How bountiful is your CSA?
July 28, 2012 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Participants in CSA/Community Supported Agriculture/local farm cropshares-- on average, how much produce does your regular share contain? How does the overall cost stack up against retail veggie pricing?

I've heard tons of glowing things about CSAs, so I was excited to sign up for my first one this summer, run through the organic farm of an acquaintance who's fairly new to the game. Now that we're well into it, though, I'm increasingly perplexed by what seem to be the norms for quantity of food received. The pricing works out to ~$60 per biweekly share of produce, but thus far, by my calculations, we have yet to receive more than $15 or so of veggies. A typical recent week's share, for example, was:
1 small squash +
3/4 pint potatoes +
a few tomatoes (3 large, ~10 cherry) +
two small cucumbers+
1 cantaloupe (turned out to be very overripe)+
1 very small and scraggly head of broccoli+
a few stalks of dill

Of course, I do understand that organic produce is naturally going to be more expensive and probably less cosmetically perfect than the standard supermarket stuff. But I'm curious as to whether this cost:value ratio is pretty standard for cropshares (and the sort of thing one takes in stride as part of a commitment to locally-sourced food), or if I just happened to get very unlucky in my first-time choice of CSAs.

I've already decided not to repeat this particular program; but if you are or have been a participant in a CSA where you live-- does this experience sound typical for these arrangements in general, or should I still keep looking into similar programs elsewhere? Thanks!
posted by Bardolph to Home & Garden (31 answers total)
That seems very small to me, but then the program I am in is not exactly a CSA but more a supplier bringing in organic veggies etc from multiple sources and sort of compiling them as not a lot of farms around here do CSA (the nearest one is 80 miles away). We only get the 2 person box, it costs about $28 pw and we'd get about twice as much as that a fortnight, I have to say the quality has been down a bit this year but there has been droughts and weird weather in our area so I was kind of expecting that. Maybe try another CSA or 2 until you find one you like.
posted by wwax at 9:05 AM on July 28, 2012

That sounds pretty bad for a CSA haul. In a California CSA delivery, you might end up with lots of things you don't want (oh great, three pounds of kale and scallions!) but you'll do better than that. Depending on where you live, etc. Also this is a little more diverse I feel like than some CSAs, but the paltriness doesn't make up for the diversity. (Seriously, sometimes a CSA can suddenly be like "annnnd here's your pile of turnips! Nope just turnips this week!") I know it's a weird growing year for a lot of people, but that's... well there's nothing fun about what you're getting. (Mmm, one tiny head of broccoli, enjoy.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:08 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

As another data point, my local CSA is struggling, in part for reasons they didn't plan well for, in part for reasons beyond their control (two years of drought around here, for instance). I'm actually receiving less than what you are for our "1/2 share". We get distributions three weeks out of four from about May to November (this depends, in part, on the weather here in Michigan).

And, yeah, if anyone needs Kale recipes, I'll send them, along with a bag of Kale.
posted by HuronBob at 9:14 AM on July 28, 2012

That definitely sounds weak for the price. Although I'd imagine location is a major factor. Here in Northern California, a pretty good growing area, we pay $20/week for about the same amount of veggies you described if not more.
posted by mgr at 9:17 AM on July 28, 2012

Our CSA is priced roughly similar to yours but gives us far far more produce, and of much better quality, than you're getting -- it was more a question of what the hell are we going to do with all these tomatoes and all this squash and all this what is this I don't even know what that thing is but it's delicious.

There are some times of the summer where the pickings are less appealing than others, and we had one season where the weather was just bad and nothing much grew... It's possible yours is just having an off year, but if you can ask around for a different one I'd give it a shot.
posted by ook at 9:17 AM on July 28, 2012

For reference, our CSA is ~ $27/small box, depending on frequency. This week, we had the following, and I've estimated prices for purchasing these quantities separately at a farmer's market:

Strawberries ($3)
Plums ($3)
Parsley ($1)
Basil ($2)
Potatoes ($3)
Chard ($2)
Cherry Tomatoes ($3)
Roma, Early Girl and/or Heirloom Tomatoes ($8)
Yellow Spring Onions ($1)
Zucchini ($2)
Spinach ($2)
Gypsy Peppers ($2)

So, roughly $32 worth of produce, delivered to my house, more fresh than I could acquire it elsewhere. Of course, as others mentioned, Northern California is a unique situation. In other parts of the country, I have felt like I'm willing to pay a premium to support independent organic farmers, even if it means I'm paying more for produce than I would have without a CSA, but in your case it does seem like the yield is low. It might be worth having a conversation with your acquaintance and seeing what's up on their end.
posted by judith at 9:23 AM on July 28, 2012

The CSA I did listed these as examples of what you get, which I would say is very accurate. It was far more food than we could eat. Pricing worked out to about $33 a week, and this CSA also included cheese (1/4-1/2lb) and dairy (1/2 gal. milk/yogurt cup/eggs). This is southeast PA.

