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organic food co-op/ delivery

I live in Pasadena and am thinking of joining an organic food co-op or delivery service. Has anyone had luck with Organic Express or LOVE? Any other recommendations?

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  1. Tierra Miguel Farm is great. Its a subscription fruit veggie co-op.

    10 Replies
    1. re: mbh65

      I've been subscribing to Tierra Miguel (www.tierramiguelfoundation.org)'s CSA for almost a decade. Or maybe it really is one.... I am a *huge* fan.

      A CSA is fundamentally different from an organization like LOVE or organic express. Unless I'm mistaken (and please correct me if I am), they're more akin to a personal shopping service for organic veggies where you place an order and these people fill it for you. The veggies can come from any presumably certified organic farm, but they will be different farms, and you are unlikely to know any of them. It's really not an "eating local" concept. It's not bad, just quite different from a CSA model. Heck, anything that supports organic growing is good, IMO. But there is good and there is better.

      CSA, that is Community Supported Agriculture, is really part of a whole-earth, ecological husbandry-philosophy. The idea is to encourage local growing and purchasing of food (which doesn't happen well, BTW, with Tierra Miguel which is located in the Pauma Valley east of Oceanside) where the consumer becomes a partner of sorts with the farmer. In exchange for "seed money" -- that is money to buy seeds with, the consumer "purchases" a share of the farm, or rather a share of the farm's harvest. And at the same time a share of the risk of crop failure (minimal around here although when there were fires near the farm I think we missed a box or two -- which they made up later I sholud add). It's really a model that started on the east coast where the growing season is finite. Here, in SoCal with a 365-day growing season they've had to adapt the model quite a bit.

      Tierra Miguel (TM) adds a fillip to this whole setup by farming biodynamically. This is a whole structure and spiritual philosophy of Rudolf Steiner's of Waldorf fame. I don't personally know too much about it but I know it involves planting in cycles linked to various natural phenomenon. It's all pretty out-there for me. However, I have to say that empirically, whatever they're doing, is working. Their veggies, IMO, are just absolutely delicious. They are the best I've had.

      How good are the veggies? Well, I like to think of it this way: when I cook elsewhere buying the best organic and locally-grown vegetables I can find, my cooking still suffers. Here, using TM veggies, I think I am a terrific cook; I love my cooking. Elsewhere, somehow, magically, I am a *significantly* less good cook. ...not. All that "good chefing" on my part is really just manipulation of really, really good ingredients. Which is to say, my cooking really stays the same and yet it tastes different when I'm away from LA. I take this as proof of the good quality of the ingredients I use in LA -- Tierra Miguel's vegetables.

      As I say, it's been in the order of ten years now that I've cooked from a box of TM's weekly harvest and I'm still not bored. Their vegetables are delicious. And interesting. When I first was evaluating whether I wanted to subscribe to TM, I took their veggies with me to the Farmer's Market to compare price and type received. But with their veggies in hand I realized something about the Farmer's Markets that I had absolutely never picked up on before: the produce that's for sale at these places is really very limited in diversity. What's sold there is really +/- the same sorts of stuff that's available at Vons or Ralphs. not literally of course, but by-and-large yes. There's very little in the way of interesting or heirloom seeds (apart from some predictable tomatoes) or greens. I just hadn't realized this before. Not until I tried to match my CSA box did I realize how limited were the offerings there: I couldn't match the box (apples to oranges so to speak!); the produce in my box just wasn't there at the market. And what was was so comparatively inferior in quality that it wasn't a very fair comparison either.

      Now -- Tierra Miguel's offerings are really not for everyone; this I've seen over the years. To me receiving the box is like having a puzzle to work out every week: how will I cook up this particular spectrum of veggies? If this isn't a challenge you feel like addressing, the exercise will become tiresome very quickly. If, for example, you'd like to go out to eat with some regularity, as perforce I imagine many on this board do (!), the box can quickly become oppressive: you can't go out to eat because you have veggies to cook up!

      Handling the constant volume is indeed a challenge. Anything that keeps coming regularly even if it's not a huge volume per se, grows to be one for the relentless pace. Over the years I've come to think of the contents as if I were growing them myself in the sense that my rule is, if I can't eat the veggies right away I have a "responsibility" to them to put them up or in some way process the veggies for longer-term storage (usually I freeze or dry them). This works well and you get into a rhythm with it.

