Comparing community supported agriculture to other sources

CSA vs. Grocery Store and Co-Ops

contributed by Anne P.

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We have been buying CSA shares and receiving freshly grown produce each week, June through November, for three years now. I frequently am asked (by my husband, neighbors, siblings, etc.) whether the share is worth it. Is it a lot more expensive than what we'd normally buy at the grocery store? This year, I made a concerted effort to find out. I weighed each item in my share and entered it into a spreadsheet. I kept track of prices at the grocery store where I usually shop and made an effort to get prices from the nearest co-op. I averaged the costs to come up with numbers that I could compare to the CSA share. The results were pleasing, but please keep in mind that this is not scientific.

We received about 288 pounds of produce during the summer season (June though October) with an average cost of $1.73 per pound for a full price share.

How Much Do I Save?

I don't get over to the local co-op very much, but based on the prices I found when I could get there, the average price for the same types of products would be $2.20 per pound, or about 20% more than the CSA share. Since the co-op has different overhead, this seems very reasonable, but the CSA is definitely the better deal.

The local grocery store is about one mile away, so I get there quite frequently. I kept track of sale prices as well as ordinary prices. I tried to use pricing for organic products as much as possible, but the grocery store's selection was very limited; carrots, spinach, herbs, and strawberries were the only products I could get organic prices on, which was about 7.25 pounds out of the 288. Everything else was based on commercial produce.

If I could always get produce from the grocery store at sale price, I would pay an average of a little over $1 per pound. Ordinary prices (the price I saw most frequently when I went in the store) for the same or similar products averaged to $1.82 per pound or about 5% more than the full price of a CSA share. Recognizing that this is not done scientifically and with what little I remember of college statistics, I believe this indicates that the CSA pricing is comparable to the prices at a commercial grocery store.

Related: Finding Frugal Organics

I also compared the average pricing of foods that we would normally buy. Remarkably, that didn't remove many foods, but it is unusual to get garlic scapes, broccoli rabe, exotic squashes or young garlic at an ordinary grocery store. When I removed those items, the grocery store was 1% more expensive than the CSA share. Again, I believe this indicates the share price is comparable to ordinary commercial food pricing.

So why get a share? The strength of the CSA is that the locally grown organic products can be as economical as the products in the grocery store. And now I can tell that to everyone I know! I also recognize that what we get in a share box isn't what I would buy when I would go to the grocery store before we invested in the CSA. However, I can take time to adjust our menu to those items we get in the box that spoil easily and preserve those foods we don't use as quickly. However, everyone does not have that flexibility. I also enjoy trying the new foods I get in my share box, and my family does as well.

My family can tell which products are from the CSA or my garden and which are from the store. The difference in flavor is remarkable, especially in the tomatoes and carrots. But the best part is that the food is grown organically with respect for the land and its health. We are what we eat and we are what our food eats. I really believe our CSA share is worth it!

Updated October 2013

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