June: 1 piece organic Colby, sharp cheddar, or smoked cheddar cheese • Choice of 1 dairy item • 1 pint blueberries • 1 lb. green or yellow beans • 6 ears sweet corn • 2 lbs. new potatoes • 2 lbs. peaches • 2 fresh onions • 1 head butter lettuce • 1 bunch arugula • 2 slicing cucumbers

August: 1 piece Swiss, smoked Swiss, or hot pepper Swiss cheese • Choice of 1 dairy item • 5 oz. organic spring mix • 1 bunch parsley • 2 lbs. peaches • 2 red bell peppers • 2 lbs. tomatoes • 2 lbs. eightball squash • 2 lbs. red potatoes • 2 slicing cucumbers • 1 sugar baby watermelon

September: 1 tub Shellbark Hollow Farm chevre spread • Choice of 1 dairy item • 2 lbs. Gingergold apples • 1 mini Musketeer melon • 1 bunch mustard greens • 1 head organic green leaf lettuce • 2 lbs. Yukon potatoes • 1 lb. organic pattypan squash • 2 lbs. tomatoes • 2 Sicilian eggplant

November: 1 cheese of your choice • Choice of 1 dairy item • 1 bottle Harvest from the Hood Ale • 1 jar Honey from the Hood • 2 lbs. apples • 1 lb. cranberries • 1 head lettuce/bok choy • 1 lb. rutabagas, kohlrabi, or turnips • 1 bunch carrots or beets • 2 lb. white potatoes or red sweet potatoes
posted by sepviva at 9:35 AM on July 28, 2012

I'm in Pittsburgh, and I think our shares work out to something like $22.50 per week. Last week's box contained a pound and a half of apples (first of the year), a similar quantity of redskin potatoes, a pint of blueberries, three medium-sized zucchini, a large onion, a large bunch of swiss chard, a green bell pepper and two small-medium tomatoes. So I think we're getting a much better deal than you are.

FWIW, we participate because it's better-quality produce than we can get in the store, not because we expect it to be cheaper (though it often is cheaper than stores' organic offerings).
posted by jon1270 at 9:36 AM on July 28, 2012

Our share is a bit over $30 per week. This week we got

2 heads of lettuce
1 bunch Swiss chard
1/3 pound beet greens
1/2 pound green beans
2 eggplants
2 bell peppers
2 pounds of squash
2 pound of carrots
10 ears of corn

Our farm also does u-pick each week which included 3 quarts of green or wax beans, 1 dozen flowers,, 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes and as many herbs as you need.

The drought has definitely affected the amount and variety that we are getting but as a family of three this more than covers our produce needs for the week and we usually still have something to store each week for winter. Last year, at a different farm, rain and flooding ruined many of their fields ruining their tomatoes and squash but we still got a respectable amount of food.
posted by a22lamia at 9:50 AM on July 28, 2012

We have a year-long CSA, for which we pay about $32/week. This is what their website lists for a July/August basket, and this reflects my experience, although being in Oregon, we haven't gotten to tomato season yet:
1 bunch of basil or other herbs
1 lb. of beans or ¾-1 lb. snow peas
8 carrots or 2 beets
6 ears of corn or 1½ lbs. of new potatoes
2 cucumbers
1 head of garlic
1-2 heads of lettuce
2 sweet peppers
2-3 onions
1½ lbs.of summer squash
3 lbs. of tomatoes
2 pints of cherry tomatoes

Some baskets are less full than others; late December/early January in particular is less than exciting (think, potatoes, onions, greens).
posted by linettasky at 10:09 AM on July 28, 2012

$60 sounds really expensive! I'm in New England, this is what I got last week. It's $20 a week and one of the programs that compiles from different farms.