      Another way TM's veggies aren't for everyone and you might rather a delivery service like LOVE or org express is in that you can't control what you receive with TM, while you can with the other two services. Thus if you despise some particular vegetable, you may well get it anyway if that's what came ripe on the farm that week. Conversely if you want to cook a certain particular recipe that calls for a specific quantity of something, you can pretty well be certain that it is unlikely to arrive in your TM box. However you could *order* it from LOVE or org express. I liken it to shopping at RossDressForLess -- if you go there looking for something in particular, you're likely to leave disappointed, but when you're open to taking what just happens to be there, you often depart with some exciting finds. Anticipating something in your box is likely to leave you frustrated. If you can just decide to cook whatever it is that arrives you'll find yourself far happier. Again, this model isn't for everyone.

      Other things about TM that may or may not appeal: the change of seasons is slow. over the course of a year your box will decidedly change but week to week the shift may be slow-enough to feel monotonous to some. s'OK with me; I like it. Not all do.

      My kids look at their classmates' lunches wistfully, wanting any manner of fruits and vegetables out of season, some, even, organic. They don't find them in their own lunchbox very often because I like the notion of going with the rhythm of the season -- and also I hate the ordeal of going to retail stores, even the CoOp! But that doesn't mean you *can't* supplement your box. Also, you can subscribe now to an every-other-week box from TM, which some like for the variety they feel their diet can accommodate that way, going every other week to the market or whatever.

      IMO the cost of TM's box makes it a real steal, but that's only partly an outright consideration. As mentioned above, directly comparing its cost is really difficult because it contains any manner of vegetables that simply aren't available from the Farmer's Market, and then what you find there is usually very much less fresh and tasty than TM's. But for me, personally, the real savings comes in *keeping me away from the Farmer's Market*!!! When I enter a Farmer's Market it's rare for me to leave without 3-5 fewer $20 bills in my pocket. I just can't help myself; it all is so tempting -- and really expensive. A lot of the stuff sold at those markets is just way more expensive than it can be found, often by the same sellers, at retail establishments! The whole proposition of shopping at a Farmer's Market is in fact quite luxurious - in time and money. So, for me, I measure the cost of TM more broadly than just in terms of what I shell out; I factor in what I *don't* shell out too.

      Politically, in terms of the health of the planet, purchasing from a single farm/er and also through a CSA makes a lot of sense to me. Ooof --- this is such a big subject. There's a lot written about it out there, but briefly, the point is to minimize global resource-cost by eating "closer to home". To this end I wish TM weren't so far from us, but the economics of megalopolises pretty much dictate this. Conversely, the consumer-oriented setup of a service like LOVE/org express exchanges the convenience of ordering and picking-and-choosing for husbanding nonrenewable energy -- it's healthier for the planet not to go carting all that stuff from all over the place just so you can choose broccoli over chard. There's way more but this post is long enough. But I have been meaning to post about it ages ago when someone asked me ... I've felt guilty about not writing on this subject for some long while now! I hope SWISSCHARRED finds this post.

      Another thing about TM; there is such community and philosophical and spiritual and political and ecological depth to the place. They are a non-profit organization and are so richly vested in what they do and their community. They are located close to many native American reservations and a lot of "nutritional poverty", which they address with donated food and information and training and on and on and on. They are a truly circular self-sustaining informational organization and year-on-year growing "organism" -- now I sound pretty wacky; sorry. Here's an example: one day I was talking with the Farmer for the organization and he said "I hope you don't mind but I took some of your lupin seeds" -- certainly I didn't but they were from seeds I had fairly carefully collected and hauled cross-country as I love the flowers so I wondered why. It turns out that lupins fix nitrogen apparently orders of magnitude better than just about any other method except synthetic perhaps. He pulled up a plant and showed me all the nodules on its root system. I thought that was so *interesting*!! He was experimenting with planting some fields in lupin as a natural rejuvenation of the soil. I find this absolutely incredibly cool, to know where your food is coming from, the people who are thinking about it and the process in terms of a large cycle of how it sustains the next generation of plants.

      This is just a completely different model of food-use from LOVE/org express. It is, frankly, truly revolutionary in a back-to-the-future sort of way.

      My apologies for waxing positively cultish here. I don't usually do this, but as I said, I am a true, deep fan and really I should perhaps speak up about this more often. Thanks for reading this far....And please, I could go on for hours more if anyone wants. Let me know your email and I'll be happy to bore you further!

      1. re: aliris

        I've purchased from a CSA once and probably won't do it again (despite wanting to support their organization). The produce that came in my box was poorly cared for and even more poorly maintained. Green beans were strewn all over the box and I had to pick through other, leafy greens that were dismantled to get a servable helping of vegetables. The box the produce came in was old, beaten up, and visually deteriorating. The bottom of the box had a two inch gap through which produce was falling out and large enough to pick up anything the box may have been dragged over on a floor or in the back of a truck where people walk. Like I said, I'd love to subscribe and support this organization but not if they care so poorly for the food that they bring to market.

