Are CSAs Worth the Cost?

Posted by Mrs Money on July 25th, 2011

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A few months ago we purchased a Groupon for a service that works similar to a community supported agriculture program (CSA).  I was excited because for $15 we would receive a box worth $35 that contained mostly local and organic produce.  The first time it arrived, we were excited to get into it and see what we got.  Right off the bat we noticed that the organic strawberries were all moldy and inedible.  I told Mr. Money to email them a picture explaining what we got and see what they would do about it.  They said they would credit our account $5 toward our next purchase.  As you probably guessed, I hadn’t planned on purchasing another box due to the cost and the fact that they sent us rotten strawberries.

We decided we would give it another try, and in two weeks we were charged $30 for the box (they took the $5 credit off).  The box was much better this time, with no rotten produce.  However, I decided that for the price we could do much better if we purchased the items in the store.  One of the things Mr. Money liked (that I coincidentally didn’t) was that when you get the unique ingredients you’ve got to figure out what to make with them.  Me? If it’s not something I normally eat, I’m not as likely to get creative and dive in.  Bad, I know.

Of course, the next week we forgot to cancel it and received a $35 box of produce.  Fine.  I made sure that before the next time we received a delivery that I canceled our standing order.  The deliveries are made on Thursdays.

On Friday I came home and realized there was a box on the front porch.  I was livid. First of all, I had canceled the service.  Secondly, now I have spent $35 on a box of produce that may or may not be good because it’s sat outside in 100 degree heat.  I took the box inside and luckily everything looks fine.  That didn’t stop me from sending them a nice email telling them that we had canceled and still received a box.

Here’s what we received in our box for $35.

-14-16 oz of yellow crookneck squash
-1 cantaloupe melon
-1 lb. of strawberries
-6 oz of local blackberries
-24 oz of red potatoes
-1 broccoli
-3 yellow peaches
-1 cucumber
-1 green bell pepper
-1 bulbing fennel
-1 lb of roma tomatoes

I don’t think that’s a good value for $35.  I guess I would feel differently if this was an actual CSA from a local farm.  I’d feel much better about supporting them. I don’t like that we’re purchasing this from a corporate company that I don’t know how fairly they are paying the farmers for their produce.  I’m also disappointed about the quality of some of the produce we’ve received.

Do you think it’s a good value?

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12 Responses to “Are CSAs Worth the Cost?”


  1. Catherine says:

    I joined a CSA this year for the first time and I think it has been a great experience for me, but it is definitely not for everyone! The first few weeks I kept track of the produce I received and compared it to the market value for the week (based on sales, etc) and I pretty much broke even every time. And that was not taking into account that the CSA food is all organic and local! I think it is important to check out your CSA a head of time. I think it depends on your personality, too, if this will work for you. It’s important to…

    1) be adventurous when it comes to fruits and vegetables
    2) have a strong waste-not-want-not philosophy

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  2. Yeah, I’d ditch the program and go with purchasing only when you get the chance (and supplement with grocery store produce as well).

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  3. Heather says:

    We just started using Bountiful Baskets. For non-organic produce, it’s $15; for organic, it’s $25. You have to go pick it up, but you only get it if you order it. We have gotten the organic the only two times we’ve done it, and it’s great! We’ve tried some fantastic new recipes trying to use produce we wouldn’t otherwise have bought, and it’s all fairly local and organic.

    All of the produce we’ve received has been either beautifully ripe or not yet ripe — no issues with rotten food — but it’s a co op and they go buy whatever is fresh and abundant.

    There have been a couple of things that we just don’t like, so we gave them to family or friends. Sure, it reduces our ROI, but it makes family and friends happy ;) We also had too much lettuce last week, so we made a big salad (with more than just lettuce!) and took half of it to the next door neighbor who was thrilled to get a fresh salad.

    So the one we’re using is a great deal (you can’t go to the store and buy this stuff for $25, or even close). With the amount that we’ve given away, it’s still a good deal. And because we need to actively opt-in, we’re able to do it for two weeks, then finish using everything up this week, then opt in again next week :)

    I blogged about it last week, I think. You can click through to read. (I don’t like posting links in comments — it’s spammy.)

