Harvest Day at Tipi Creek 2011

September 24 was the last harvest day at Tipi Creek CSA for 2011.  We look forward to this every year.  Our Thanksgiving dinner is planned largely around what we take home that day.

Of the three years we have been members of the Tipi Creek CSA, this was the least productive.  You’ll remember that May through July was cold, wet, and dreary.  While this was mitigated to some extent by the sheer variety of vegetables grown, overall we ended up with a lot less produce than in previous years.  That being said, with August and September being hot and sunny, we still had a fantastic final harvest day.

Here’s more information on Tipi Creek:

Below are some photos from the harvest day.  Thank you, Ron and Yolande, for filling our larder with fantastic vegetables.  Can’t wait for next year.

Dry Cherokee Beans

Picking the Cherokee beans
A basket of dried Cherokee beans
Corn
Corn tassles
A brimming bag of corn cobs
Lisa enjoys an ear of corn straight from the stalk

 

Cabbage (my favourite…)

A wagon of cabbage heads
 A truck load of cabbage heads
Cabbage’s Half-Brother, Kohlrahbi 

Beet’s Half-Brother, Chard

 

Greens

The Pumpkin Patch

 

CSA v. Farmers’ Market v. Supermarket: The Numbers

Cucumbers and peppers, about to become relishWe’ve finally crunched the numbers: we weighed every gram of food we received from our CSA share at Tipi Creek, then found prices for equivalent goods from a farmers’ market and a grocery store.

The results surprised me. I expected that the grocery store would be by far the cheapest, and that the CSA would be only slightly cheaper than the farmers’ market. In reality, the grocery store was marginally cheaper than the CSA, while the farmers’ market was much, much more expensive. The final costs were:

  • CSA Cost: $600
  • Farmers’ Market Cost: $1044.73
  • Grocery Store Cost: $510.76


I was shocked to see how close the CSA and grocery store prices ended up. Obviously I always knew the farmers’ market was more expensive that the supermarket, but I didn’t think it was twice the cost. Yikes. These numbers make me want to give Ron and Yolande at Tipi Creek a hug.

All the raw numbers are in the spreadsheet at the bottom of this post. Before looking at the spreadsheet, please read the information below on our collection process and some sources of error.

The Data Collection

When weighing vegetables from the CSA, only the weight of the commonly used part of the vegetable was measured. The weights listed for beets, for example, are the weights of the root portion only, without the greens, even though the greens are good eats. This was done for easy comparison to grocery store items, which are usually sold leafless (it’s hard to keep the leaves looking fresh when they’ve travelled so far…) Other examples: kohlrabi leaves and carrot tops.

The grocery store prices were collected from the Garneau Safeway on Whyte Avenue in September. We used this store as it is our main source of groceries outside the CSA and farmers’ markets. From previous cost analysis projects, we know that this store is generally more expensive than others in the city (like the Sobey’s down the street). Most produce is sold at a set price per kilogram, which made data collection easy. Exceptions are parsley and radishes, which are sold in bunches of unmarked weight. These items required visual estimation, and may be a small source of error. All grocery store prices are for conventional produce, ie. not the more-expensive “organic” produce.

Farmers’ market prices were collected at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market from July through October. Because of the informal pricing scheme most vendors use, the farmers’ market prices are by far the least reliable numbers in the study. Only a few vegetables are sold by weight, most being sold per “bunch” or “bag”. To collect data we would find, for instance, a head of butter lettuce, and say, “That’s about how much butterleaf we got from the CSA this week,” and note the price. Not an exact science, clearly. Prices for given vegetables were fairly consistent among vendors. If there was a variance, we took the middle-of-the-road price.

Hidden Costs and Benefits of the CSA

There are some costs to the CSA outside the money paid at the beginning of the growing season: the gas used to drive to the farm and to the weekly pick-up location, and the time and resources spent processing the vegetables at home. Most of the vegetables have to be thoroughly washed. Freezing extra vegetables (a must when only two people are sharing the produce) requires blanching in boiling water, shocking in ice water, then plastic bags for storage. Items like leafy greens and herbs are loosely wrapped in paper towel and kept in an open plastic bag. We went through a lot of paper and plastic.

There is also the time spent working at the farm (four sessions lasting maybe three hours each). Of course, we think that time adds to the value of the CSA share. After all, you get to drive into the country, you can visit as you work, and some work days end in a potluck. I just thought I would mention the time for the sake of economic completeness.

Quality Factor

It should also be noted that the quality of produce received from the CSA and farmers’ market was of superior quality to the grocery store. This was especially true of carrots and corn.

The Data

Okay. With the formalities out of the way, feel free to peruse the raw data by clicking on the image below. Please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future data collection.

