The Day the CSA Did Not Show Up

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April 9, 2010 at 11:30 am

Rob Gardner

It could not have been easier.  I could have walked this year to the CSA pick up location, now closer than ever to the Bungalow.  I could have picked up my first red radishes of the season, some hoophouse grown bok choi, spring carrots, plus local apples kept well.  Listen, I can tell you all day why to buy into community supported agriculture.  I can tell you about my many years subscribing, but this year, I will tell you that I dropped the box.  The first CSA boxes showed up yesterday for many local families.  It did not show up for this Local Family.

Like many things in life, it came down to money.  Like a lot of local families, this Local Family has had to tighten its belt lately.  Certain financial decisions we would have taken for granted, had to be re-considered.  One of them happened to be the CSA.  Instead of paying for new food, we can continue to eat the food on hand.  Cue up the sunchoke recipes please.  Our cupboards are not bare.  We have squash, onions, green garlic, some rocket as well as lot of other foods in our various stores.  We could shop around.  We plan on hitting the last Winter Farmer’s Market of the year in Beverly.  If we missed CSA radishes, could not we get market radishes–Vera thought she’d have some this week.  Like I say, I can argue left and right the reasons to go CSA.  This year it did not fit for us.

You know, dropping the CSA box has not been the only time economics played a part in our food choices.  About six weeks ago, in a period of extreme penny pinching, I made the decision to buy the conventional eggs on sale at Caputo’s at only 99 cents.  That savings helped that week.  Not a few days after the eggs, I finally watched the complete edition of Food Inc. (saving money also meant staying in that Saturday night and watching a comped DVD).  We showed up the next day at the Logan Square Farmer’s Market.  We could use eggs.  It would cost $4 more to buy eggs than at Caputo’s.  With certain Food Inc. scenes fresh on my mind, I decided to lay out the dollars for the eggs. 

I used to justify the added costs I paid for local foods by calling it my hobby.  I believe I once equated it to skiing.  Or  put it this way: you scrapbook.  I buy five dollar eggs.  A movement cannot be built by hobbyists, and  I realized we were doing this more than as an alternative to Elvis stamps.  Eat local I believed.  I argued that good food did not need to cost more.  Eliminate meals out.  Buy less snack foods.  Do not spend more.  Spend better.  That’s what happen when you go local.  Except when you are in too deep.  Can you skip the milk, butter and eggs.  No, so you shop around.  Sadly, really sadly, you find huge cost differences between the good stuff and the other stuff.  Then, you watch Food, Inc.

Fast food drives our food systems.  The drive to keep the dollar meal drives our food system.  A McDonald’s double cheeseburger still costs that dollar.  Food Inc. does an excellent job of showing what happens to keep that double cheeseburger the modest choice.  And it is these activities that make me, require me, to spend more than I want to in these hard times.  Take those cheap eggs.  They come from tenement hens, birds of squalor, popping out their daily biological imperative with little quality of life, let alone the things that will make it taste right.  They do no peck.  Hell, they can barely move.  The more we can shove in, the more dollar meals we can sell.  Hell yes, it costs more to have the right foods.  Sure, we know about the added costs, the health costs, the burdens borne by cheap foods, but at the check-out lane, it costs more. 

Who among us can spend their money wholly as they want.  Who amongst us is spending a bit differently right now.  I heard from a friend the other day on his tenth month of unemployment.  He used to be a Vice President of a public company.  He was a confident guy when he approached job search.  A Vice President, and if you know my friend, you would know that your company can do no worse in hiring.  He’s a very dedicated worker.  Now, his spirit wavers.  He might not be a CSA guy this year either (although to be honest, he’s out East and I have no idea his local eating habits, it’s not the kind of thing we talk about these days).  There’s struggle out there.

I am not forsaking local eating.  I am not buying bad eggs.  I’m just not doing it with a CSA.  I am not sure how it will affect my outlays over the year.  I am avoiding a lump sum payment now, but will I spend more without the CSA.  I know I am saving money now because I do not yet need a full box of new foods.  As I already noted, we have food in the house still to eat.  I also know that we go through eggs all the time.  Each carton of eggs, if I keep Food, Inc. on my mind, will be more, about fifty cents more.  How much will that add up? And what will happen when we need all of the stuff normally in the box.  My expectation is that item to item, it would cost us more, but I am also thinking that without the CSA, we will eat a bit differently.  There will be a little less baby bok choi on the Local Family table this year.  Is no (or less) bok choi this year a bad thing?  We will see because this week, none showed up.

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2 Comments

  1. Crelatia says:

    Hi,
    This is my first year without a CSA since moving to Chicago. Before moving to Chicago (in Southern Illinois) I was able to get fresh produce at a few local farm stores near my house while riding my bike home from work.

    I’m already missing the CSA boxes and found this site and your article when researching viable options for CSAs this late in the season.

    So, I feel your financial pain and have had the same moment of pause while trying to decide if it’s worth the extra 3-4 dollars for happy chicken eggs and organic milk. Thank you for articulating so well the food and financial choices many of us are faced with…

  2. Rob,

    This is a terrific, and poignant, post. There are hard choices that families of all sorts need to make about their food systems. That is when they have a choice. As you are well aware, there are far too many families who reside in our city’s food deserts where finding any produce is a task. I think it is important for food advocates to recognize this. I was very disappointed by Alice Waters’ lack of an answer to Bill Maher’s question on precisely this subject. Right now, as the food system currently stands, there are huge barriers to getting to good food for too many families. Denying it just underminds our credibility.

    Thanks for writing this very personal post.

    Melissa

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