Is organic really more expensive all the time?

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.

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5 thoughts on “Is organic really more expensive all the time?

  1. Virginia! I love when someone else does the research for me. 🙂 That is very interesting. I am definitely looking into your link and checking into a CSA box. We normally go down to the Farmer’s Market, but I’d be interested in trying something different! Thanks.

  2. I can’t wait to get moved and settled and started with a CSA, because the switch has been killing us. The price from farmers markets and CSA’s is so much better.

    My only issue is going to be preservation/storage, because I don’t see how we could eat that much produce in a week. Do you run into that problem? Maybe it just looks like more than I could put on the table in a week.

  3. It is more than we can eat in a week. I probably should have gone with a bi-weekly box. Bi-weekly is often an option with a CSA. You pick up every other week and it’s nice for smaller families. I have such a huge freezer so we’ve got room to preserve what we don’t eat. The onions we got this week? We’ll never eat them before Saturday. We have another 15 lbs of onions already from the previous boxes that I’m looking at how to preserve. I think we’re going to dice and freeze and vacuum pack. If I can preserve what we’re not eating, my produce bill through the winter will go down from last year’s. I’m trying hard not to waste anything.

  4. Pingback: Is organic really more expensive all the time? (via Dryer Lint) | Kunstkitchen's Blog

  5. Very cool! Thanks for this information. I see that we are writing about similar items. I like your design layout too. i did CSA a few years ago with friends. We often split what we buy at the Farmer’s Market. It make it affordable and easier.

    Cheers!
    CKatt

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