Since we started the move to organic and local eating, one comment I get over and over is, “I’d love to do that but it’s just too expensive!” Having tracked our grocery costs over the past year, I can say that we spend a little more than we used to but I am not convinced that organic is always more expensive than conventional in every category all the time.
I’ve already done the math and found that buying organic grass-fed beef in bulk is comparable in price to conventional beef purchased by the package at the grocery store. Buying half a cow takes time, planning, and a big freezer. It was a significant one-time expense and not everyone is going to be able to pay for meat today they won’t see in the freezer until twelve months later.
Fresh produce is another story. We know it’s possible to keep the cost of organic down if you buy in season and close to home but how far down can you get it? I decided to track how much we get inside our weekly CSA box and compare that to the price of both organic and conventional produce from the grocery store to see if a CSA is truly an affordable option.
This is what we got in our (very heavy!) box this week:
I took everything out of the box and weighed each kind of vegetable we got. For the herbs, I separated them into bunches of about the same amount you’d get in one of those plastic boxes of fresh herbs at the grocery store and counted how many bunches we’d received.
Items by weight or number of bunches:
Then I did some research on grocery prices, pulling the organic prices from ad circulars and online organic retailers and the conventional prices from USDA data for 2008 which was the most recent I could find. I know that grocery prices have gone up a lot in the past two years so my estimates on cost are conservative. And by shopping sales, a person maybe could get better prices on certain items but what I came up with is an average cost nationwide and I think it will do just fine.
First, the cost for the same organic produce bought individually at the grocery store:
And the cost for the same conventional produce at the grocery store:
The difference is astounding. It is extremely expensive to switch to 100% organic from the grocery store, no doubt about it. But what about the cost for our CSA box? Get ready, folks. That CSA box of 100% organic produce and herbs cost us $25. The total subscription cost was $400 for the growing season which should last about 16 weeks. This is our fourth box and all of them have been this full and heavy. The first couple of boxes were heavy on greens – chard, bok choy, spinach, lettuce, red Russian kale, and herbs – but all the boxes contained far more than $25 worth of grocery store-priced organic produce. And although $400 is quite chunk all at once, it is something you can plan for each spring. We have received so much produce (did you SEE that pile of zucchini??) that we’re learning how to preserve all this so we can eat at least some of it through the fall and winter.
If you’re interested in a CSA subscription, the easiest way to find one is through Local Harvest.