Last week Williams-Sonoma branched out from French dishwear, excellent knives and seasonal high-end cocoa mix into urban homesteading gear. With the launch of their Agrarian line, Williams-Sonoma now sells gardening gear, chicken and bee keeping supplies, seeds, edible plants, fruit trees and preserving supplies.
Some people in the hardcore DIY community (you know who you are) may have scoffed a bit at the idea of Williams-Sonoma, a genteel and polished mega-mall staple store, serving a market populated by of a bunch of anti-consumerist dirt-lovin’ neo-hippies. Dirty hippies get so confounded when everything they are doing is suddenly the height of suburban trendiness. (I mean dirty hippie with the greatest respect and affection, of course.)
A fair amount of my bakeware, a Le Creuset pot and some of my knife collection came from an employee-discounted-stint as a holiday seasonal worker at my local Williams-Sonoma, and I have nothing at all against the store. So when the Agrarian line launched, I took a long virtual look at the Agrarian Collection, and – all pseudo-dirty hippie DIY-girl pride aside – I would totally buy some of this stuff.
These Weck jars, for example: Gorgeous! I’m picturing very elegant spaghetti sauce.
But there are a few things in the Agrarian line that just pluck my cynic strings too hard. After an exhaustive search of the Agrarian product line (I’ll do any amount of “research” for my readers!), I present the five Agrarian products you shouldn’t buy from Williams-Sonoma.
Williams-Sonoma is not the right place to buy:
1. Organic Heirloom Sugar Snap Pea – $16.95
For now, let’s ignore the roughly gaillion percent mark-up that turns two or three pea seeds, a cup of potting mix and some burlap into a $17 item.
Let’s focus on how you want to grow your own food because local is better, right?
“To ensure freshness, perishable items are shipped overnight from the supplier and are not eligible for rush shipping.”
– Williams-Sonoma shipping for live plants, including our $17 pea shoot.
So let’s talk about the sustainability of shipping a single pea tendril in a little burlap-wrapped plastic pot overnight for $17. First, overnight shipping almost certainly means by airplane, using the now-standard and uber-efficient hub-and-spoke system employed by UPS, FedEx and pretty much anyone else in the overnight delivery business.
So let’s say this pea seedling is grown in central California (what isn’t?) and is shipped FedEx overnight. (These are mental-exercise guesses, but to be fair I know neither which carrier ships for Williams-Sonoma nor the location of the supplier nursery.)
I want to grow peas, so I order this product for delivery to my home in the Seattle area.
My pea shoot gets on a truck which takes it to a plane flying out of Sacramento. It takes a trip to the FedEx Hub of Memphis (1760 miles of flight distance). It has a brief little layover in the Pea Shoot Waiting Lounge and embarks on a second flight back to Seattle (1837 miles of flight distance). Nice people unpack it and put it on a truck for delivery to me.
Let’s ignore the truck transport on either end, I don’t want to be gratuitous while making this point. Total flown miles: 3597. Long flights release an estimated 0.39 pounds of CO2 per mile, which means the flights carrying my single little pea tendril emit about 1400 pounds of CO2.
Wow, that’s kind of a big carbon footprint to eat sustainably from your backyard, isn’t it?
Real Gardener Assessment: Really local really is better. Seeds and locally grown starts from nurseries in your area are about $3, will be better adapted to your climate and more likely to be offered at the right time for planting. Plus you won’t need to purchase carbon (or irony) offsets. If the burlap is important, my local nursery sells recycled coffee bags at 5 for $5. That ought to keep you in burlap-wrapped pots forever.
2. Copper Long-Handle Spade – $199.95 and
3. Copper Long-Handle Fork – $299.95
Reviewed together because I have the same thing to say about them.
These items are featured in the Williams-Sonoma Top 10 Agrarian Gift List, so presumably the Williams-Sonoma marketing department sees them as winners. I see them as ridiculous. Together these tools cost $500. The only possible reason to buy these bujeezus expensive pieces of garden art is if you will, in fact, be using them as art.
