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Oct 8, 2008 06:03 PM

2008 CSA Reviews

I noticed that a lot of the CSA are starting to sell 2009 shares which has gotten me thinking about what I'm going to do for next year. I'd like to see what people's experiences are for the 2008 growing season as it's winding down.

I've done Red Fire Farm the past 2 years. Quality and variety have been fantastic. Their organic produce usually looks better than the conventionally grown produce. I thought it was a great value last year but there were some weeks this year that the share seemed a little light. It seems like this year has been tough for growing with all the rain and Red Fire lost a big portion of the broccoli and cucumber crops. I liked being able to pick out my vegetables each week and pick ups have been very well organized.

My debate for next year, is Stillman's vs Red Fire. I like that Red Fire is certified organic and has great variety but Stillman's seems like a bargain, especially since shares include fruit. Has anyone had experience with both?

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  1. I was a member of Stillman's this year. It was my first time, having used the Waltham CSA in the past.

    The quality was always greta, but I was regularly disappointed by the lack of variety in the box compared to what they were selling 5 feet away at their farmstand. For example, most weeks in which they gave us tomatoes, we received 2-3 beefsteak tomatoes, while they sold about 6 different types of heirlooms at the farm stand. I know this was a bad year for tomatoes, but getting heirlooms in August is like 60% of the reason for joining a CSA. Even now, they offer 5 varieties of potatoes at the farmstand, but 1 in the box.

    The fruit aspect is nice, especially during berry season. The Stillman's box is smaller than other CSAs, which explains much of the lower cost. They also don't really offer herbs. Maybe all CSAs are like this and you just don't see it, but the Stillman's CSA seemed like an afterthought compared to their farmstand operations.

    Everyone at Stillman's was very nice, and I wasn't disappointed in a vacuum (just compared to other CSA options). Next year I am definitely going with Waltham again.

    2 Replies
    1. re: DoubleMan

      I'm kind of with DoubleMan. I switched to Stillmans from Red Fire Farm this year for four reasons. 1) More convenient time (although RFF since added an MIT Friday pickup that would have probably worked well for me).
      2) availability of a half share (family of two with a smallish fridge) 3) fruit share being included instead of extra and 4) boxed shares instead of pick your own from big boxes. This ended up not being a factor as Stillmans (at least at the Brookline pickup) switched to the pick your own out of the box. The appeal of boxes was partly so that friends or my veggie unsavvy partner could just go and pick up the share without having to try to figure out how to pick a perfect butternut squash/ kholrabi/ lemon cucumber. It also seemed like a more efficient pickup instead of standing in line trying to remember "how many peppers again?"

      Although the overall volume of a half share was pretty good for the two of us, and the freshness and quality was high, I was a little disappointed in the variety, especially in comparison with the stillmans' farm stand. Also, although overall volume was good, sometimes it was strangely distributed. Like getting two new potatoes, or a one portion of green beans. Not quite enough for a serving or most recipies. Obviously you store them up for the next week or two and cook up a batch together, but part of a CSA is enjoying the super freshness, not holding green beans until you have enough for two servings.
      Everyone at Stillmans was really nice, and the meat CSA has been really fantastic, but I'm on the fence about it. I realize that my issues may be more about the half share than the overall experience, but I think that if RFF has their MIT pickup again I'm going to go with their basic share, and buy fruit a la carte.

      1. re: DoubleMan

        My first year with Stillman's, and having never been a member of a CSA in the past, I though the entire experience was great. With two small kids at home, the full share simply was too much for us, but we are signing up for the half for next season.

        Even though the season for the CSA is technically over, we went by last week to shop at the farmers market side, said hi to the regular crew, and they asked if we simply wanted more. So they gave us a big bag of apples, a big bag of spuds, and 6 nice squash - the latter two, with what we have saved in the last few weeks, will easily last through the winter months. A few other smaller items were thrown in as well -

        Regarding the tomato issue, by signing up ealy, we got a bunch of "Stillman bucks", so when the heirlooms came out, I simply spent my Stillman's bucks on them - never actually took money out of my wallet, and got plenty of heirlooms anyway.

        Getting berries, apples, pears, peaches and melons with our share was a huge bonus - if the other CSAs don't offer this, then this alone is reason enough to convince me to stick with Stillman's next year.

        Personally, I could find nothing at fault with the CSA this year.

      2. I was with the Farm School this year - theirs is a half bushel of organic veggies (there were 5-6 weeks where we got a pint of blueberries or strawberries as well) Variety was pretty good, but there were no heirlooms or different potato varieties like I was expecting, but I felt that there could have been more volume ($600 for the summer CSA is one of the highest prices I have seen), especially at the beginning of the season, the box was not very full. They have some herbs, as well, some parsley and cilantro at the beginning of the season, lots of basil throughout, but only one week with fill. Quality of vegetables was pretty good as well - only a few items turned bad (quickly - within a couple of days).

