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CSA: Week 7

31 Jul

Lately I’ve been neglecting this blog, as staying cool in the midst of a terrible heat wave has superseded discussing food in our family’s need hierarchy. When hiding out in one air conditioned room, dashing out to the kitchen to throw a few barbecued chicken breasts under the broiler to cook unattended is about as interesting as eating gets. We even skipped the farmers market last week!

This week, however, was our CSA pickup. As you may remember, our last disbursement was chockfull of a wide variety of delicious produce. Due to our small, sporadic meals over the last ten days, that box did last for a bit longer than the others. Our pickups are on Thursday, and by Tuesday of the week prior we were craving something farm fresh, so I don’t know that this box will survive quite as long.

In our latest disbursement, we received:

  • one small, perfectly ripe cantaloupe
  • one pint of blueberries
  • one pint of sweet orange cherry tomatoes
  • three cucumbers
  • three yellow summer squash
  • two huge sweet onions
  • one pound of green beans
  • three green bell peppers
Today I plan on turning some of those luscious cherry tomatoes and cucumbers into a lemon-basil vinaigrette drenched salad to accompany some fabulous lamb meatballs.
Every week that we pick up our disbursement is one of long discussion about the benefits of maintaining the variety of the farmers market versus paying double the CSA membership to receive weekly crates from the farm. One of my coworkers is a member of the same CSA farm we’ve been using, also with a half share but picking up on opposite weeks. She and I frequently compare, and occasionally swap, the items we receive. It does seem that opposite weeks receive slightly different disbursements — for example, she has twice received fresh bundles of beets, but has yet to get any squash; while we have had squash twice now without ever receiving beets. With a full share, and some effort thrown into freezing and bagging the vegetables that can survive until winter (such as green beans and snap peas) and some research into the storing of root vegetables (like the beets and onions), the stockpile born of a full summer’s share may offset the cost. Factor in the flexibility of the farmers market prices as summer draws to an end and the price of baskets of vegetables fall, and that may in the end be the cheapest option. Next year maybe we shall see.

CSA vs. Farmers Market: Weeks 4 and 5

14 Jul

An interesting factor in the cost comparison between the CSA and farmers markets became apparent this week: the variability of supply and demand, and its effect on prices of items.

Just as the grocery store can adjust the costs of fruits and vegetables based on seasonality, crop availability, and transport milage; so can the farmer at the farmers market. For someone who shops with solely cost in mind and little interest in variety, this can be a good way to obtain a large volume of one or two types of vegetable fairly inexpensively. However, for someone who doesn’t relish the idea of eating the same item for a week’s duration (or someone who lacks an extra freezer to take advantage and stock up for winter!), it can push the farmer’s market into pricey territory.

For example, our farmers market is currently bursting at the seams with zucchini. It’s a good time of year for zucchini, when they ripen in droves. Nearly every stall has them 2 or 3 for $1. If I were willing to eat zucchini every day for a week, and forget the slightly-too-early-in-the-season tomatoes priced at 2 for $3 or the end-of-crop sweet cherries at $4 a pint;  I theoretically could purchase seven days worth of fresh produce for around $2. But who wants to eat that much zucchini? (Steven already has had enough from the first time around!)

This is where I see the farmers market losing ground to the CSA. With the CSA, we have purchased a share in the farm’s yield; so as the farm’s yield grows mid-season, ours follows suit. The particular CSA that we belong to promises at least eight items per week; their website states that at times of low production they “supplement” with fresh eggs, homemade jams and local honey to reach that eight item per crate mark. Likewise, when the farm is producing well, each crate is apt to have above and beyond that number. The one thing that does not fluctuate is our price, which is locked in at $23.63 per delivery. Some weeks it may be stretching it to say that the CSA is a deal, but other weeks (like this week) it feels almost like stealing.

In this week’s disbursement we received:

  • 1 pint of red raspberries
  • 4 huge perfectly ripe peaches
  • 2 sweet onions with greens attached
  • 2 bunches of green onions (5 onions per bunch)
  • 2 stalks of green garlic
  • 1 pound of green beans
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1 pound of radishes with tops
  • 1 pound of fresh basil
Adding up estimated grocery store value, the gain far outweighs the price paid. It definitely is a much more interesting and varied haul than that of our take at the farmers market last week (3 zucchini, 3 cucumbers, 2 tomatoes and a pint of cherries costing a total of $9). Though with a Southern boy in the house, those four peaches aren’t going to be around very long.
Now I need to start researching uses for basil that extend beyond pesto and Caprese salad. Does anyone have a good basil recipe to share?

CSA: Week 3

2 Jul

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Thursday was our second CSA pick-up day. As I posted previously, in our quest to find the cheapest way to eat well, we are experimenting with the cost effectiveness of a CSA plan versus attending the Farmers Market weekly. Our first box from the CSA lasted us one week to the day, with every last bite of produce being used for a cost of $23.63 that week. In comparison, the trip to the market cost $11 even, and also lasted one week (though it provided a lot less variety). Thus begins the second round.

