Adventures in CSA: savings and how we shop grocery store circulars

The other day, while heading into dd’s school to pick her up from afterschool care, I was approached by a neighbor who had checked out the blog recently. She commented that she was interested by the findings I’d made on savings from using a CSA rather than buying fruits and veggies from the store, and she had a small bone to pick. As she explained it, she tends to shop based on sale prices and her shopping is certainly influenced by what’s on special every week. I definitely get where she’s coming from, so I wanted to take a moment to explain how I get to the numbers I’ve recorded in my various entries (starting with Adventures in CSA year 1).

My basic premise was to take a CSA box’s contents and compare the price for having selected the very same things from the grocery store where I shop every weekend. We weighed every item that we received from the CSA and I then plugged the prices from the store and the weights (or quantities, if sold by the item) into an Excel spreadsheet that was copied and pasted into the blog post.

The prices I chose were for the closest possible item (which wasn’t necessarily the organic version, since the fruit & veg I got were local but not necessarily organic, per se) and were for the “no-card” price. My store, like so many grocery stores, has an affinity card program where you get better prices by having their card than if you came in off the street not having it. Why would I do this? My rationale was so that I wasn’t biasing the results by listing the prices you’d need to get by giving up personal information. While a lot of people participate in affinity programs, not everyone does and – since the prices at our farmstand don’t ebb and flow based on whether or not they know anything about our purchases – I wanted to approximate what it would be like to purchase the same things if you just came in without a prior relationship with the grocery store.

And then we get to the issue of straight sales. As my neighbor pointed out, sales on specific items influence her purchases. Honestly, the same is true for us. However, when working with a CSA, the box’s contents are controlled by what’s ripe rather than by a store’s attempts to drive specific purchases. For example, right now, there’s not a ton that you’d get in your CSA box other than squash, apples, potatoes and maybe some onions. By contrast, what’s on sale right now at my grocery store (based on their flyer): raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, apples, pears, avocados, grape tomatoes, squash, potatoes, mushrooms, peppers, and baby carrots. Of those, only the apples, squash and potatoes could have been produced locally (and none are marked on the flyer as being local). The berries came from places like Argentina, Chile and Mexico. If we’re lucky, the grape tomatoes and avocados came from California – but it’s likely that at least one, if not both, came from Mexico.

So here’s the rub: especially during the fall and winter months, what gets put on sale at the grocery store may never even show up in a CSA box because it’s only in season thousands of miles away from where we live. That doesn’t mean we won’t buy berries; both of the kids are berry-monsters and love to eat them a half-pint at a time. My point is more around the fact that if you want to buy locally, your purchase decision will be driven by what’s in season and what’s ripe at that particular point. For a place like New England, where the winter months require importing berries and other fruits & veg from farther-flung parts of the world, it’s a great thing that these are ever put on sale so that you’re not paying full freight (quite literally).

My neighbor has an excellent point about sales having an influence, and in New England (as well as other four-season locales) you have to be willing to buy things that aren’t grown locally in order to be able to eat certain foods – like berries – all year ’round. The other option is to preserve things early and often, such as my canning-crazed friend Local Kitchen. And, thankfully, there’s room for lots of different approaches to eating healthy foods all year long.

Click here to start the music: a 3-month review of RadioBDC

Just about three months ago, my aural anguish was soothed dramatically by the launch of RadioBDC, the online-only radio launched by (the digital arm of the Boston Globe). When alt-rock radio icon WFNX went silent over the air (OTA) as the sale of its frequency to ClearChannel pushed it to the web only, it jettisoned all of its DJ’s. Of course, you could still listen to WFNX online (and still can), but the soul of the station was gone. The departure of its program director, Paul Driscoll, and all the jocks I was so used to hearing (such as Henry Santoro, Julie Kramer, and Adam 12), left a terrible void in my workday and on my car radio.

In a fit of corporate purging, I went through my car radio presets and expunged any sign of Clear Channel stations, opting to fill every preset with the few remaining indie/public radio stations and leaving the rest for WERS (Emerson College radio). These days, most of what you hear in my car is either NPR – my palliative against road rage – or selections from “Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks” (a fan favorite with the kiddos). I can listen to RadioBDC in my car, thanks to a spiffy app that I installed on my iPhone (also available for Android and Blackberry), but I typically try to keep my non-wireless data usage fairly well in check so as not to train myself to be a data hound once my plan flips to metered at next renewal.