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  4. Emily says:

    This does sound a bit overpriced, even considering what Whole Foods charges. Sorry for your bad experience…I’ve heard worse RE CSAs.

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  5. Me says:

    We just started going in on a CSA box with some of my husband’s colleagues. I’m still not sure about the value, but since the three of them get a box together, they can pick what they each think their families will eat, which helps with the “what are we going to do with that” factor”.

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  6. We participated when we lived in Baltimore. I liked the concept but since we had to pick it up at a specific time. I thought it was a bit complicated. We are always inundated with lettuce which is not very sexy.

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  7. We’ve found that buying things you don’t need ends up with too much waste. Having too much produce is hard because we get confused as to how to cook it. Many of the CSAs produce is hard to cook with (like the fennel in yours). I prefer to go to a smaller rural farmers market and purchase what we know we will use. Also, it is easy to plant a few high yielding tomato plants and herbs like basil in some pots or a small garden. Tomatoes are the most expensive in the stores and are the easiest and most versatile to cook with and eat.

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  8. Christina says:

    We did a Co-op last year, and found we were wasting a ton for the exact reason you mentioned. My husband will try new things, but generally isn’t a fan, if you know what I mean. We gave it a year, and while I loved getting inexpensive organic produce, it ended up costing more than just buying in the grocery or even scouting out local farm stands (harder than one would think!)
    We then tried two of the produce deliveries through groupon, and I was also disappointed, for many of the reasons you mentioned.

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  9. Mel B says:

    I participated in a CSA last year and would do it again. The amount of produce I got varied week to week-some weeks the load was light and some weeks I was up to my eyeballs in fresh veggies! One downside was that there wasnt much variety. During squash season, for example, my share included 3-5pounds of it (or more). I was squashed out by the end of summer. Im a vegetarian and a whole share/box (for two) was usually just about right for me. And when the shares were abundant, I would freeze any extras and this fed me well into winter. This year, the farmers market is literally two blocks from my apartment so I dont really have a need for a CSA.

    I dont recommend using a groupon because it will likely subscribe you to a corporate CSA like Spuds. These “CSA’s” tend to have a loose interpretation of “local” and deal in higher volumes which means your produce isnt as fresh and is more likely to arrive damaged.

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  10. cavewoman says:

    If it is a good valuel depends on how much you think you will actually use it.

    I Loved my CSA and miss it now that I’m in a town that has none. Lots of good produce, was introduced to things that I normally wouldn’t have chosen before, and did support a local farm. For me, it was a good value.
    There is something poetic about eating what is in season. (:

    I can see how you may not be comfortable with yours. If the produce is not good quality…complain. If it isn’t completely organic…ask if they have plans to do so in the future. They should only be delivering food when you are there, so see if you can work out a better delivery, or pick up time so you won’t have food spoil. Also see if they will let you swap certain types of produce out.

    I think for the quantity and variety that you got…the $35 is a fairly good deal, considering it is mostly local and mostly organic.

    If you are getting a bunch of stuff that you don’t like ( For example…I am not a fan of mustard greens…but I love squash)—ask them to swap out one thing for another. I was able to get them to give me some more squash and take out the mustard greens—so less food waste. (However, I did make up several interesting mustard green dishes, and they made for good potluck dishes.)

    Alternatively, let you husband do some of the adventure cooking for a bit. You may have a new favorite hiding in those boxes. (: That happened with me. Now I am the biggest fan of Kale ( something I hadn’t ever eaten before).

    Also, my company let me buy a whole share ( which I split with a friend, who paid me her half), and then we divided up the foods that we wanted.
    Good deal on the whole.

    If there was ever “extra”, I froze some. Made the winter a better time, since I can’t grow anything then. I had the best soups that winter.

    Like most things, it’s how you use it that determines if it is a good deal.

    I wish for a CSA now that I am without. *sigh*

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  11. cavewoman says:

    PS: Check out recipes for fennel apple salad. So fresh and delicious.

    [Reply]


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