Economics of a CSA Share
This was taken from Rick Nelsons Star Tribune blog The Farm Report. Rick participated in the CSA for the 2008 season.
"There are so many benefits to CSA membership. The produce is ultra-fresh. There’s tons of variety. Purchasing a share boosts the local economy and does good things for the local environment, and don’t forget all the warm-and-fuzzy feelings that come from supporting the hard work of family owned farms. Hopefully I’ve touched on some of these attributes in the past few months.
But here’s another reason, and for many it’s a pay-attention dealmaker: With CSA membership comes tremendous value.
At least that’s been my experience. For the past few deliveries I’ve carefully weighed the contents and then played Phantom Shopper, bringing my CSA list to a natural foods co-op (which emphasize the local/sustainable/organic equation) or a supermarket and do a little math.
For my Sept. 18th delivery, my calculator and I dropped in on the Wedge Co-op; had I bought everything that was in my CSA box, I would have spent $45.60 (had I used my member discount it could have been a few dollars less, but I played the Everyman card and shopped like a non-member). The following week (Sept. 25th), I went to my neighborhood Lunds, where the tab hit $50.73, and it wasn’t entirely even-Steven, since I had to resort to several conventionally raised equivalents (which aren’t exactly equal to BRV-raised produce) because the store didn’t stock a comparable organically raised alternative; buying all-organic would surely have boosted that number by a few bucks. Yesterday I took my little economics experiment to the Seward Co-op, where the total would have set me back $36.69.
Those mid-September deliveries probably skewed a little high because they both featured costly tomatoes, so I’m going to lowball it and average out the value of each delivery from Burning River Farm at $35 per week. The farm’s growing season stretches to 18 weeks, meaning the value of my summer share would be $630. The cost of a full share is $495. That’s the equivalent of a $135 bonus in gorgeous, great-tasting vegetables. Farmer Mike Noreen is toying with the idea of a 19th delivery, increasing that bonus to $170.
Yes, I paid an additional $75 to get it delivered directly to my office, a feature many CSA farms do not offer, so that nudges the value in a southerly direction a bit, but that’s still a $60 bonus on 18 deliveries and a $95 bonus on 19 deliveries. For argument’s sake, I’d also like to say that I’m lowballing that estimate; I’d say it might be more in the $38 range, which would add another $54 to that proverbial cream at the top of the milk bottle.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that Mike’s top revenue-producers by weight are his exceptional greens. The farm’s spinach and arugula could both earn $11 to $13 per pound on the retail market, and the salad greens - truly, the best I’ve run across in these parts - also occupy a top-dollar berth. Little did I realize that our house has been enjoying superb salads all summer long at discount prices. How cool is that?
Sure, there have been a few downsides. I’ll admit that I was hoping for more exotic surprises. Not that I’m complaining, because a number of deliveries contained vegetables that certainly land in the outer limits of my produce comfort zone (for example, I can’t push the cart faster past broccoli and turnips, so confronting them in the box did me some good). Oh, and I would have liked to have seen more herbs, and a melon or two (and who knows, I just might, since the farm has a few more deliveries to go). But those are the only complaints I can muster, and you know what? For a whiner like me, that’s pretty great.
Bottom line: Would I go the CSA route again? In a heartbeat."