        FYI, this is in reference to the CSA by the name of South Central Farmers.

        1. re: mrshankly

          I think your objections sound like details related to the delivery of this particular farm. I'd urge you to try another -- they are not all like this! I hope you will try the concept again. As you mention, it is - in both of our opinions - an effort worth supporting. For so many reasons! FWIW I have not found Tierra Miguel to suffer from this problem; I don't know about the others.

          1. re: aliris

            I will definitely try Tierra Miguel. Thanks!!!

            1. re: aliris

              I'm also really enthused about Terra Miguel after reading your post. Could you give an estimate of how much produce is in one box just so I have a better idea? Thanks for all the information!

              1. re: mollyomormon

                Hi. You can see their newsletter that lists what's delivered each week on the website listed above. (tierramiguelfoundation.org)

                I'm with you about being unclear as to the size of each box and feeling nervous about buying sight-unseen. I'd urge you to give the office a call and see whether they'd be willing to spring for a "market basket" box. Years and years ago they'd sometimes do that, inconsistently. It's a problem I've had with the farm for all this time, that it's hard for someone to just commit like that. Alternatively they should be willing to let you phone your nearest drop-off point coordinator and just ask to come over and look at a box when they're delivered. Sometimes if there's an extra left over they might even pass that along to you ;)

                But this isn't really answering the question; it's hard to is why. Volume depends on what's ripe in a a given week and what climatic forces have been tugging on harvest. If I say that it's work to finish a whole box for my family of 4 with me cooking every day, would that suffice? Others I know say the box is insufficient in size for their family each week, so this is a subjective measure as well, I realize. Maybe the office has a more concrete answer to offer? Sorry....

                1. re: aliris

                  This is actually very helpful.Thanks!

          2. re: aliris

            What a great reply post! Thank you SO much for the thoughtfulness and detail. The specificity about why what works does for you is incredibly useful! Bravo!

            1. re: aliris

              The correct URL is; www.tierramiguelfarm.org

              Aliris, your review sounds exactly what I am looking for. Thanks for taking the time to be so thorough.

              1. re: WynneT

                Great! Please let everyone know how it goes ... these are many CSA options out there nowadays, I think, and your input will be helpful for all. I believe, for example, TM has recently lowered their prices, presumably in response to "market forces".

          3. Hi - I currently use LOVE. I've been generally happy and been using their services for well over a year now. Only negatives are that there is not a HUGE selection and I'm still getting used to the idea that I don't get to pick out the best apple myself like I would in a grocery store. Overall, their service is great and they are more than happy to replace anything that winds up being bad.

            1. Auntie Em's does an East side organic food delivery. They're based in Eagle Rock, and the info is on their website.

              1. Abundant Harvest started delivering in Pasadena last year - it is fantastic. A big box of weekly fruits and veggies, all organic, for $20. An even bigger one for about $35. Plus lots of add-ons available too. Just go to their website www.abundantharvestorganics.com and sign up, ask questions, etc.

                1 Reply
                1. re: purvline

                  I second Abundant Harvest Organics. Their fruits and vegetables are always top quality and you get a lot of it at a very reasonable price.

                2. We're looking into Tanaka Farms which is a family farmed based in Irvine. Will let you know how it turns out. They're one of the few remaining family farms in the coastal belt of Orange County that I know of.

                  http://www.tanakafarms.com/

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    An excellent CSA in Orange County is South Coast Farms in San Juan Capistrano http://www.southcoastfarms.com/ They deliver widely though I don't know if they make it to Pasadena, which is where the OP was wanting delivery. I think a lot of the comments about CSAs have been interesting and accurate. They're not for everyone, but for some people it works very well. I would really miss my baskets.

                    1. re: bulavinaka

                      Is this the same Tanaka Farms with a presence at many farmer's markets? I have a real problem with the varieties they grow which are few in diversity and suspicious in size. Further I find the people who work for them not-nice in the extreme. I have in fact wondered about the veracity of their "organic" offerings and the, I dunno "commitment" I'll say for lack of a better word. I haven't checked out their farm directly and I am told their reputation is so huge that questioning their farming practices is really heresy. But I won't buy it at the markets. =0.02.