This week’s CSA box includes:

  • one pint of blueberries
  • one pint of blackberries
  • three tomatoes
  • a quart of pickling cucumbers (8 cucumbers total)
  • five small to medium sized summer squash
  • a pound of snap peas
  • a giant head of red leaf lettuce and
  • two stalks of green garlic with greens attached

The green garlic is new to us, so it will take a bit of research to figure out the best way to exploit it’s farm fresh goodness.

The gluttony for fresh produce that this household is demonstrating speaks volumes about the eating preferences of it’s members. A deli container of fresh salsa has survived nearly five days (unheard of!), and a bag of Trader Joes’ cheese doodles sits in the cupboard unopened. Instead of reaching for our usual quick bites, we’ve been snacking on fruits and veggies. Which leads to the question: if the variety that the CSA and market are providing us were available all the time, would we buy less snacks — thereby saving money at the grocery store even as we spend more at the farms? It’s an interesting idea, and one I think I’ll begin exploring since the freezer contents will be depleted mid-July, making us due for a big grocery store trip.

But back to the CSA: it is now Saturday morning, and already we have eaten our way through all of the blackberries, 2/3 of the blueberries, four pickling cucumbers, one tomato, several leaves of lettuce, one summer squash, and the light green tops of one of the garlic bulbs (delicious raw as part of a crudite platter garnished with sea salt). I expect this week’s crate to stretch a little longer than the previous one, since the holiday weekend will have us eating away from home two days this week.  We shall see.

Farmers Market vs CSA: Weeks 1 and 2

24 Jun

We stopped by the Bloomfield Farmer’s Market last evening (in the middle of a wicked summer storm) and scored these babies, three for $1:

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Highlighter added for size perspective

Fairly large zucchini for the middle of June. I sliced one up tonight and sauted it in a tablespoon of butter for a veggie side with a plate of whole wheat spaghetti and semi-homemade tomato sauce; even after each of us ate a large portion there still are enough leftovers for tomorrow. That leaves two monsters hanging out in the crisper for meals next week.

I love farmers’ markets. Not only do they allow consumers to meet the people who grow their veggies and ask them questions, but they usually prove to be much more economical than the grocery store. And there’s something about the hustle and bustle of crowds with cloth grocery sacks weaving among the piles of unwaxed produce  in the open air that makes an afternoon truly feel like summer.

Last year we hit the market on a weekly basis, spending $20-25 each trip.  Because of the timing of the market, we tended to go prior to eating dinner, which meant we were shopping hungry (huge no-no in some schools of shopping thought). Often it did lead to impulse purchases based on misconceptions: “Sure, two dozen pierogies at $6/dozen is a good buy”, “Of course we can eat two gigantic heads of lettuce and three pounds of plums before they go bad”, “A bushel of peppers doesn’t look like that much. And it’s only $5!”. Sometimes we wound up throwing food out either because we couldn’t eat it fast enough, or we were tired of the lack of variety provided by buying too much of one item. Either way, the end result was that there wasn’t a whole lot of savings in our monthly food budget of approximately $250 a month.

This year we are trying a combination approach to see what works best. As always dry goods, snack foods, dairy and meats are being purchased at one or more of the chain grocers (it isn’t uncommon for me to visit two different stores on grocery day). Veggies and fruits, however, are being obtained through one of two ways: the farmer’s market and a farm share.

Farm shares, also known as CSAs (or Community Supported Agriculture) allow the consumer to purchase a percentage of a farm’s yield for that year’s growing season. Generally payment is either by installment or in-full sometime in late winter/early spring, but either way most require complete payment prior to the first disbursement. The farm we chose offers both a full share (every week pickup) and half share (every other week) option. For now we’re doing the half-share, since we worried the full share may prove to be too much for a household of two people. We can always supplement from the farmers’ market, which is less offensive than throwing away spoiled food.

We’re lucky enough to live in an area saturated with CSAs, most of which participate in some form of city dropoff program. After a lot of comparisons of plans and informal polling of friends who have tried a CSA, we settled on a half share priced at $260 for 11 weeks of deliveries, running from early June to the first week in November. This averages out to a cost of $23.63 per disbursement, or $11.82 per week if the produce is enough to feed us for two weeks. We picked up our first crate on June 16, which you can read more about here (in the future, I’ll either be cross-posting or exclusively posting here for CSA-related entries). The produce lasted exactly one week to the day, except for a lone apple lingering around the fruit bowl, which is about what I had expected for this early in the growing season. Hopefully it picks up as the summer progresses.

Regardless, the CSA provided a variety of items that I’m not sure we could have gotten at the farmers’ market for the same price. And it inspired us to approach the market with a little more forethought than we have in summers past (also, we ate dinner before we went!). Our haul from the market amounted to the following for $11 even:

  • one pint of cherries
  • the aforementioned three monster zucchini
  • two heads of young broccoli
  • a quart-sized box of Anaheim peppers (7 peppers total),

all of which should last us for yet another week.  Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to do with the rest of those zucchini…