So, this means I usually listen to RadioBDC only during the workday and on the weekends or evenings, when I’m puttering in the kitchen. At work, I put on RadioBDC through my web browser, and at home I’ll pipe it through my iPhone. Showing just how much he truly loves me, on Thanksgiving morning, dh put RadioBDC on via the iPad and plugged it into our stereo so I could blast it all morning long while I chopped and chopped…and chopped…getting my stuffing ready to go for the evening meal.

And now that we’re three months in, what’s the verdict?

I’d say RadioBDC is a win, and here’s why…

I’m a tough audience. I like music. A LOT. Having worked at a record store in my formative years, I have a voracious love of music that I’m trying to pass along to my kids. But that said, there’s some stuff I just can’t suffer to be bothered with. Heavy rotation (playing the same song within a 2hr timespan) doesn’t work too well for me, having gotten MTV-PTSD from seeing the Bruce Springsteen video for “War” played every hour, on the hour, when I was much younger. Some alt bands, like Pearl Jam and Cage the Elephant, make me reach for the mute button. So, to find a station that I’ll listen to all day with no more than a couple of “mutes” is really rare. The variety of music gives me something new pretty much every day, and I don’t hear the same songs every single hour.

Some examples of what I heard in just one stretch yesterday morning:

  • “Sun” by Two Door Cinema Club
  • “Kettling” by Bloc Party
  • “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men
  • “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay
  • “Blood Red Youth” by California Wives
  • “Skyfall” by Adele
  • “You Are a Tourist” by Death Cab for Cutie
  • “Steve McQueen” by M83

If a standard way to judge the awesomeness of a music selection is that you’re pretty sure you’re going to get a UTI from failing to get up from your desk because they just put on YET ANOTHER song you really want to hear, you’re clearly listening to the right radio station. It hurt my heart to have to turn off RadioBDC as I headed to a meeting this afternoon; they were playing “Don’t Panic” by Coldplay, one of my favorite songs on the truly fantastic “Garden State” soundtrack, and I was really disappointed to have to interrupt it.

While not being OTA, RadioBDC is clearly a real, functioning radio station: it has all the same trappings. RadioBDC does giveaways, sponsors shows and holds events. Even better, RadioBDC has “Live in the Lab” mini-concerts at the station (housed in the same building with the rest of the Globe folks), which they stream live and archive for later viewing/listening via the station’s web site. There’s also the “+1” free concert series with (mostly) emerging artists playing at local venues. Listeners can enter to win or simply sign up for free admission to attend events, which seem to run every few weeks or so. There’s still a vital and vibrant connection to the alt rock scene, bringing forward new and established artists in both pre-recorded and live formats. One big “get” for the station was the recent announcement that they’re sponsoring the “Hometown Throwdown”, the longtime annual series of pre-New Year’s shows done by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. You couldn’t do that if you were just some little startup with no-name DJs or a computer powering all your airplay selection. Or I suppose you could…but everyone would know that it was about being a poseur and not about really being a part of the Boston music scene.

That leads me to the people and just how important they are. The jocks keep the station human. There’s no algorithm picking what I hear during my workday. The music is picked by the people who know music I like, and I even get to contribute my own suggestions. During Adam 12’s “4 o’clock Free-For-All” set, I’ve had the pleasure of getting several of my requests played (submitted via my personal twitter handle, often prompting “12” to sweetly send out a “Hey Jude” before each song). You just don’t get that at most radio stations, where it’s either all pre-programmed or it’s so corporatized that you can’t get them to step outside of what they were paid to play. These DJ’s are the people who have the connections to the bands, to the scene, to the music. When WFNX laid them off, they stupidly got rid of their true capital, the greatest worth of the station.

The relationship with and the Boston Globe also strengthens what the station brings to the air. Henry Santoro, the newsman of the jock set, gets news direct from the bullpen at the paper. Several Globe reporters, columnists and bloggers come on air throughout the week to talk about what’s going on in their corner of the world. Not only does this get you some more in-depth analysis of what’s happening in the Boston area, it also means you finally get to hear the voices of some of the people who’ve only spoken to you through newsprint all these years.

I think there’s also something to be said for having built something real. Within the last few weeks, RadioBDC announced the addition of several more DJ’s – including other refugees from WFNX – who are adding their own flavor and shows. This stepped approached to building the station’s format and design is clearly measured and cautious, designed for growth and stability. Truly, setting aside the lack of the OTA component (for which they’ve built nifty app/browser-based workarounds), it’s a real, live alt rock radio station. I listen to it as much as I can, I tweet with the DJ’s and keep an eye on what they post, since there’s almost always some nugget of information or humor worth passing along or checking out.