                      1. re: aliris

                        To your questions and comments: Don't know; know nothing about what varieties they grow or the "suspicious sizes; haven't met them except once or twice back in the 80s when picking up some great strawbs at their stand; "organic" is a label that many reputable farmers laugh at and many are accused of cheating on; no one is above scrutiny.

                        Just so you know, we are considering signing up with them because our kids' school is offering their CSA service as a fund raiser. I normally only specifically buy what I want from mostly farmers markets but thought the CSA thing might be fun. I appreciate your .02 but at the same time, it really sounds like you have some hostile feelings toward this particular grower. Is there anything good about them, or are they as bad as you seem to make them out to be? I'm afraid they'll kick my 81 year-old mom just for the fun of it and leave a burning bag of dog poop on the porch with our CSA drop.

                        1. re: bulavinaka

                          Whether there's "anything good about them", I can't say. I once, several years ago, asked a farmer I know who sells at the market about my suspicions and he said it was understood in his world that their food was not as promised. Yet, from another I was told that their reputation was, as I mentioned above, "huge". So what's true? I dunno -- as you mention -- well actually, you don't mention -- I was thinking you'd noted that anyone could cheat despite the certification; who's to know what happens after dark on any given evening? But you don't say that, you say that "many reputable farmers laugh at and many are accused of cheating on; no one is above scrutiny" -- which is rather different.

                          Anyway, I just erased a rather long and tedious parsing of your words... why go there? Among those ideologically committed to the organic movement, cheating would be totally anathema. Among those ideologically committed, certification is an important element of community and belonging; it is a political movement. It is indeed cheaper not to partake of the certification process, but it is opting out of the cost at the expense of those who have been doing the community and consciousness-raising for a very, very long time. The achievement of an organic certification was a very long and hard-fought battle. There is a lot of history there as well as practical modern realities (for example, that agra-biz is now involved in the whole shebang and the specifics of certification is a huge political football). But personally, it is an effort and a process I think is better supported than not, inherent flaws and practicalities notwithstanding.

                          At the risk of inciting a fire-storm, I note an analogy with the anti-vaccination position that holds one is perfectly safe if all those around you are vaccinated; the personal risk need not be assumed in such conditions. The notion of "organic" is trusted as far as one is willing to stand up and be counted as farming "organically". At the end of the day there is no substitution for knowing the people who raise the food you put into your body.

                          I urge you to visit Tierra Miguel down in Pauma Valley. I urge you to visit Tanaka Farms. Perhaps your child's classroom would like to do that as part of their fundraising process. Perhaps you will get a sense of their honesty and integrity that way, directly. Please do let us know what you, your 81 year-old mom, and your child, feel! Personally, I would find it bizarre in the extreme should you encounter a Community Supported Agriculture program that did not welcome its members on the farm; it is incumbent upon all members to be involved. And you are (or will be), after all, a "shareholder". Good luck.

                          1. re: aliris

                            I've found the general community associated with the term, "organic," to be all over the map. Some folks are really nice, some are not so nice, and a fair amount behave in ways that puts them on the outer fringes of society. Some seem to have chips on their shoulders - probably with good reason - and others just leave it be.

                            I've been going to one organic farmer's stand at the Sunday Mar Vista FM ever since they showed up a little over six months ago - love their produce, but one of the folks behind the counter always seems to give me this stare with a slight scowl. Dark cold clouds move in above us as I hand over the produce and pay for what I'm purchasing. Do I care? As long as they're not spitting on my produce or flippin' me the bird, I will live with it.

                            The arguments on how our food should be grown, shipped, sold and prepared are obviously not a subject of this board. This issues are far too complex and filled with personal feelings, half-truths and societal issues that pull well-meaning folks' views into places that they didn't intend to go. I don't want to get into any lengthy tit-for-tat with you either. But I would also urge your to pull back a little. I feel that if you read your responses as a third-person, particularly your first one to me, you'll find a lot of broad-siding accusations of a place that neither of us know enough about, thereby tainting their reputation as well as possibly yours.

                            As to this whole issue about organic v. everything else, Russ Parsons has a refreshing point of view. Here's an article from last year that might interest you:

                            http://www.latimes.com/features/food/...

                            :)

                            1. re: bulavinaka

                              Mr Bulavinaka -- I have read and reread my response to your posting repeatedly. I stand by it. I would not have written it had I not carefully considered this opinion over the course of some 15 years. As mentioned, I have no personal acquaintance with this farm or farmer/s. (Though several years ago while my concerns were growing I tried repeatedly to reach them by phone, fruitlessly).