1 lb peaches
1 big bunch chard
1 head garlic
2 large cucumbers
3 ears corn
2 lbs squash
1.5 lb carrots
1 lbs potatoes
1/2 lb green beans
3 onions (with greens)
1 lb peaches
posted by beyond_pink at 10:18 AM on July 28, 2012

Ours is similar in pricing to what other people are describing, and seems like a better value than what you're getting. I will say, however, that in previous years we've done the math in August as the heirloom tomatoes come in, and found that those boxes were probably worth double what we were paying for them. That certainly seemed to make up for some of the spring boxes that seemed a bit meager. Honestly, we mostly can't get the heirloom varieties that the CSA delivers even if we were willing to spend tons of money at the grocery store or even the coop, because a lot of heirloom varieties don't ship or store as well as the standard varieties. But man I love getting carrots that really taste like carrots, and a huge rainbow variety of tomatoes, and super-sweet red peppers. If your CSA is just growing the same boring varieties that you'd get at the grocery store, it's maybe not worth the markup.

Another thing, our CSAs have always had a weekly newsletter or blog to update us on how the farm is doing. Some years it's been obvious why the boxes were less full (drought, hail, broken equipment), and we felt proud to be helping these farmers survive an awful year, even though we got less produce. But if the reports had been generally good (decent rainfall, no major storms or equipment problems, etc.) and the boxes were that small, I would start to wonder.
posted by vytae at 10:25 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fairly new to the game=fairly new to farming and running a CSA?

I run a mostly organic (though not all certified) CSA where I largely act as the middle person and order from local farmers. Each week I have a budget based on the number of shareholders and with that budget I order enough so every share has 12 items. Shares are $30/week. It sounds like you have the more traditional setup where you bought into a farm's crops.

I mean the thing is, farming is a high labor/low profit margin sort of endeavor. And at $60 these people are probably able to pay fair wages to their workers. And maybe they thought they would grow more than they did.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:44 AM on July 28, 2012

This may also depend on where you are located. My wife and I are part of a CSA in Dallas, TX (single farm), and while we had a wonderful bounty (and more kale than I could eat) until a few weeks ago, we've been on a summer hiatus for a few weeks. No big deal, but we do usually have a pause in service during the summer, so you may just be getting a minimal share because of the heat. Depends on your weather/location, though.

Can't wait for the okra next week, though.
posted by SNWidget at 10:49 AM on July 28, 2012

That seems small compared to mine, too. But keep in mind that we have had a drought this year and yields are not nearly what they were last year.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 11:29 AM on July 28, 2012

I'm in a Brooklyn CSA, and it's $17.50 per week. This week's share: 1-1/4 lb summer squash, 1-1/4 lb cucumbers, 1 head Romaine lettuce, 1 bunch beets, 1 bunch onions, 1 bunch round carrots or radishes. Here's a list for all of last year's haul. It sounds like we are getting a similar sized share, but yours sounds pretty expensive.
posted by hooray at 11:37 AM on July 28, 2012

What does the C in CSA mean to you? In the CSAs I belong to, I have a share of the yield, however nature provides that season.

It sounds to me like most here are shopping/consuming/measuring...getting the least for the most, which is not the point of the CSAs I belong to. If that's what you want, go to the supermarket and buy some commodities. With the money saved buy another i-gizmo.

I chose to spend more time and money--much more--on real food because there doesn't seem to be i-health yet, though I'm sure its coming.

Our salmon CSA was a few guys who couldn't keep their boats in the water competing against industrial-tanker fishers. So we all buy a share, hoping to get some real fish and hoping to keep them going. Some of us go down and help them with their boats at the start of the season; some even fish with them.

Whatever that C means to you.
posted by larry_darrell at 11:50 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

We paid $500 for 22 weeks, which works out to about 22 dollars a share. This is a weekly half-share, with an optional berry and fruit add-on. This week, we got:

-3 onions
-4 potatoes
-1/2 pound chard
-1 squash
-1 head of lettuce
-3 carrots
-a small handful of tomatoes
-3 green peppers
-2 pounds peaches
-2 pounds plums
-2 pints amaaaazing blackberries
-2 pints red currants

The price seems about equitable to local supermarkets to me, but the quality is higher and the variety weirder. Though I've gotten really good at roasting kale chips.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:58 AM on July 28, 2012

Oh, we also got fresh flowers we pick ourselves, a few pints of U-pick beans (which we didn't bother with, because it was hot), and unlimited U-pick herbs.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:59 AM on July 28, 2012

One of the CSAs available in my area costs $900 year, which you can pay in 3 installments. You pick up the produce 30 times a year (no deliveries in August or September). For 1 share, in the summer you'd get something like this:
4-6 squash (yellow and zucchini)
1 lb green beans
1-2 lbs potatoes
some okra
2-4 cucumbers
3 lbs tomatoes
1 melon
1 lb peppers
1-2 lbs onions or carrots

However, you're basically fronting the cost of seed and such, so if it's a bad crop, well, you share in that too by getting less.