And here’s the final point that I really need to make, if it isn’t already apparent from what I’ve written before on this blog: I don’t shill. I’m not a corporate mouthpiece, and I don’t write about things because someone pays me to. I write about things that I’m interested in or things that make me happy. I do the occasional review of things that people are kind enough to let me try out, but I don’t take every review opportunity out there because there’s a lot of stuff that just doesn’t interest me at all. I wouldn’t write all these nice things about RadioBDC if I didn’t really believe in what they’re doing and enjoy their product – and I can assure you that they didn’t pay me to write any of this. I don’t even have a RadioBDC shirt…much as I’d totally wear one. (hint hintha ha)

If the mark of a brand being successful is having people advocate for it without ever receiving a red cent, then you can definitely call them a success. But, to say that they’ve given me nothing would be a lie. I’ve gotten hours of enjoyment from listening to the music, hearing the DJ’s talk, reading their tweets and blog posts, seeing and hearing the Live in the Lab sessions on my computer, and watching Frank Turner belt out his songs in their first streaming event. I was there the night they “launched” at the Paradise, and I can’t imagine having been anywhere else that night.

Real radio does that, and RadioBDC is definitely the real deal.

Adventures in CSA (year 2 week 12): MYO box, part 3

Sometimes, even a weekly ordering process for a CSA can go awry…like when your husband thinks you ordered a box that you didn’t think you got real confirmation that people would eat it, so when you tell him that morning that you didn’t order a box for evening pick-up, you get a look as though you just shot Bambi’s mom. Oh great.

On the plus side, having the farmstand chock-full of things that are tasty to eat makes it somewhat easier, and the list for this week’s box at least inspired dh to pick up broccoli. The funny thing with broccoli is that I can’t stand it. I don’t care HOW you prepare it, I can’t deal with the stuff. Anything cruciferous just rubs me the wrong way, and broccoli is no exception to that rule. I can’t even stand the smell of it. Guess dh will make it with dinner on Monday night, while I’m out at a wake.

So, short story long, this is a MYO box week for us. It mostly stuck to our rules: it was all local and it was less than $22. However, it’s six items, and there’s nothing “new” to us. I’m okay with that, though; with the marathon walk less than 24 hours away, my focus is a little fuzzy right now.

Without further ado, this week’s tastiness:


Adventures in CSA year 2 week 12

Red + Green + Multicolored Cherry Toms = HAPPY ME


Year 2 – Summer Week 12
Farmstand Unit Price (per lb) Farmstand Total Item Cost
Tomatoes 2.26 $2.99 $6.76
Macintosh Apples 2.46 $1.49 $3.67
Broccoli 1.26 $1.99 $2.51
Corn (ears) 4.00 $0.69 $2.76
Wax Beans 0.83 $2.99 $2.48
Cherry Tomatoes (pint) 1.00 $3.50 $3.50
Farmstand Total Cost $21.67

Sure, it’s not the most original box out there, and the items are ones that are fairly “safe” – we know we like them (well, all except me and that dang broccoli), and we know the kids will reliably eat everything. Still, it’s nice that we’re in the habit of doing this, since it means that we have locally produced fruit and veg in the house. While the local grocery stores have caught up in recent weeks and are now carrying more local items (radishes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.), it’s nice that we’ve been eating local all summer long. Better still, we’ve been contributing back to our own town.

Now, with all the fuss about organic vs conventional farming, I do have to say that our farm is not labeling their stuff as organic. I asked them about this a while back, when Local Kitchen was coming for a visit and needed to know if she could obtain some kind of food organically from a nearby farm. Turns out that they do use some measure of pesticides. HOWEVER, they assured me they use the minimum they can get away with. So, there’s that. Before picking organic vs conventional, I’d suggest trying to examine local vs non-local and start simply. And with that, I’ll climb off my soapbox and start gearing up for my walk.

If you’re available for a few minutes on Sunday, I’d love a few tweets of support to me and dh. Follow me at @CrunchyMetroMom on Twitter and shout out early and often! I’ll be tweeting as we walk. And walk. And walk. And since I raised enough money to make a new personal best, I’m itching to get out on the course and get another 26.2 under my belt!