The Organic Adventurer has written much in other venues about buying locally, shopping for organic food and how buying organic compares to buying conventional. Back in May, when the CSA we subscribe to had so much remaining in the fields at the end of the Florida growing season that they offered a mini-season share, we set out to see if our dread of impending off-season grocery shopping was justified. We wondered: How does buying local organic veggies compare with buying organic veggies in the stores? Which is more expensive? Is there as much or less variety? We did an item-for-item comparison with one week’s share, and here’s what we found:
Week four of the spring mini-season means a varied share for KYV members. The bounty includes a member’s-choice mix of zucchini and squash, cucumber, sweet corn, fennel, yellow heirloom tomatoes, large pink heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, green beans, acorn squash, arugula, yum-yum peppers, an optional mix of Padrón and Poblano peppers and an optional three pounds of potatoes. Whew, that’s a lot of local organic produce! But let’s see how that compares with what can be found in stores.
In the past few years, Publix (a major grocery chain in Florida) has expanded its Greenwise organic produce section and has made some effort to purchase locally when possible. Still, much of the organic produce there is available only as individually shrink-wrapped items from California or Mexico. All told, Publix has the lowest prices on two of the items considered for price comparison although, again, they aren’t necessarily from local producers.
Whole Foods has many of the organic items that were not available at Publix. The items at Whole Foods come from California, Canada, Florida and a mixed Mexico/Florida source. In short, of the 11 items in this week’s share (potatoes and Padrón/Poblano peppers are not included as they are optional), six can’t be found as organic choices in the stores. KYV clearly comes out on top as far as the variety of produce and carbon footprint in food miles. It also comes out on top for convenience, as one would have to visit two stores to get as close as possible to re-creating this week’s share at the lowest possible price.
The bottom line for many of us, however, is just that—price. Although we have to substitute red, non-heirloom tomatoes for KYV’s heirloom yellows and bell peppers for the yum-yums, KYV also comes out on top as far as cost. Those who purchased the six-week share pay $29 for this week’s produce; the three-week half share comes out to $31. The same organic items at Publix and Whole Foods cost $40.51, and that does not include corn, the large pink heirloom tomatoes, arugula or acorn squash, which aren’t available as organic selections at either store. If one chose to purchase the available non-organic items, the total would be $49.87. You’d still be out of luck with arugula, which isn’t available at all in either store.
Once again this week, KYV can’t be beat for quality local organic food!
Well, it’s the end of July now. Fortunately, the butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash from the last mini-season share have kept well, so we’re still eating those. We’ve still got a few items from the season in the freezer. Also, our CSA had an end-of-season potluck and potato picking, and we’re just now nearing the end of the potatoes we picked. (Honestly, if you’re lucky enough to have a CSA that does them, you can get crazy extra value out of your subscription with those you-pick bonuses.) Between all that and the farmers markets, we’ve managed to reduce our reliance on the grocery stores this summer, but we are more than ready for the CSA season to start up again!
By the way, the CSA we subscribe to (www.kyvfarm.com) is a single-farm operation, so all of the items in the share that we used for comparison were grown on the same farm, not bought from other (potentially non-local) farms and re-sold. If you’re thinking of joining a CSA in order to eat locally, be aware that some CSAs do buy some of their items from elsewhere to include in their shares. The CSA managers should be more than willing to tell you which items they are, where they come from and how they were grown though. Oh, and we may as well mention…KYV still has some subscriptions available!