If the plan is to outfit the doors to your gentleman hobby farm’s equestrian center with the spade and fork as door handles, break out the AmEx and go to town. That would be stunning. Take a picture, it’ll get repined all over the interwebs.
If you actually need to, you know, garden, by digging and forking in the soil, stay away from tools made from one of the softest metals around.
You know those late night infomercials where the knife cuts through the penny? And you know those machines at the zoo that take a penny plus a few quarters and press the penny into a fun keepsake embossed with a lemur? That’s should give you an idea how soft copper is.
Sticklers will point out that a modern penny is actually mostly zinc. Zinc has a Young’s modulus – the measurement of how much a metal resists deforming – of 108 GPa; copper is quite close at 117 GPa. For comparison, steel, the material most good $30 shovels are made of, is nearly 80% harder at 210 GPa.
Williams-Sonoma points out these tools are sharpened to “slice through hardened earth.” That’s great, but soft metals don’t hold their edge, so even if the spade is razor sharp out of the box, a few hours of hard use will have dulled it considerably. This is why you never see knives made out of copper.
Real Gardener Assessment: They are gorgeous, but if you buy these for anything other than display you deserve to get whacked upside the head with them.
4. Chicken Coop Predator Kit – $59.95
When Homebrew Husband and I got married, I used to joke that the fastest way to double the price of something was to add the word “wedding” to it. Now I realize the same is true for the phrase “Urban Chicken”
Those of you with chickens will recognize this product as good ol’ hardware cloth. One-half inch mesh galvanized hardware cloth was the single most expensive component of both my chicken coops, and likely of yours too.
Want a way to make an expensive building material even more expensive? Throw in about $3 worth of nails and washers and call it a “Predator Kit.”
Williams-Sonoma sells a 2’ wide x 25’ roll of hardware cloth for $60. That’s $1.20 a square foot. The going price on-line for a 2’ wide x 50′ roll (Twice as much!) is about $40.69, or 41 cents per square foot.
Now I am not one to judge when it comes to throwing money at a coop. (I threw deep at mine.) But it seems to me that paying three times the effective per-unit cost for an identical product so you can use the Williams-Sonoma online checkout instead of the Amazon online checkout is about as silly as it gets.
Real Chicken Keeper Assessment: Keeping your girls safe is noble and important. So is keeping them fed. Buy the galvanized hardware cloth elsewhere and save some money for layer feed.
5. Cedar Raised Bed Kit – 4′ x 4′ x 10” deep – $179.95
This raised bed looks gorgeous. It has nice detailing on the ends, which interleave attractively and the hardware looks sturdy. It’s made of solid 2×10” cedar, which is premium wood.
It’s just that building a raised bed is so simple, I can’t imagine justifying spending $180 on 16 square feet of grow space.
To DIY this bed, you’d need 2, 8-foot long pieces of 2×10 cedar and the appropriate hardware.
The going rate for that cut of lumber is $35.16, so 2 boards will cost about $70 (none too cheap, compared to the dimension lumber we build our beds out of, but long-lasting). Your local lumberyard will probably even cut the 8-foot lengths in half for you, making your assembly job at home as easy as it gets.
It looks like these beds are fastened with hex-head lag screws. A pack of 25 in a nice hefty size runs about $12. Each bed, based on the Williams-Sonoma bed design, would require 16 lag screws.
So, materials cost to build a totally equivalent bed is $82. You save about $100 if you’re willing to put an hour of your time running to the hardware store and screwing some pieces of wood together.
For $20 my local hardware store will deliver the materials to you – if your time really is money – and you’d still be $80 ahead on this project. Remember, you’d have to assemble the Williams-Sonoma beds, too.
Real Gardener Assessment: Gorgeous, high-quality beds. If I won the lottery and put in a demo garden featuring petite-scale inspiration gardens (“Look at what you can grow in just a 4 by 4-foot area!”) I might look at these. When cost is a factor, even a little bit, the $100 you save building your own primo cedar raised beds is money you can spend on good quality garden soil, organic fertilizer, a soaker hose and some seeds.
all images: Williams-Sonoma