News From the Farm | October 22, 2012

I hope that everyone is enjoying the changing seasons that are reflected in your CSA box. The winter squash and cabbage are just what you need to warm up the cooler weather with a big pot of soup or stew. Everyone at the farm got involved last weekend in a push to prepare for the Monday/Tuesday rain this week: covering straw and hay stacks, picking ahead on some of the crops that would be damaged by rain, and getting boxes and supplies under cover.

This week we’re going to share an interesting piece of research that was reported in the summer issue of the University of California Agricultural and Resource Economics Update. It’s about the price of strawberries. Prices of produce are a complicated subject, perhaps worthy of additional discussion between CSA members and their farmers.

The researchers looked at the average retail and farm-gate prices for a pound of conventional versus organic strawberries during 2007 through 2012. (The farm-gate price is what the farmer gets paid.) They asked, “Do differences in the cost of production of organic produce explain the observed differences in the prices of organic and conventional produce?”

Their answer was ‘probably not’, and in fact they found that the prices paid to the farmers, even though they went up and down during the season, were potentially not correlated at all with retail prices, suggesting that other factors connected with marketing have much more to do with the price that consumers pay. This was true for both organic and conventional fresh strawberries.

Produce growers often say that they are price ‘takers’ and not price ‘setters’, and this research, in some ways, corroborates that statement. The prices paid by consumers for their food, in general, do not include a large proportion that is going to the farmer. However, the CSA and farmers market relationships enjoyed by Full Belly and our members turns that on its head, almost entirely reflecting changes in the cost of production, yield, weather and quality.

What is the biggest cost in the Full Belly ledger? The answer is, wages and salaries (including workers compensation), which are by far the largest chunk, comprising an average of 56% of our total expenses. A high percentage of expenses going to labor is fairly typical for produce growers in California, largely because it takes many hands to nurture produce crops through the season.

The CSA model is wonderful in many ways, and this research got us thinking about the benefits that CSAs can provide to a region by keeping money local and contributing to the economic health and well-being of regional communities. Bringing the farm-to-fork relationship closer to home means that the consumers’ money is supporting fewer superfluous marketing and processing activities. Thank you for your membership and support of the Full Belly CSA!

 — Judith Redmond