They work with other farms and ranches, so if you pay more you can get other things too -- anything from beef, to cheese, to honey, to soap made with goat milk.
posted by Houstonian at 12:49 PM on July 28, 2012

From reading around this issue quite a bit, I think the learning curve for beginning farmers, and for the separate thing of running a CSA, is steep. Sounds like you are subsidizing someone's learning years. We do desperately need new farmers, and there are a lot of barriers to entry that a CSA can help with. Which is great in a way, but I sympathize that it's not so satisfying at the dinner table.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:06 PM on July 28, 2012

It sounds to me like most here are shopping/consuming/measuring...getting the least for the most, which is not the point of the CSAs I belong to. If that's what you want, go to the supermarket and buy some commodities. With the money saved buy another i-gizmo.

That's a pretty uncharitable reading of the comments in this thread -- the seasonal/weather-related fluctuations in yield and the much greater value of high-quality produce have been cited over and over. It's not sacrilegious to have a general sense of how a CSA haul compares to conventional produce, it's persuasive in favor of CSAs. And it's not treason to prefer supporting a farm that's better at what it does.

Our local CSAs on average charge what works out to about $32 per week for a full share. If offered, half-shares usually cost about $17 per week -- some deliver half the amount of food every week, some deliver a full-share's-worth every other week. Many partner with dairies and orchards, some include cheese/yogurt and orchard fruits in each share, some offer them as add-ons. This article is representative of the range of options/arrangements here in Philly. You'll see from the sample share descriptions that it's pretty consistent with what most of the commenters are reporting.

Is your acquaintance's CSA similarly atypical for your area? If you want to support their learning curve/startup, you can always make a donation or volunteer for them while subscribing to a different CSA for your produce.
posted by desuetude at 1:39 PM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I live on a small farm right now. By "a small farm," I mean a farm that can handle no more than a dozen CSA subscribers. The boxes are $15, $20, and $25 per week for a small, medium, and large quantity.

The farmer I live with tells me that the #1 reason people drop their CSA subscription is having more vegetables than they know what to do with. This is how my farmer deals with that problem: 1. When they come to pick up their box, there is a variety of food sitting out in colanders (everything was harvested that morning: all the cucumbers, squash, cherry tomatoes, scallions, etc.). The customers are told to take whatever they reasonably think they can eat in a week. 2. Giving them less produce.

So it's partly about giving the customer no more than most people are willing to deal with. Most people don't want to spend the summer canning, drying, and pickling for the winter. But it's not just that.

Sometimes the produce just doesn't do what it's supposed to do. Tomatoes do really well around here. The second tomatoes hit the market, half the customers started asking about tomatoes.* Our tomatoes were still about a month away. And they kept seeming like they'd get ripe and they kept not getting ripe. Now we finally have more tomatoes than we know what to do with. Finally! But the first couple weeks of tomatoes, we were giving out pint baskets of cherry tomatoes that were only a measly quarter full. Or there's the peppers. There are a ton of pepper plants that for some reason just aren't peppering. Or the brassicas. This is an organic farm. The harlequin bugs pretty much covered all the brassica plants and amaranths, so they got pulled and moved to far far away. This means those plants pretty much didn't turn up in the CSA this year. Oh, the infinite harlequin bugs. And it's way too hot for lettuce this time of year. But in the winter, oh how people are tired of the lettuces.

There are a lot of factors that go into what turns up in your CSA, as many other folks have also described. I've had CSAs that gave me thoroughly dirty produce; the farm where I live now provides the cleanest produce ever! All these factors vary from farm to farm, even in the same region. You can ask farms if you can look at their old newsletters, and you can find out which CSA your friends prefer. You can talk to your candidate CSA farms and ask them what their produce is like. Also, some CSAs will be more interested in accommodating your individual preferences than others.

One more bit of advice: I would suggest volunteering at the CSA farm you end up choosing once a season to get a feel for what's going on with your particular food and farm. Also, your farmer might love both the help and the company.

