Community Supported Agriculture – easy on the wallet?

(Alberta, Canada; summer 2013)

B - 14 WEEK COLLAGE1jpeg

14 weeks of CSA goodness (week 1 top left; week 14 bottom right)

Data collection: Jolanta Szewczyk (CSA member)

Summary and write-up: Kasia Szewczyk of www.permaprocess.com

CSA farm: Eagle Creek Farms (Bowden, AB, Canada) http://www.eaglecreekfarms.ca

Summary

There are many advantages to participating in a CSA program – access to locally and sustainably grown produce, supporting local farms and businesses and enjoying in-season and fresh vegetables.  But what about the basic financial cost of CSAs?  Is it monetarily worth it to participate in a CSA program?  This year a Calgary-based CSA member, Jolanta Szewczyk, has taken meticulous care to record the weight and quantities of vegetables received from her summer CSA program (with Eagle Creek Farms out of Bowden, AB) and has compared these items with produce available for sale in Calgary’s grocery stores.  The following summarizes her findings and shows that CSAs are not only great for the environment and for our communities: they’re easy on the wallet too.

The Challenge

Collect photos, weights and prices on all items collected over the course of a 14-week long CSA program.  Questioning the following: will the CSA program save us money? If yes, by how much?

Quick facts

What farm: Eagle Creek Farms (Bowden, AB): http://www.eaglecreekfarms.ca

Delivery to: Calgary, AB (Canada)

Duration of CSA program: July – October 2013 (14 weeks* of deliveries)

Type of share: Full share**

Cost of share: $600*** (weekly avg. = $42.86 )

*produce is picked up once a week

** full CSA shares are often described as adequate for families of 3-4 individuals or 2 “keen” vegetarians

*** All prices are in Canadian dollars (1 CAD = 0.95 USD; Nov. 17th, 2013 from http://www.xe.com)

The weekly routine:

  1. Pick-up produce
  2. Take it home, group it together and photograph
  3. Weigh each item seperately OR count bunches
  4. Save info to spreadsheet
  5. Throughout the week while visiting various grocery stores*, make note of prices of same** produce, and note in spreadsheet
  6. Tally up the results, and share them with you!

*the grocery stores referenced in Calgary include

  • Community Health Natural Foods
  • Co-op (organic and conventional)
  • Safeway (organic and conventional)
  • Crossroads Market (various farmers)

as often as possible, organic produce prices were used

**CSA farmers occasionally provide customers with heirloom and rare varieties of vegetables that cannot be found in grocery stores. When this happened the most similar item available was used as a price reference

Variety of produce (over the course of 14 weeks)

Eagle Creek Farms provides an impressive variety of produce throughout their summer CSA program – below, the full list of items received (tally marks show item appeared more than once)

  • arugula IIII
  • basil
  • beans
  • beets (yellow) III
  • beets with tops I
  • bok choi
  • broccolli I
  • cabbage greens
  • cabbage
  • cabbage red
  • cabbage green
  • cabbage italian
  • carrots (with and without tops) IIII IIIII I
  • cauliflower I
  • chard II
  • celery leafs I
  • cilantro II
  • cucumber
  • dill II
  • garlic (bulb) IIII IIII
  • garlic scapes II
  • green onion IIIII IIII
  • kale III
  • kohlrabi III
  • lettuce IIIII IIII
  • lettuce (romaine)
  • onion (bulb) II
  • parsley (baby)I
  • parsnips I
  • pea shoots
  • pepper IIII
  • potatoes (early variety) III
  • potatoes (heriloom) I
  • potatoes (purple) I
  • radishes III
  • raspberries
  • spinach I
  • strawberries I
  • sweet peas (unshelled) IIII
  • tomatoes IIII
  • turnips (with tops)
  • zucchini

(42 ITEMS – including all varieties)

  • wild flowers IIIII  and sunflowers

Items appearing 5 (or more) times in 14 weeks: carrots, garlic, green onion, lettuce, potatoes

OVERALL

Considering all 14 weeks of the CSA program, it is absolutely a great value-for-money!

Compared to the $600 paid for the full share, the actual value of the items received totaled $711.15 

 Savings of $111.15 !!

See our spreadsheet for detailed info

Be aware that:

1. first few weeks there are fewer items (as season takes off late in the prairies)

2. quantity of food will vary week to week – sometimes there is too little of this, or too much of that. It’s important to stay flexible; buy extra veggies if needed and share with friends and neighbours when there is too much!

Weight of food received (14 week total): 77.80 Kg (171.5 lbs) of vegetables, herbs and berries

The spreadsheet shows our week-to-week calculations

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 12.05.

Allowing for differences between CSA members

Our little price study has been faithful to the produce that we received, but it’s important to keep in mind that produce types and quantities will vary somewhat between CSA members of the same farm!

IMG_33671. Exact weight of items will vary between CSA shares:  In efforts to decrease plastic bag consumption, Eagle Creek farms lets CSA members take their own produce from larger bins, indicating how many scoops or bunches are destined for which share type (see photo).  Naturally, these kinds of measures will create discrepency between CSA members.  Also, when units-per-item apply (ex. 3 beets or 2 heads of cabbage), the size and weight of items will also vary.

2. Items can vary between CSA shares: For the most part, CSA members take what is available – when the farmer puts out sweet peas, that is what you are getting! Some farms however, like Eagle Creek, will give their CSA members options (take 2 of X and 2 of Y or 4 of X and none of Y and so on) and will often place a “trade box” at the end of the line so that unwanted produce can be replaced with the available replacement items.  In this way, it is unlikely you’ll see many CSA members with exactly the same produce in their bags and boxes every week.

Conclusion

Before this study we already loved CSAs because they give us the opportunity to:

  • support our local, sustainable farms
  • partake in eco-logical farming focused on working with, not against, nature
  • buy direct from the farmer – no middle-men!
  • enjoying local and in-season veggies
  • partake in delicious, high quality and nutrient-dense food

To top it off, we now also know that it’s well worth our money too!!

Additional information:

CSA Alberta website: www.csaalberta.com

Eagle Creek farms: http://www.eaglecreekfarms.ca 

full spreadsheet with our 14 weeks of calculations

gallery of 14-weeks of produce photos (coming soon!): http://www.flickr.com/photos/jestemat/sets/

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Temperature Difference & This week’s CSA | Our shift to Living Locally

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