Quantified Awesome: Community-supported agriculture with Plan B Organic Farms, fall 2011

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After a good summer season with Plan B Organic Farms, we decided to sign up for their fall season as well. This time, I made sure to weigh and track all the produce that came in. I also took notes on what we did with the produce to make it easier to think of ways to use them before they were wasted.

Here’s what I was curious about:

  • How much did we get?
  • What was the cost per kilo or pound?
  • How does it compare to organic produce prices at the supermarket?
  • What were the proportions like? Did they match up with our perceptions?
  • How do I feel about the different vegetables now?

How much did we get? Over the 11 distributions I tracked, we received a total of 71.6 kilograms of organic produce and a container of apple cider. This worked out to an average of 6.5kg per distribution, with a standard deviation of 1.08kg.

What was the cost per kilo or pound? Weekly half-shares cost $25, about $3.84/kg or $1.75/lb of organic produce (not including the cider).

How does it compare to organic produce prices at the supermarket? The No Frills supermarket we usually shop at doesn’t have a wide selection of organic produce, so I used prices from GroceryGateway instead. In a past analysis, I found them to be usually 10% more than No Frills prices, and there are minimum order limits and delivery fees as well. Using the prices for organic produce whenever available and guessing “bunch” weights from my data, I calculated that we received an average of $31 of produce each week (including the cider). This worked out to a savings of $6 per week, or 20% (not including taxes, delivery charges, or other purchases to meet the minimum).

Would we have bought all that produce if we weren’t part of the community-supported agriculture program? I’m not sure, but the commitment device of having a box of vegetables come into our house every week helped us improve our diet.

What were the proportions like? Did they match up with our perceptions?

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I’m surprised by this, because it felt like we received a whole lot more squash and cabbage (which I’ve included in the Greens category). They were bulky and not in our usual cooking repertoire, so they were more of a challenge. We mostly managed to finishing the cabbage, but we had to cut up and throw some of the squash away. The apples and tomatoes were occasionally suspect, too.

Here’s the breakdown within each category:

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On average, we received 11 different types in a distribution (standard deviation = 1.2), covering 32 different types in total. The fall box included imported items such as bananas and kiwi to fill out the selection, as well as produce grown in greenhouses.

How do I feel about the different vegetables now? After two seasons of community-supported agriculture, I’m more comfortable with dealing with the increased volume of vegetables passing through our kitchen. We’ve organized the pantries with bins so that we can store all the squash and onions neatly, and we manage to get through the produce in our fridge drawers in a reasonable period of time. We waste a small fraction of the produce through inattention (apples, mostly), but have managed to convert most of the produce into good food. I’d say we’re working at 90-95% efficiency or so.

Some experimental recipes have been more fun than others. Sweet potato fries have become a favourite in the house. Baked acorn squash with brown sugar and butter is a nice winter dessert. We discovered that adding sausages to butternut squash soup makes it much easier to finish. Turnips and beets still need a lot of tweaking.

We’ve signed up for a bi-weekly winter share from Cooper’s Farm CSA in order to take advantage of delivery. We happened to start with their program in time to make a side-by-side comparison with Plan B Organic Farms, and they turned out favourably (although their produce required more scrubbing). We’ll see how things work out over the next season.

Here’s my raw data.

How I tracked this: I built a small tool for tracking community-supported agriculture into my Quantified Awesome website. Every week, I weighed all the produce and typed in the their names and weights. At the end of the season, I copied the data and used pivot tables in Microsoft Excel to analyze the results by category and week. I manually checked the GroceryGateway website for prices, and I used VLOOKUP to cross-reference the data with the prices.

My input system didn’t do anything special that a spreadsheet couldn’t handle, although I liked how the weights became part of my dashboard. If you want to start tracking either community-supported agriculture or your regular groceries, you can start with a spreadsheet (Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice). Log the produce you receive or buy, and summarize them in ways that help you answer your questions. Have fun!

2 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

  • http://www.stoddart.ca Harry Stoddart

    Just remember when you’re comparing Coopers to Plan B that Plan B is organic and Coopers is conventional. I would expect a priori that Coopers will cost less per pound than Plan B.

  • James

    Intense!

    “I’d say we’re working at 90-95% efficiency or so. ”

    If you’re at 90+% usage efficiency, you’re superhuman. That’s great. At least in the US, I think the average is 60%.

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    James: That’s mainly for food. We rarely throw away food, usually opting to just plow through them. I should collect data on this, though, to get a better estimate.

    Harry: Good to know. I thought Cooper’s Farm mostly followed organic practices, although they haven’t been certified as such. We’ll see how it works out. Would you happen to have data comparing the two?

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    James: Also, that doesn’t take into account things like squash rinds, carrot ends, potato eyes, and other bits that we discard when cooking. (We use the inner core of broccoli stalks, though!) I think that’s counted in the 60% statistic you have.

  • http://digitalcrusader.ca/ Eric Boyd

    My dad loves beets, grows lots of them. For Christmas he actually served beets as one of the two vegetables (the other being squash!): Harvard Beets, I think you’ll love them:

    http://www.kitchentotable.com/recipes/dinner/harvard-beets.php

    It’s more work than just boiling the beets and eating with a little vinegar, but the sauce really does make them into a Christmas-dinner-suitable thing :-)

    • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

      I’ll try that the next time we get them!

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