*(In fact, we had a couple people drop their subscription and request that they get their remaining credit in tomatoes at the height of tomato season. NOTE: This is 100% counter to the point of a CSA. The point of the CSA is that my farmer can RELY on the subscribers to continue buying these vegetables so that when it's time to harvest and the vegetables are all only going to last for X amount of time, there are customers at the ready to eat them all; that she can rely on them to continue supporting the farm during the boring roots-and-greens season. Oh man the infinite squashes and squash fathers (male squash blossoms). Some people have time, some people have money. Farmers have neither time nor money. But the farms that run CSAs usually have fresh produce, a healthier ecosystem, and a good sense of community! And my farmer is totally willing to plant pretty much any food that people request. We have a whole row of lemon cucumbers just because they're somebody's favorite vegetable. In theory your reward for sticking it out is saving the world, and infinite tomatoes during the height of tomato season! And pumpkins!)
posted by aniola at 1:40 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like most here are shopping/consuming/measuring...getting the least for the most, which is not the point of the CSAs I belong to. If that's what you want, go to the supermarket and buy some commodities. With the money saved buy another i-gizmo.

The question wasn't "why did you join a CSA?" - it was "how does the yield I'm getting for this price compare to the yield you get for this price?" and most of the answers in this thread address that question. I'd imagine most of the people who belong to CSA programs belong for the same reasons you do.
posted by judith at 2:12 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

That sounds pretty light, but depending on where you live, there have been severe droughts and heat that are affecting crop production, and part of what you buy into when you do a CSA share is the risk of keeping the farmer in business - even when yields are bad.

Have you asked the farmer about whether this is standard?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:19 PM on July 28, 2012

You know, another way to figure out how your CSA compares with others in your area (which we don't know) is to look on the Facebook pages for your local CSAs. For example, here's one in the Houston area (the farm is in Brenham, but they provide to Houston). People post photos of their share frequently, so you get an idea of quantity and quality.
posted by Houstonian at 2:20 PM on July 28, 2012

I pay about 18 per week for a "small share", which this week was

Small Box: Beets, Lettuce, Onion, Summer Squash, Collard Greens, Heirloom Tomato, Cabbage, White Bell Pepper**, Basil, Hot Peppers.
posted by kestrel251 at 2:47 PM on July 28, 2012

I pay $10/week in NorCal for a medium sized box worth of produce. But that is an unusually good deal. Past CSAs I've used (in the midwest) have been up to $30 for the same quantity of food. But it always adds up to a better deal than buying at the grocery store or farmer's market.

This week was:
- squash
- basil
- fresh onions
- sorrel
- cucumbers
- garlic
- lettuce
- tomatillos
- chard
posted by zug at 3:06 PM on July 28, 2012

My CSA is $500 forr 22 weeks, so $22.75 per week.

Here is what we got this week:

2 cucumbers
5 medium tomatoes and 20 cherry tomatoes
5 beets
1 zucchini
4 onions
4 garlic cloves
1 large leek
1 bunch of bok choy
2 medium green peppers
6 carrots
1 bunch of lettuce

This was the 8th week of the 22, we are very happy with what we are getting for the $.
posted by hworth at 3:43 PM on July 28, 2012

This is a very YMMV thing, but mine is struggling this year because of stupid high temperatures and not nearly enough rain. I'm probably getting about... I dunno, 12 pounds in a $30/every-other-week half share? But this year, some of it is running towards inedible. It's just a part of the risk. But $60 does sound really high for that, even if it's a bad year. And overripeness, for example, isn't something that should be happening. It's one thing if the lettuce is bitter because the weather has been incredibly inhospitable... it's another thing to be giving you stuff that wasn't actually picked on time. But I'm not sure there's much one can do except not go back the next year.
posted by gracedissolved at 5:14 PM on July 28, 2012

It might help to know where you are located?

I belong to a Brooklyn CSA that averages out to about $30/ week for a full share (running 22 weeks). This is my second year participating and I noticed that we tend to get a lot more in our pick-ups as the season progresses (and a ton of lettuce early on - SO MUCH LETTUCE)

Last week this was the share we received:
1 Bunch Scallions (large bunch)
1 Bunch Italian Parsley (standard size you would get in a grocery store)
1 bunch U Choy (small bunch, but a vegetable that was new to me, so I was happy)
1 bunch Green Romaine (large and crisp)
1 Bunch Green Boston (large and very crisp)
2 lb. Norland Red Potatoes
1 head Green Oak Lettuce (large and crisp)
1 lb Field Cucumbers
1 lb Zucchini Squash
posted by Julnyes at 12:56 PM on July 30, 2012

« Older Investigating the mystery aisles: what do I want?...   |   Really great girl has an STI Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.