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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. The original comment has been removed
              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.