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.

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!

Adventures in CSA (year 2 week 11): Sweet Summer Savings

This was probably the sweetest box we’ve had all season: peaches, cherry tomatoes, corn…all items loaded with natural sweetness that can be eaten with a minimum of preparation. It makes me really sad that the summer is coming to an end. We always get sad when the farm is down to the last corn of the season, and Labor Day means that point isn’t far away. On the other hand, that means we’re getting closer to apple-picking season, which means cider donuts, which means {drool}…

Here’s how this week’s box came out: (which, by the way, was BRILLIANTLY)


Year 2 – Summer Week 11
Grocery Store Unit Price
(per lb)
Grocery Store Total Item Cost
Tomatoes 1.93 $3.99 $7.70
Sweet Yellow Peppers 1.27 $3.99 $5.08
Arugula (bunch) 1.09 $1.19 $1.30
Peaches 1.03 $2.99 $3.08
Corn (ears) 6.00 $0.60 $3.60
Radishes (bunch) 1.00 $1.99 $1.99
Yellow Squash 0.68 $1.49 $1.01
Cherry Tomatoes (pint) 2.00 $3.99 $7.98
Grocery Store Total Cost $31.75
Year 2 Summer Week 11 Savings (Deficit) $9.75


I was approached by one of my friends who reads this blog, commenting (jokingly) on how I’m encouraging her to bust her budget by buying local. Boxes like the one above certainly show that you can get your fruit/veg via a CSA and save some serious dough. In her case, her attempts to buy organic meat are probably what are causing her to hit her budget so hard. That said, there are meat CSAs (for those who don’t mind buying in quantity) and you can purchase some amounts of organic meat for lower cost through warehouse clubs. Even Whole Foods has sales on organic meats – so there are options. But eating meat will definitely beat up on your budget, even if you’re not buying organic. Going organic will only add to that. As an omnivore, I certainly support the idea of trying to find ways to make buying local and organic work for you, no matter whether you’re buying fruit, veg, meat or any combination thereof.

Definitely explore the options. If nothing else, this whole exercise (year 1 through today in year 2) shows that it isn’t all about spending more to get locally grown produce. If anyone has any meat CSA experience they want to chime in on, please do share!