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-Sonoma0
Dogs or Dollars says
The Williams-Sonoma bomb is making the rounds. Even I wrote about it today. Scandal!
I completely agree on the Weck jars, and from the shopping I’ve done, I’m pretty sure they’ve got the best price around. Damn them!
Erica/Northwest Edible Life says
DorD – You know what’s funny (referencing your post today)? I have an “Ugly Garden” post in the works, too! I think that’s just the reality. 🙂
Dogs or Dollars says
It is certainly the reality for me. I think I’m missing some sort of aesthetic. That or maybe I just need a truck load of wood chips. In either case, it ain’t pretty. But it will grow food….hopefully, maybe.
I enjoyed your satire, but I also think you treated the retailer fairly.
Erica/Northwest Edible Life says
You’re welcome Erica! Your article was a TOTAL pleasure to read. Relevant info, wittily presented! 🙂
Jessie : Improved says
I noticed the raised bed kit is from Farmer D, which is probably the best place in Atlanta for organic and sustainable gardening. That being said, their raised bed kits are crazy overpriced. I usually only buy chicken feed, seeds, and a few plant starts from them. If you’re serious about self-reliance, you’d be insane to buy any “agrarian” product from Williams Sonoma. Also, you can totally get the deee-licious Weck jars elsewhere for much cheaper.
Erica/Northwest Edible Life says
Jessie – I’m not surprised, the product looks of excellent quality. I thought maybe the same kit without the W-S rebrand might be cheaper but, nope, same price everywhere I looked. Where do you buy your Weck?
Dogs or Dollars says
I second that! Where do you get your Weck? I usually see them for about $5+ a jar. W-S is cheaper than that if you buy the 6 jar set.
I buy directly from Weck at wholesale prices through my food buying club.
Irony offsets. Made me snort my iced tea.
Hilarious! I’ve been hearing so much about their chicken coops, but those seem downright reasonable compared to a $17 pea plant.
Thanks for the assessment and satire. Farmer D is also a bit of a neo-sustainable garden/ag god in my region as well, as he recently paired with a local developer in a joint sustainable community venture. It’s great to see that he’s had such success with his ideas and products and I’m sure he has helped propel the local grow it and eat it movement forward, but I do chuckle a little (inside) when I try to imagine some of my high end clients standing over a couple of $17 pea shoots in a $180 4×4 cedar box with a $500 copper trowel and fork set in hand.
The raised beds at the allotment are made out of standard planks.
The raised beds at the house, however, are made out of rain-stained “Gorm” shelves from Ikea. When we moved here, we left the dismantled bookshelves unter tarp in the garden while we organised the house. Unfortunately, local cats used the tarp as a play cave and it broke loose of it’s moorings during a summer storm. Once they dried out we put them to good use.
Including the offcut of weed membrane to line the beds, painting with woodstain and the copper slug tap round the top (contrasts nicely with the green woodstain), the cost came in under £20, around a third of the price you’d expect to pay for the cheapest raised bed kit at a DIY store, let alone at some fancy store for the modern urban professional Marie Antoinette.
Keep meaning to get a couple of corner shelves to make a cold frame….
Rachel Hoff says
Stuff like this really bugs me. W&S is clearly taking advantage of people.
Caveat emptor. A fool and his money are soon parted. Etc.
Hi! De-lurking to mention that the WS price for those Weck jars is obscene. Save yourself more than ten bucks.
I would rather see the 1% buy chicken coops and copper gardening tools instead of SUVs.
You’ve touched on one of my longstanding rants. Thank you. The Territorial catalog is guilty of this too.
I love Williams Sonoma. I really do. I’ve bought all kinds of stuff from them over the years. I’m always aware that I’m happily being had because how much is my aspirational life worth? Great roundup, Erica!
Ien in the Kootenays says
Great post. Most of yours are, but this one really incorporates a lot of extra research. Thanks for alerting us to the hilarious attempt by a corporation to co-opt a vital movement. Signed: an original ‘dirty hippie’. (actually, more a semi-hippie)
Now this was a great post! You hit all the right points. The copper “tools” were too much. I am personally SO tired of garden marketing…growing food has been happening for, uh, 10,000 years- when will business focus on the real issues of growing food (health, food security, policy, etc.) not the fluffy stuff?
