIME. And if you don’t have a CSA nearby, check your grocery store for signs that say “I’m Local!”. Even our local BJ’s clubs now carry local veg. This may not have the price savings built in, but it will help you get fresher items from local farms, and that’s pretty awesome all by itself.

Adventures in CSA (year 2 week 10): TAKE THIS BOX

It’s not every day that someone asks you to take their veggies, but this very thing happened to me. Turns out that friends of ours were having their summer holiday…and that trip happened to overlap with their CSA pick-up day. So, I awoke one morning to a Facebook message from my friend, asking if I wanted their CSA box this week. Why, sure! It’s not every day that someone offers you fresh veggies for free!

The CSA they’re in is offered by our local YMCA, run in a community garden in the next town over from the Y. The CSA started in early July and will run through late October (or as far into November as the farm decides they can continue producing enough for the share). This CSA is a bit unique in that, unlike the one I’ve been purchasing week-by-week, you can either pick up your box or you can go out into the field and pick your own. With our hectic schedule, I can’t imagine trying to incorporate a “pick-your-own” scenario into a weekly veggie box program, but that’s just me.

(*my friend provided the following update just after I posted my blog entry originally, so here’s what he had to say, then we’ll resume the original entry…*)

“The actual farming is done by volunteers. In some cases, classes of kids come and learn about farming while they tend the farm. {Our dd} has learned so much from the program just picking. Not only does she recognize all the various veggies, but she also knows how to tell if things are ripe. Some veggies she just eats right off the plant, like purple string beans and cherry tomatoes…zero pesticides. I have to admit, they are pretty good.

I doubt they’ll ever have tree fruits, because most take so long to fruit and it may be difficult without the aid of pesticides. Plus, trees take up space. They also recycle the plots, so it’s unlikely they do perennials. Though some things like strawberries can be replanted every year. Because there’s so much turnover of the land, they’re going to be able to do things in the fall that they missed on in the cooler spring, like spinach…”

(*resume original entry*)

So, off I went to pick up the box, and this is what I found:

Adventures in CSA year 2 week 10 veggie box

Such prettiness!

  • Heirloom Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Green Pepper
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Jalapeno Peppers
  • Boston Lettuce
Adventures in CSA year 2 week 10 cherry tomatoes

So lovely and SO tasty

The price comparison on this one is a bit trickier, since the price is $250 for the entire program, and there’s a variable length issue. Assuming that the box program started in the first week of July, as I was told, and it runs through the end of October, that would mean approximately 18 weeks, which translates to $13.89/week. I’ll use that as my starting point for comparison, and we’ll see whether or not my friend’s veggie box is a good deal when you just do the pick-up option. He did ask me to send him a picture so that he could compare the volume you get when you pick up versus when you pick it yourself, and {update} his response was that you definitely get more when you pick at the farm instead of just picking up the box{/update}. Certainly, if you can stuff more in when you pick on your own, time-willing, that may be a really great option. I don’t have the time…but for those that do, it’s an interesting way to try to economize even further when buying local.

The only other funny thing about this veggie box is that it had no fruit in it! I found that rather interesting, since every other veggie box I’ve gotten has had something – berries, apples, etc. – SOME kind of fruit. This one was full-on veggie-only. Guess that means we’ll be off to the farmstand this weekend to restock our fruit supply…

Adventures in CSA (year 2 week 9): MYOB encore

This week’s return to the Make-Your-Own-Box (MYOB) plan is brought to you by the letters “O” for “Oops” and “E” for “Enh”. The “Oops” relates to my having remembered on Thursday morning that we didn’t place an order by Wednesday night. D’oh! The “Enh” relates to what I saw when I looked at the list of items included in this week’s box. Sure ’nuff, there were some great things, like 8 ears of sweet corn, but they were also throwing in a bunch of hot peppers – and the kids aren’t yet up on the same amount of spice that we like.

I don’t see this as the worst thing in the world; there’s a certain satisfaction to be had from bringing the kids into the farmstand and letting them help decide what will go into the cart. The more excited they are to eat, and the more invested they are in the food decisions, the likelier they are to want to eat the food…or so the theory goes.

To keep things simple, I pointed out the items that were clearly marked as being from the farm; that was the bulk of what they had to offer right now, anyway (apart from any citrus, which is always coming from out of state). This week’s haul:

Adventures in CSA Year 2 Week 9 MYOB

Lush color = luscious food

Year 2 – Summer Week 9 (Make Your Own)
Farmstand Unit Price
(per lb)
Farmstand Total Item Cost
Corn 6.00 $0.58 $3.50
Wax Beans (large) 0.69 $2.49 $1.72
Green Pepper 0.72 $1.99 $1.43
Raspberries (half-pint) 1.00 $4.50 $4.50
Currants (half-pint) 1.00 $2.59 $2.59
Cherry Tomatoes (pint) 1.00 $3.50 $3.50
Grapes (quart) 1.00 $5.99 $5.99
Farmstand Total Cost $23.23

Now, you’ll probably notice that I WENT OVER THE LIMIT OF $22.00! (cue forbidding music and potential influx of ninja warriors to cut up my debit card with a sword) Here’s the issue, and I’ll leave it at this set of excuses:

  1. For whatever reason, Friday afternoon was THE time to be at the farmstand and it was packed with people. Thus, it was hard to get things sorted out easily with two small kids while trying NOT to be in the way.
  2. The farmstand, God love ’em, doesn’t appear to have a scale that’s accessible to shoppers, so it’s hard to tell how much you’ve purchased. I tried to keep a running tally on my iPhone, but I didn’t have a way to measure the weight of the items that were priced by the pound. Of course, it also didn’t hep that the kids were aiming for the more expensive items, like the grapes, but if the biggest problem that I have is that my kids like to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, I’d say there are probably plenty of people who’d like to have that kind of “problem” themselves.
  3. I was in a hurry. We still needed to hit up the fishmonger (who sets up outside the farmstand every Friday afternoon) to get some scallops before we headed home and started getting the corn on.

So, we have an overage. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! But it’ll all work out in the end. Why? Because it’s only $1.23, and it’s worth it when you taste the difference. I know it’s impossible to express this properly over a web page, but if you can get fresh stuff straight from the source, boy, is there a world of difference. I will note that the raspberries are the only one item that did NOT originate at this particular farm. However, they came from another farm elsewhere in Massachusetts, so I consider that local enough for my purposes.

Now, the only tricky item in this list is the one I never cooked with before: the currants. I haven’t dug through all of my cookbooks yet to see what the options are (aside from “heating and making into a sauce for meat”), so I’m curious as to what these currants will turn into. And I’m really hoping they turn into something tasty before they end up being “that thing I really wanted to try and never got to before it went bad.” Any suggestions for currants, folks??