How do you make the concept of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) even better?
Make it a Meat CSA!
A CSA is a great way to support local farmers. The general concept is that you are providing an up-front cash flow to farmers in exchange for their goods, usually produce. A typical CSA works this way: you give the farm of your choice a pre-determined amount of money in late spring or early summer, and then you receive boxes of produce throughout the summer. Each CSA operates differently, some let you pick the produce yourself, some just fill up a box of what is best at the time.
I've always wanted to join one but was unsure if I could actually use and eat everything in a share. Besides, I love going to the farmer's market and selecting my own produce. Summer is always full of travel too, so pickups would be difficult (I think there are year-round CSAs in places like California because of the growing seasons.) I hope that one of these days the circumstances will be right and I'll find one that I will join.
So back to the Meat CSA. We joined the one from our favorite farmstand, Stillman's Farms here in Boston. They always have the best tomatoes, raspberries, and corn, and the owners Aidan and Kate are great people. Besides produce, they started to sell meats from a Turkey Farm they purchased. We've tried sausages and pork chops from them and were impressed by the quality of the meats. They have heirloom varietals, and I love that they're local.
An excerpt from their website: they have a "goal of raising conscientiously-raised, grass-fed and pasture, hormone-free meats and poultry."
How it works: 6 months of meat for $75 a month. Each box comes with 10 pounds of meats, about half high-end cuts like chops and steaks, and the other half cuts like stew meat and ground beef. That comes to $7.50/pound, and everything arrives frozen and vacuum-sealed. We decided to split a share with one of my co-workers so we would alternate months.
We finally picked up our first box. I was giddy with excitement! The meat looked fabulous, I'm hoping to keep you updated with what we do with it all. Here's what we got:
Bacon (400g, 0.88 lbs)
4 Center Cut Thin Bone-In Pork Chops (775g, 1.71 lbs)
4 Lamb Loin Chops (650g, 1.43 lbs)
7 Hot Dogs (425g, 0.94 lbs)
4 Hot Lamb Sausages (575g, 1.27 lbs)
Pork Spareribs (1075g, 2.37 lbs)
Ground Beef (500g, 1.10 lbs)
2 Beef Tenderloin Steaks (317g, .70 lbs)
Total weight: 10.38 pounds
Total Cost for This Share: $75, no tax charged as far as we know
I decided to do a comparison of prices with other stores in the area. Keep in mind that I don't know how much Stillman's charges for each of these things on their own, I only know that they charged $75 for the entire package.
My method was to note the prices per pound at other stores and then calculate everything based on the weights of the meat we received. Sometimes the stores didn't have the exact same product, so I tried my best to find suitable equivalents. This isn't by any means an exact or perfect comparison, but hopefully a good stab at it.
I picked three local stores:
- Total Cost at Whole Foods: $89.80 with tax
(20% more than Meat CSA)
Whole Foods didn't have lamb sausage, but the butcher said they could always make some. I estimated sausage costs based on what the other fancier ones in the case cost.
- Total Cost at Savenors: $99.19 with tax
(32% more than Meat CSA)
Savenors is the highest-end butcher here in Boston, well-known for quality meats. Surprisingly, the price differential between Savenors and Whole Foods really only came down to the tenderloin, which was $24.99/lb at Whole Foods but $35.99/lb here because it was prime grade meat. If you removed the tenderloin from the picture, Savenors was only $1.28 more than Whole Foods! I was shocked. It reinforced the fact that I would rather shop here and support a local business.
- Total Cost at Shaw's: $61.69 with tax
(18% less than Meat CSA)
For those who don't live on the East Coast, Shaw's is the large chain grocery store, equivalent to Albertson's on the West Coast. While the cost here was much cheaper than options 1 & 2, it was only $16.25 cheaper than the Stillman's CSA.
My general conclusion from this little analysis was that Stillman's was a great bargain for the quality of meat. It was less than Whole Foods and Savenors, but not that much more than Shaw's, where I would never buy meat if I could help it. My biggest satisfaction comes from the fact that I am putting money directly into a farmer's hands. Plus, I get to interact with him and support my local community.
Of course, since the box varies from month to month, the price comparisons are by no means accurate for future packages. Who knows what the coming months will bring, but I love mysteries and surprises. I can't wait to start using the meat and look forward to the next share!