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Getting Organic in a CSA

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Is it cheaper than shopping organic stores? What does it buy me? And, why do I care about organic? For me, step by step, I am replacing processed and treated foods to limit my allergic reactions to the preservatives. The summer and fall Sandy Spring CSA was a large contributor to that switch. For 33 weeks, between the summer and fall CSAs, I ate almost 100% organic vegetables and IPM or organic fruit. Sandy Spring, the largest CSA delivering to Howard County at the Conservancy and in West Columbia off Cedar Lane on Thursdays, is my source for organic veggies.

Continuing into a winter CSA helped, but the winter Zahradka Farm CSA is not certified organic. They are the only year round CSA in the area. They sell at Glenwood Market. A quote from their web site.

“Our farming practices are modeled after the Certified Organic guidelines for Md. as often as possible. If we are having problems with our crop we resort to IPM (Integrated Pest Management), and we are always open about what is going on with our farm to our customers.”

I also buy at our farmer’s markets in the county. Breezy Willow Farm is certified organic. It is the only one at the farmer’s market that is certified so far. They also offer a CSA for those who want a regular organic source of veggies, bread and eggs. I buy what I need from them weekly to supplement my CSA delivery, particularly their homemade breads and their eggs. If my Thursday delivery doesn’t include something I need, I turn to Breezy Willow as my first source. The picture below taken of Breezy Willow with South Mountain Creamery in the background from Glenwood, is courtesy of the Howard County Farmer’s Market Facebook page.

I created a tag, value of CSA, that will track what I get weekly in my organic CSA, and compare it to the cost of buying organic veggies at the local supermarket and/or coop. Since much of what I get is pretty mundane, places like Harris Teeter will include many of the veggies in my box, but Roots, David’s or The Common Market will be more likely sources for tatsoi, mizuna, sunchokes, garlic scapes, and the other more exotic veggies. I may use Breezy Willow’s pricing as well, since I go to the Glenwood market most weeks.

Last year’s summary tables tell me I got 124 different items over the course of the 25 weeks. That could be difficult to track, but I am trying. Here is a list of a typical delivery from our summer CSA last year, from September.

1 Head Green Leaf Lettuce – Certified Organic – Green Valley Organics
2 Large Eggplant – Certified Organic – Farmdale Organics or Windy Hollow Organics
1 Bunch Green Mustard – Certified Organic – Maple Lawn Organics
1 Bag Baby Mixed Sweet Peppers – Certified Organic – Organic Willow Acres
1 Bunch Cherry Belle Radishes – Certified Organic – Pine Hill Organics
2 Small Heads Red Butterhead Lettuce – Certified Organic – Riverview Organics
1 Bag Sweet Candy Onions – Certified Organic – Crystal Springs Organics
2 Delicata Squash – Certified Organic – Green Valley Organics
1 Bunch Tatsoi – Certified Organic – Hillside Organics
1 Bag Sweet Potatoes – Certified Organic – Pine Hill Organics
1 Bunch Curly Parsley – Certified Organic – Noble Herbs
1 Butternut Squash – Certified Organic – Soaring Eagle Acres
1 Package Portobello Mushroom Caps – Certified Organic – Mother Earth Organic Mushrooms

This CSA cost us $30/week, and every week there were 10-14 items in the box. The week above yielded 13 items. Therefore, doing the math, buying 13 organic items that averaged $2.33 each would show you the value of this particular season in the CSA. Some years may not be as productive, depending on the weather. 2011 was a very good year for Lancaster Farm Fresh Coop, the parent non-profit supplying Sandy Spring CSA.

A pic from an August delivery:

The list:

Monday, August 8 – Full Share

12 Ears Sweet Corn – Certified Organic – Organic Willow acres or Sunrise Ridge Organics or Soaring Eagle Acres or White Swan Acres
*Corn is one of the most difficult crops to grow organically. If you should find a worm in any of the ears – don’ panic! Simply cut those areas off and enjoy the rest.

2 Yellow Straightneck Squash – Certified Organic – Echo Valley Organics
1 Bag Yukon Gold Potatoes – Certified Organic – Echo Valley Organics
2 Pints Mixed Cherry Tomatoes – Certified Organic – Farmdale Organics
1 Italian Eggplant – Certified Organic – Farmdale Organics
1 Bag Red Tomatoes – Certified Organic – Plum Hill Farm
1 Bag Jalapeno Peppers – Certified Organic – Millwood Springs Organics
2 Heads Small Red Butterhead Lettuce – Certified Organic – Riverview Organics
1 Cantaloupe – Certified Organic – White Swan Acres
1 Bunch Curly Parsley – Certified Organic – Noble Herbs
3 Green Bell Peppers – Certified Organic – Maple Arch Farm
1 Bag Red Onions – Certified Organic – Deer Hollow Farm

Twelve items this week. $2.50 per item average. Again, all organic including the cantaloupe. Two pints of heirloom cherry tomatoes counts as one item. Where could you find a pint of heirlooms for $1.25? A dozen ears of organic sweet corn. At least $4 a dozen, I recall from seeing it at Roots last year, and thinking what a bargain we were getting.

As for the volume of produce here, thankfully every week included an herb, which lasted in the veggie drawer for many weeks, allowing me to use fresh herbs for most of my cooking. We did end up freezing tomatoes and canning pickles from cucumbers.

I even canned “dilly beans”. For a vegetarian or a less meatarian, having fresh produce of this quality will easily feed a couple for most meals a week. We used all the greens and lettuces in salads for lunches. The hardest thing to use up, for us, were the eggplants and squashes. Lots of ratatouille, eggplant parm, lasagna, and I started making chocolate zucchini bread to take to the conservancy.

Follow along this spring, summer and fall as I talk about what I get, what I do with it, and what it would cost to do it differently.


One response »

  1. Think your CSA may be a better value than ours. It seems like you get more. I love that you kept a running total of what you got. I might try that.


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