Cost comparison numbers






Harvest Day at Tipi Creek CSA 2010

A cabbage-headed scarecrow at Tipi Creek FarmThis past Saturday was the last harvest day at Tipi Creek CSA. All the remaining vegetables were picked and divided amongst the shareholders.

As one of our farmers put it, this was a mushroom year, and a cold crop year: we got lots of moisture, but very little heat. Hence the plentiful, but mostly green, squash. The last few weeks of overcast drizzle stalled two of the corn varieties, and the fall spinach. Other crops, notably cabbage and broccoli, flourished in the cold. Risk is mitigated by crop diversity.

Here are some photos and notes from the harvest day.

Potatoes

With the potato foliage long killed off, a potato digger is dragged over the rows. The digger lifts masses of earth and potato, then sifts the dirt out and drops the potatoes on top for easy picking.
Dragging the potato digger to unearth potatoes
Note how black the earth is (we now have several pounds of this dirt in our kitchen, under our fingernails, and in our shoes…)

All the potatoes, spread on a tarp
Once all the potatoes are collected, some choice round specimens are saved as seed potatoes for next year. They will be stored over the winter to grow eyes.

A round, uniform potato, ideal as a seed potato
Embarrassingly, this was the first time I’d ever seen the fruit of the potato plant. Apparently they’re poisonous.

The fruit of the potato plant


Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi plant

Green Onions
Green onions

Cabbage
Cabbage
The larger, tougher cabbage leaves from around the head are piled up to be fed to the pigs. (Other porcine favourites: corn and apples. No wonder those flavour pairings work so well.) Other vegetable trim is composted.
Large piles of cabbage leaves which will be fed to the pigs
Pumpkins, Hubbard, Buttercup, and Spaghetti Squash

A trailer-load of pumpkins and squash

Corn
Corn tassles
Fresh-picked corn on the cob
A Salamander (Not a part of regular CSA shipments…)

A salamander found digging in the carrots
The Numbers

As planned earlier in the season, Lisa and I weighed every bit of produce we received so that we could compare our CSA cost to that of an equivalent amount of food from the farmers’ market and grocery store. With all our harvest in, we can now start the formal comparison. I’m going to review the numbers and post our results this weekend.

A railway in Sturgeon county near Tipi Creek Farm

About Tipi Creek CSA

First shipment for Tipi Creek 2010Since 2009, Lisa and I have been members of the Tipi Creek CSA.  CSA usually stands for community supported agriculture, but at Tipi Creek Farm stands for community shared agriculture.

Here’s the skinny.  In March we pay a flat fee. Three times between planting in May and the last harvest in September, we go to Tipi Creek and spend a few hours helping out. This may involve planting, weeding, or harvesting. In return for our money and labour, every week from roughly July to the end of September we get a shipment of vegetables.

Last year we received salad greens, spinach, Swiss chard, onions, leeks, kale, radishes, peas, beets, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, rhubarb, corn, pumpkins, squash, watermelon, potatoes, kohlrabi, beans, basil, and dill.

The Tipi Creek CSA has been a fantastic learning experience. Our first year with Tipi Creek was the first time I tried leeks, kale, kohlrabi, and Swiss chard. I became familiar with different varieties of otherwise common vegetables. For instance, on the last harvest day in September we left with Hopi, Buttercup, and Godiva squash. Most importantly I learned about produce quality. Corn that is broken from the stalk, husked, and eaten within a minute (which, by the way, I didn’t even know you could do, since we always boiled the cobs at my house) is impossibly sweet. After picking, the sugars in the corn quickly turn to starches, and after a day most of the sweetness is gone.

While there is a certain amount of risk involved (you pay the same amount no matter how well the crops do that year), it’s mitigated by the variety of vegetables planted. The summer of 2009, you may remember, was very dry, and a few crops, like corn, suffered. However, for some reason the cucumbers responded extremely well, and we received several kilos worth.

Which brings me to the quantity of vegetables received. Besides a few heads of lettuce and ears of corn passed along to Judy, and a really bitching Thanksgiving dinner for ten, Lisa and I didn’t really share the produce. It’s a lot of food for two people. Thankfully most of the items lend themselves to preservation by freezing, canning, or dry storage. It was the Tipi Creek vegetables that had us canning and drying food for the first time, as well as experimenting with natural (fermented) vegetable pickles. Honestly it was a lot of work. On shipment nights we might spend almost an hour blanching and freezing vegetables. The vegetables that don’t take well to preservation (leafy greens) are a little more troublesome. I made a lot of really bad lettuce soup our first year.

In 2010 Lisa and I weighed every vegetable that came into our home, and found the cost per weight for comparable items at the grocery store and farmers’ market, just to see exactly how much money we’re saving.  The complete cost comparison is posted here.