About canning jars…does anyone use Tattler reusable canning lids? Reviews or recommendations?
I use the tattler canning lids and love them. Totally reusable … Seemingly forever. I’ve used them a few years and never had to replace a gasket yet. Run them through the dishwasher and they are all ready. No BPA’s and no worries. P.s. I have no affiliation with them.
Thanks for the feedback!
Love reading your blog, thanks for bringing the Agriculture back into Agrarian lifestyle.
Stephanie Donaldson says
Did enjoy reading your blog about Williams & Sonoma Agrarian range – your analysis of the pea shoot carbon footprint was great. I will though defend the copper tools – admittedly they are a bit cheaper in the UK, but I wouldn’t be without my trowel – if I was allowed just one garden tool it would be the one. It is light, cuts through the soil and once it has weathered it doesn’t look one bit flashy. I’m a garden writer and editor and I get to test all sorts of tools – most of them sent to me as free samples but I paid for my copper trowel (no discount) and would do again if something happened to it. I also have the hook weeder which I love just about as much.
Stephanie – I always stand ready to be proven wrong! 🙂 Glad you love your tools, I feel that way about my Japanese mini hoe and mini pick-mattock…..they are like extensions of my hand!
I got copper tools – a spade, a hook, a trowel and a hand hoe – from Elementals in Germany, and I seldom now use anything else. They slice beautifully through the earth, they’re a pleasure to use, and they haven’t shown any notable wear in five years. Dear, yes, but the best tools I’ve ever had. That said, they’re well made, and sturdier-looking than the tools shown here.
brandi strickland says
I so enjoy your blog, and agree with you about the new agrarian line. While I never shop at William Sonoma, and can’t afford those fancy copper tools, I do believe there is some (not so mainstream) science to support the use of copper utensils in the garden. Of course, W.S. is framing these as attractive and well made, instead of touting the real reason copper tools may have an advantage…probably because they see it as too “woo-woo.”
Viktor Schauber was a genius and the copper tools were an idea he proposed. Really worth a second look:
http://www.pksbronze.com/en.html (the Austrian company William Sonoma does not name)
Ooooh, you geeked out on us! Love it!
The canning jars are beautiful! I’ll save my pennies for same. The other items I would not even think twice about.
Deborah Aldridge says
I saw a how-to the other day for using cedar fence slats to make raised beds. Not as thick, but just as rot-proof and a lot cheaper. Some people have more money than sense. My roommate just paid some exorbitant amount of money for a “microgreens kit,” which is teensy tinsy. I told her we could have gotten free plant trays from HD and some great potting soil and seeds for HALF of what she paid for that. She’s just naive, and easily taken in by “half price” sales that aren’t really cheap. I’m teaching her how to really save money on things. It will be a long process, but I do have her saving paper egg cartons now. She used to tear them up into the compost pile and start seeds in plastic crap.
I’d like to stand up for the raised beds. OK, I wouldn’t buy them myself because I’m hopelessly thrifty but many people who like raised beds do not have power tools or the strength to saw a bunch of boards and hammer them together.
Oh Erica, this post has me in giggles. I could use me a ‘Predator Kit’, surely? I can just imagine some well-intentioned person without your blog on her roll standing there, not researched in to pricing or what it takes to build a coop, blowing her well earned cash on that. Bloody hell! Kinda like me at a “discount” fabric shop – there’s got to be better and cheaper, but I don’t know about how and where to go to and find it.
For what it’s worth, my coop cost $50, and that was just for the overnight pen and the nesting box. The rest was recycled stuff from the house. Now it’s about $15 a month for hay and layer pellets. My chickens were free. I need to blog it all myself, help spread the ‘chickens are the bestest composters and free source of eggs EVER’ word to the world!
I must admit to liking those canning jars as well, but $17 for a pea plant??? And while I like those copper shovels and tools, not very pratical. And the “Chicken coop predator kit” WTF? I will take Home Deopt version anyday. And those raised bed boxes I would rather have my garden in a kiddie pools than to spend $60 on overpriced lumber.
