What are the real economics of being a CSA member?

As the main marketing contact person for the Siskiyou Coop CSA, people often ask me if they are getting their money’s worth from our CSA program.  Is shopping at the grocery store or buying directly from farmers at market more cost effective?

As a rural resident, I end up spending a lot of time in my car.  One of the ways I make driving hours a week more bearable is listening to podcasts downloaded onto my iPod (yes- some of us farmers are fairly tech-saavy!)  One of my current favorites is “Freakonomics”-a program that examines the hidden costs of many parts of our lives and culture. I have started pondering the hidden costs of being a CSA member, as well as some of the hidden, or less obvious benefits.

Here’s a snapshot of my thoughts:

There are lots of obvious benefits to joining a CSA- accessing high quality, fresh, seasonal organic produce; receiving a weekly recipe page to inspire home-cooking; supporting the local agricultural community and twelve local, family-owned businesses; and keeping your dollars local. But what are some of the unexpected economic consequences of joining a CSA?

Hidden costs: Let’s face it- as much as we all claim to love vegetables, most of us have at least one that we just can stand, or alternatively, are allergic to. I have a dear friend who has been a member of the coop for years, and she admits to throwing her radishes in the compost each spring. I am personally challenged by turnips, though I admit that the spring varieties are a bit more palatable. Members frequently request that I exclude a crop or an entire family of produce from their boxes, usually because of a dietary concern. I give them (you) the same line that we are unable to customize boxes due to our large membership.

Also, there are weeks when you might be traveling or too busy to cook, and you might end up giving produce to neighbors or throwing stuff out.

You might forget your box completely. Believe me, it happens every week.

Hidden benefits: In our first year of running the Coop CSA, a member confided that her CSA subscription actually saved her money. She went on to explain that she and her husband had the habit of going out to dinner when they felt too lazy to cook. With a fridge full of prepaid produce, however, she felt too guilty to go out and instead prepared healthy, cheaper meals at home.  Another less obvious benefit is your long-term health. You may not notice an immediate change in your healthy by joining a CSA, but the “prepaid produce guilt” as I like to call it, provides a great incentive to eat better.   In the long run, being a CSA member could save you money on health care.

If any of you have other thoughts on the hidden costs of benefits to being a CSA member, please share them with me. I need something to think about as I drive the long, windy roads of the Applegate valley.

Have a great week!


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2 Responses to “What are the real economics of being a CSA member?”

  1. June 22, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    I am a new member this year and so far the two boxes are just fabulous! I love fresh veggies and having not to drive to town is such a plus! I just purchased a new five way green pan that allows me to steam veggies in such a wonderful way. I love everything so far and really look forward to more unusual items such as arugula, more kale, just everything is delicious!

    I am grateful to sue maesen for turning me onto this coop! Maud, you do a wonderful job of keeping me informed and listening to my remarks. I know it is a daunting job to email everyone and I am most grateful for your efforts.

    I would make one suggestion; is there a local farmer that raises hens for free range eggs? I know of many ranches that have chicken coops on portable skids, I would really love it if we could arrange to buy fresh farm eggs. Just an FYI.

    Thank you to all the growers!

  2. Maud Powell
    June 22, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Thanks, Amber. I am glad you are enjoying the program so far. You point out another hidden economic benefit of being a CSA member- saving money on gas. This would apply to members living rurally.
    In terms of eggs, this is our first season not to offer eggs. Our last producers moved from the valley. The farmers at By George Farm in the Little Applegate valley are raising laying hens as we speak, and we hope to be able to offer our members eggs by August.
    Thanks for the suggestion!

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