While planning out the produce shares, I thought about a lot of stuff. I looked at CSAs in the area to make sure we could keep up with their offerings. I thought about what I didn’t like about my previous Farm Share experience and how I could make ours different. I thought about shiitake mushrooms sauteed in bacon grease. Mmmmm. I especially thought about how to build community and providing a service to like minded folk. What I didn’t do is compare actual prices in the grocery store to what an actual share would look like. The penny pincher in me knows its a good deal, but I decided that its time for proof.
Now, I like to think that everyone would choose the local, seasonal, sustainable option if there was one right in front of them, even if it cost a little more. Me = idealist. But the truth is, for many of us price comes first. So this week I did a little market research. Before I share what I found out, I want to share with you what else is being saved by your participation. There is a lot to consider, really. I just can’t bear to leave it out!
1. Miles. How far does your dinner travel. 1500 miles on average in the US! That’s really far. Then there is the issue of your dollars traveling back to that part of the world instead of to your neighbor. How many dollars are spent in between? Think of the government spending to pave the roads from the west to east coast that much more often because holy moly that’s a lot of trucks going back and forth! Hustontown, PA is 117 miles from Baltimore. Lets be generous and say that some of the food traveled 50 miles to get to the distribution site. Then you drove 5 miles round trip to come to your produce pickup. That’s still under 200 miles (which is a common standard for local) that your food traveled from farm to table. (The tangerines we get from FL are an exception, but still, it comes in well under 1500 miles).
2. Trash. Plastic much? Think about a food producer buying plastic, wrapping their food in it, packing it in boxes, putting the boxes on pallets, packing the pallets into shipping crates, which are then unloaded into huge buildings to be put onto the shelf, to then be put into plastic bags (if it isn’t already) to prevent it from touching other items, to then be put into another plastic bag with the other groceries, to finally be taken home. That’s a lot of packaging. At the farm, my prediction is that food is gathered, put in boxes, then put on a truck. Here at the homestead we will put the delicate items into paper compostable bags, but most everything else gets put directly into a basket for pickup. Yup. All together. Those boxes get reused or sent back to the farm. Hopefully you’ll bring a bag or laundry basket, or whatever reusable vessel you choose to bring your food home in and it goes straight to the fridge or the fruit basket on the counter. Talk about simple.
3. Friends. Social interactions are important to our health. Its true, look it up. Sure, you can be familiar with your favorite checkout clerk at the grocery store. But do they send you personal updates when it snows to let you know your food will still be waiting for you? Mine doesn’t. Do you they save you a dozen of your favorite eggs because they know how much you like the orange yolks? Um, no. Do your kids play together when you come to the store to shop? Yeah, right. Make relationships a priority! Interdependence builds community. Which, for me, builds happy 🙂
4. Worry. When you know where your food comes from you don’t need to think about it anymore. “Shall I buy the organic or conventional apples this week? The price difference is huge.” “Where is the organic kale? Its on the dirty dozen!” “What is this wax stuff on my cucumber?” I am not suggesting that this should be a huge stress in your life. I suggest that we feel lucky that such abundance is available in our area consistently. Many a family doesn’t have adequate access to real live food. But picking up your weekly share does take the thinking out of the equation when you are faced with these choices every time you shop. Its all local, all seasonal, all organic, all the time. And it always costs the same. No worries!
5. Variety. It is estimated that 97% of the variety in our food system has been lost in the transition to mass production. Heirloom varieties help keep life interesting and the planet healthy through biodiversity. Save the yellow tomatoes! The purple carrots! Orange cauliflower! These items won’t be in your share EVERY week, but it is nice to give them a go once in a while. We don’t even know what we are missing! Even when the plants don’t look that different, there is a chance buying them is furthering the lineage of a not-quite-so-common seed.
6. Farms. If no one buys their food, farms disappear. It happens every day. What you are paying for when you buy locally, is what it actually costs to grow food. On a real farm. When you buy ‘conventional’ produce from the grocery store, you are paying for food grown in ways that produce the biggest most beautiful food the least amount of money/resources in the shortest amount of time. There is value in that system, for sure. It makes for a pretty grocery store which shelves always fully stocked, no matter the season. But it doesn’t ensure healthy soil long term, allow for participation in the seasonal cycle that matches our bodies’ needs, or maximize nutrient density. Crop rotation and the natural ecosystem of farmland is required for the healthiest food to be produced.
Phew! Stepping off soap box. Now for the numbers.
I frequent two grocery stores. Wegmans and My Organic Market. I go to them because I think they have the best selection and lowest prices for organic produce. Wegmans is a one stop shop. It has everything from the fanciest chocolate covered figs to the bulk pack of toilet paper. MOMs has the biggest selection of specialty health food, and much of their produce is locally grown, so it represents more closely what you might get in your produce share.
I took the example share from the flyer and checked out the prices of those items at both stores. I calculated that this full share would equal approx 20lbs of veggies (This is just an example and will change weekly). Which works out to 2.8 lbs a day. With some weight lost in cooking, each person in a 4 person family would average 1/2 lb of fruit/veggies a day. Not too shabby.
Here was what my Wegmans trip looked like. I took the base prices and adjusted for the amount you can expect to find in a share.
Broccoli $3.49 for two small heads (x 3) $10.47
Cabbage $1.49/lb (3lbs) $4.47
Carrots $1.99/lb (2lbs) $3.98
Mushrooms $3.29/3.5oz (8oz) $7.52
Winter Squash $1.69/lb (3.3lbs) $5.58
Potatoes $4.99/3lbs (4lbs) $6.65
Onions $3.99/3lbs (3.33 lbs) $4.43
Kale $2.99 for one small bunch (x 1.5) $4.49
I added up the adjusted amounts and got $49.58.
So then I visited MOMs. Read more about them!
Here is what a share would cost if bought there.
Broccoli $2.99 2 small heads (x3) $8.97
Cabbage $1.49/lb (3lbs) $4.47 local
Carrots $1.99/lb (2lbs) $3.98
Mushrooms $9.99/lb (1/2 lb) $4.99 local (Amazing price!!)
Winter Squash $1.69/lb (3.3 lbs) $5.63 local
Potatoes 1.69/lb (4 lbs) $6.76
Onions $1.69/lb (3.3 lbs) $5.63
Kale $2.99 (1 bunch) $2.99
Total spent would be $45.41
I really prefer my shopping experience here. There are some local options, but in this case, only 3 out of 10 items. On each hand written tag the country of origin is indicated. (Most simply say ‘USA’. The garlic was from Spain this week.) I do believe it is the cheapest of the health food stores I have access to (although it might have been more comparable if not for the cheap mushrooms) and I love knowing where the food is from so I can include that in my choice. There is a lot to love about their passion for sustainability and commitment to service. (No, I am not on their payroll.)
Disclaimer: Its possible that another combination of veggies would have had a different result. I also want to mention that this is just a snapshot of one day. Prices change with produce availability. I might do this again in the summer to see if there is a difference in prices depending on the season.
In conclusion, joining Summer Sky Homestead Organic Produce Shares would save you an estimated:
Wegmans: $9.58 per week. $105.38 per session. $421.52 per year.
MOMS: $5.41 per week. $59.51 per session. $238.04 per year.
And have I mentioned the other benefits? It feels great to use your food to make a difference. It feels even better if it saves a dollar or two!
Local. Seasonal. Sustainable.