Are you sure this isn’t a late April Fool’s joke?
Ein Middlebrooks says
Erica…you are a treasure. I can’t believe the amount of research you must have done for this post. I actually laughed out loud coupled with a loud snort, when I saw the pea plant. I was looking for the punch line. You are a bit of a pranker!! Thanks for the laugh. I REALLY needed it today.
David King says
I thought you were too kind! I did almost exactly the same thing as you when I saw the catalog. I was glad I was sitting down when I went through it, I might have fallen over. To see the pretty pictures of the pretty gardens was nice in that it showed that what I think of as a ‘normal’ life has made it to their pages. I teach and write gardening and I urge my students to buy as little as possible. My feelings on the bees and chickens aside, 90% or more of all that gardeners buy has nothing to do with gardening but is marketing and massaging the ego. I LOVE my tools, but the ones I have are not ‘decorator’ tools. They work or they are recycled. I have purchased items for my kitchen from W/S and will again, I’m sure, but this section of their catalog? Not so much, even though it more closely tracks my real life.
I sometimes worry that products like these will cause people to think they can’t garden unless they have all the right tools and lots of money. I’ve certainly heard from people we know that they lack some magic prerequisite to garden or keep chickens or whatever. I always tell them, we’re lazy, we’re cheap, we procrastinate, and its still worth it.
They are obviously fishing for the disenfranchised former Smith & Hawken customers, who preferred to pay vast sums for things they could buy for a fraction of the price at the local hardware store or IGC. There’s a sucker born every minute.
I don’t disagree that you’d be a lot better off buying your pea tendrils locally, but I think your transportation carbon footprint for the W.S. version is flawed; your plant wouldn’t be the only thing on the plane ride from Sacramento to Memphis to Seattle (at least I HOPE it wouldn’t be). There’s a whole hold fulla stuff going that way anyhow. Yer pea pods would just be riding along with it.
Erica/Northwest Edible Life says
Bama, you are correct – the numbers given are estimates of carbon release for the entire flight(s), not weight adjusted numbers for the individual plant, but I think that’s clear in the post. Thank you!
Just an FYI. Items that ship from the supplier, like a live plant, doesn’t ship to the warehouse in Memphis. It ships directly from the supplier. Items that ship from Memphis are items that are already there.
Ha ha. WS is one of my affiliates and I was just doing a review of this new line. I love those Weck jars as well. I will link to your post when I finally get through mine…you are much wittier than I can ever hope to be. 🙂
Here in Seattle, you can get all the burlap you want for free, at many of the local coffee roasters. Just ask.
My latest raised bed built on the lawn cost me nothing! Scavenged interlocking bricks, cardboard, compost, leaves, soil, straw. It is so gross that W-S’ new catalog is furthering the “urban homesteading elite” stereotype that discourages folks who cannot afford to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joes from trying to grow their own affordable produce. This screams for parody a’ la J. Peterman. Stick with the kitchen W-S!!
What surprises me the most is the chicken coop predator kit. I would love to get my father’s help to help with this than buying them in WS. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information.
I enjoyed your rant but will defend the purpose behind the copper tools that is not really given credit by WS. I agree with one of the other readers above and you must read about Viktor-Schauberger. His work as an inventor mimicing what he learned from observing nature is both inspiring and intriguing, a must read, especially if you are interested in the science, ecology and where perhaps agriculture left the sustainable path. I myself had to drag a copper scrap pipe around in the planter beds as a test to see what slugs and snails would do. And anyone on a piece of land digging a trench or cutting out thistles rather than using sprays, might enjoy the soil not sticking to the shovel after an hour or two of effort. But of course the tools match well will the WS image of posh and fits in with the well heeled ” $54.00 tomato project”(just a $$$ figure made by me in jest.) I might also note that I don’t care what it takes to increase the awareness of agriculture and toils of “farming.” The efforts of those who try no matter what they may spend( or not) will hopefully increase their appreciation of the true value of fresh sustainable/nutrient dense and real taste (we would like to hope anyway) and the kind of effort that takes place behind the farmers mks, food production etc. That knowledge is invaluable, regardless of how “they” get there. I didn’t word this well but I must run and finish caring for my sheep and horses. Buy the way if you are also inspired look up about forest gardens another interesting subject getting away from conventional monocrop mindsets that have led to soil depletion and added to global warming etc.