                              As mentioned above, I would *strongly* urge you to visit this farm or any other farm in which you have an interest, economic or otherwise. It is, as you insinuate, the only way to persuade yourself of the integrity of its growers and their operations... as you say, no one is above scrutiny. And the point of the CSA movement is to support and encourage local, small-scale growing. Which, BTW, is an effort and issue qualitatively different from the one addressed by the article you reference. Parson's thesis is knee-jerk dogmatism toward "organics"; mine is precisely the same concern - that the underlying integrity of the operation be scrutinized.

                              Organic labeling, which you bring up, is a political issue of debatable place on this board (which personally I'm happy to allow but would probably be the moderator's prerogative); one's opinion of quality, taste/flavor, experience and availability is precisely my understanding, at least, of chowhound's purpose. I tried to address these issues. You are, of course, free to disagree with me on any of them. But please do not suggest my opinions are not carefully considered.

                              Submitted with probably too much ire, but respectfully nonetheless...

                      2. re: bulavinaka

                        I've just placed my first CSA order with Tanaka Farms -- through the local elementary school. It's arriving day after tomorrow, so I'll let you know how it is. I ordered one veggie box and one fruit box. We're looking to buy/eat locally-grown food as much as possible. The surprise contents will be a challenge ... er, uh, I mean ... fun!

                        1. re: Seleneca

                          Seleneca -- this is terrific, if we can possibly get a sense of how your box compares with others ... or at the very least what you think about yours. I have been very interested and happy to learn of the other CSAs out there but getting the information is not easy. I know from farmers that building support is a real challenge. Our being able to exchange information about this will be a terrific service to all of us. So please, I am interested to know your reactions as they develop; I urge you to share them with other hounds. And I thank the moderators for not deciding that since this topic is not about a restaurant it needs to be moved. I like having the issue play out here as it does relate to "eating out" in LA in a broader sense.

                          Also, just plain collecting together a list of the other CSAs and their range would be helpful. As I recall:

                          • Auntie Ems -- they're in WeHo I believe.
                          • "CSA in Orange County is South Coast Farms in San Juan Capistrano http://www.southcoastfarms.com/ "
                          • "Tierra Miguel in Pauma Valley" w/delivery to greater LA, Riverside, San Diego
                          • South Central Famers coop (http://scfcoop.southcentralfarmers.com/)
                          www.farmfreshtoyou.com -- is this a CSA?
                          • Abundant Harvest Organics

                          Were there others I'm missing? It's important to note whether they're a CSA (single farm, share-of-the-harvest design) or delivery service (multiple sources). Thanks for helping float everyone's boat by sharing information....

                      3. I get deliveries from www.farmfreshtoyou.com

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: vinosnob

                          How would you compare their produce to the better farmer's markets, Vinosnob?

                          1. re: epop

                            I started getting deliveries over the past few months so I've gotten a lot of the heartier produce available i.e. potatoes, cavalo nero, leeks, satsuma oranges, etc. and it's all as good as what I find locally in LA.

                            I've only had one issue and that was with apples; a couple of times the apples arrived badly bruised. FFTY handled it well and gave me an order of apples for free with my next shipment and there were no issues.

                            Curious to see how the more delicate stuff (berries, etc.) will arrive once the weather warms up later in the year.

                            Overall, I think it's a great deal for quality produce.

                            1. re: vinosnob

                              Thanks, also very helpful!

                              1. re: vinosnob

                                Good to know. Thank you for taking a moment, Vinosnob.

                          2. I subscribe to the South Central Famers coop (http://scfcoop.southcentralfarmers.com/) and think it's a great value, only $15 for a bushel box and there is no commitment. You can pick up a box at the whole food in Pasadena. They only offer vegetables and as mentioned in some of the other post there is not a ton of variety. They are also a bit of a homespun operation so don't expect a ton of customer service.

                            1. i realize this is kind of an old discussion, but i just used farmers market fairy (www.farmersmarketfairy.com) and was really, really happy. linda, the owner, knows her way around the markets. i am very picky about my produce and meat, and actually like shopping myself, so i was skeptical of having someone shop for me, but a recent surprise appendectomy, left me no choice. actually, i could have had a friend go to a regular grocery store, but that kinda bummed me out and i valued our friendship too much to do that to her. i literally emailed her a list of things i needed, and also asked her to pick out some fruits and veggies that looked/tasted good. she was even able to find raisins! the next day it was all delivered to me. even though i like to shop for myself. there are definitely weeks that i am so busy with work that taking a few hours to get to the market on the weekend is a huge chunk of time. i will be using the farmers market fairy again!