I have a conventional degree in production agriculture but the direction and reasoning was not sustainable behind the teachings.
Buy the way I did have to show my husband the hardware cloth for sale on WS I was laughing a lot about that, enjoyed your remarks regarding same!
What a great list! This stuff is beautiful, but really…
You could most definitely add the worn-out hand shovel for $69.95:
I fancy myself as having minimal carpentry skills, but even I can make a raised bed. It is after all, a square, and if you can’t make a square, well…. Thanks for this highly entertaining list. I don’t shop at Williams-Sonoma at all (they’re strangely absent from the North Dakota scene) but have seen the ridiculousness of their shops before.
Just a slight correction, pennies made since 1982 are only 2.5% copper. the rest is zinc.
those tools are still ridiculous.
If you’re looking for an affordable cute way to grow “in” burlap please check out our Burlap Girdles. Our ten gallon Girdle sells for $14.99 and pairs a pre-drilled grow bag with a bottomless burlap cover.
We are a very small company and use the products we create ourselves. For the past few years, we have grown my entire pepper and tomato crops in these bags. They really work and look nice, too.
How funny! The late Smith & Hawken (hand over heart, moment of silence for the departed) use to come up with some really overpriced turds every once in a while, but I’m disappointed at Wiliams Sonoma for going that route, especialy sice their reputation has been base on quality at least in the past.
I love this post! It’s funny, it’s informative and I totally wanted to (and did) read all the way to the end. Couldn’t agree with you more…there’s lots of really useful things to spend money on for the garden but the items on this list aren’t among those. In my opinion, not even the Weck Canning Jars. That said, I did buy them because they just look so good. And seal really well. In fact, so well that I can’t get them to open!
As an employee of WS, there are parts of this that I have to agree and disagree with. I do agree that the pricing of most of the Agrarian line, vs. DiY, are pretty darn high. I wouldn’t quibble about going and making the raised beds myself, and out of something that cost less than cedar! The Weck jars I thought were quite well priced, once you took into account the fact that WS routinely offers free shipping, and the shipping prices from weck.com are outrageous. I think that the real homesteaders, who have been diehard about growing their own food for years, raising their own chickens, etc….this is not the group of people WS is looking to sell to. With this line, they are looking to put the idea into the heads of people to whom the very idea of raising their own food would never have popped up. These are people that happily shop at Whole Foods without ever really thinking about the ramifications of what it is they are buying, but know that it’s the “cool place” to shop. These are the people that have no clue where their food comes from, nor does it occur to them that they should even think about those things. If, by putting together this collection of overpriced gardening items, WS help to put into people’s heads that they too can grown their own food, then good for them. Keep in mind, just because you and I know our way around Home Depot doesn’t mean that everybody does!
Sanda Ecimovic says
I agree the Agrarian range is overpriced. ut try buying something if you live in Australia…
Australians have to pay double the US prices before shipping. Why? I can’t say, currently the Australian and US dollars are virtually at par and have been for quite a while. W&S however are using rates more appropriate to 2006 not 2013. Buyers are not stupid as this blog shows – you can’t justify this behaviour. Amazon doesn’t double the price of my book just because I live in Australia – they charge a little more for shipping but that’s all. When are W&S going to start doing the same. SHAME SHAME SHAME.
One good use for the copper tools would be leaving them in the garden so snails and slugs could ooze over then and meet their demise–would that be the copper lining in the spendy cloud?
Bonnie Hargrave says
Loved this article, which I found by googling “Williams Sonoma way to expensive even on sale.” That’s after I looked through their “up to 75% off” stuff and found a pillow COVER for $60 – the sale price. No pillow, just a cover. Anyway, enjoyed the humor, and now I’ve found your site which looks excellent. I’ll be going through your fermentation tips next.