        I'm trying out Waltham Fields for their winter share and will report back!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Christie

          We're just finishing up our 2nd year with Red Fire Farm. The quality, quantity and variety of the produce has been nothing short of stellar. In addition to the usual suspects we have received garlic scapes, leeks, pea shoots, tomatillos, spaghetti squash, delicata squash, many varieties of eggplant , rainbow carrots, red cabbage, many herbs, etc etc. We also ordered the flower share, which was a real treat. Lovely flowers carefully was great to begin each Friday night with a fresh bunch. Their website offers recipes for each week's haul. or me, it wouldn't be growing season without a Red FIre Farm share.

        2. Waltham Farms CSA. This was my first year with them. Early in the season I was a bit disappointed. I felt the shares were light for the cost. And where were the greens ? (This fall it turns out) But it was a lousy year for gardens in general and as the season went on, I realized just how hard they were working to get what turned out to be substantial shares to us. I liked being able to pick out my produce rather than have a boxed shared. The variety was good, the produce exceptional. There was quite a bit of PYO. This can be good or bad. To get your moneys worth - you want to pick all you're allowed to of peas, beans, tomatillos, cherry tomatoes, flowers, herbs. On the other hand, for me - bad back, bad knees, torn rotator (blah, blah, blah) the picking was difficult. You want tomatoes - 3 weeks running - 10 pounds a week (plus the PYO) and they say this was a low year ! Successful CSA for me is a separate freezer full for produce for the winter. Success !
          Also like to talk up last years - Parker Farm. A great CSA - logistics dictated move to Waltham. Hope someone can say how this years Parker was.

          5 Replies
          1. re: chowmel

            My SO and I did Parker Farm (and a CSA) for the first time this year, so though I have no prior experience with any CSA, we were very impressed with quantity and quality. We split a large share with one other person, so most weeks there was far more than we could ever eat between the three of us. The variety was really good - mostly greens for the first few weeks (but generally about 5-6 varieties a week) and then most of the veggies I was seeing at the farmer's markets. I know people said it was a tough year for tomatoes, but we got TONS. The only fruit we got was strawberries and apples, but we got plenty of those and I wasn't expecting much fruit to be a part of the shares. The pick-up location was really convenient for us, and I did like how we could all pick our own from large boxes. We still have a couple weeks to go and I certainly feel as though we've gotten our money's worth - and will be all winter with the amount we were able to freeze.

            1. re: soxchik

              We've gotten a small share the last few years. And, I really love it. There was a lot of variety and a lot of stuff period. I especially like the unexpected veggies like cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli. It's amazing how great these taste, freshly picked. I also don't really think of these as summer veggies so they were an extra treat. The beets and corn were exceptional this year as well.

              Convenient pick up location and nice people. Also, I feel like I got more than my money's worth. Unlike you, I don't have a lot to freeze. Every week, I try and finish most of the share so that my fridge doesn't get overwhelmed.

              I'll be sad when the season ends and I'll definitely be back next year.

              1. re: beetlebug

                Don't forget the yummy kohlrabi and luscious fava beans. My friend and I split the small share from Parker Farm this year...there was plenty of food and was worth every (inexpensive) penny. We will be joining the masses again and again!

            2. re: chowmel

              Repeat Waltham Fields Community Farm CSA holder - echo Chowmel's report - the share is reasonably priced. I felt like the variety was not as great this year - not too many squash and melons, unfortunately. Last year, we got butternut squash and delicata until they were coming out our ears. This year, only one or two weeks of delicata and no butternuts - several weeks of acorns though. But really a good job with a continuous flow of lettuces, arugula, spinach, etc. Years past, they went crazy with the kale and collards, but I think there was not so much demand, so lighter this year...Yield on broccoli and cauliflower seemed much better than last year. Green tomatoes continue as part of the share as late as last week, so they are *still* coming. That's also an improvement.

              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                Amendment to my earlier post - this week, we got 2lbs of butternut squash and 2lbs of sweet potatoes. Also, lots of russet potatoes this year - 3 lbs. for the past 3-4 weeks. Will last well into winter. Still receiving green heirloom-y tomatoes that have been sill-ripening mostly with good results.

            3. I have to third the reservations about Stillman's this year. This was my first year with them, and in a CSA, though I was a beneficiary of my SO's share in Parker Farm for several years. The quality of the produce in terms of appearance was great, but we both felt the taste of some of the items (e.g. the tomatoes at times, and the beets) were not as "wow-inspiring" as I had expected (I've previously bought produce at Shaw's and WF, so my bar wasn't really high.) I agree with the disappointment that some more of the variety at the retail stand wasn't reflected in the boxes.

              I do also agree that the meat CSA has been fantastic. I'll probably sign up for another 6 months of meat, and will probably drop the veggie CSA and either just rely on farmers markets next year, or maybe go with Red Fire or Waltham CSA next year.

              4 Replies
              1. re: newyorker1

                I just dropped my meat share. The final two months [of 6] I didn't feel that Stillman's was living up to their own agreement regarding how the shares would be divided. Last month I received a 5 lb chicken, two racks of all fat spare ribs and a pound of ground pork. That cost me $70!!!!! Stillman's stated that half the share would be higher end cuts, while half would be stew or ground meats. I simply can't consider a 5 lb chicken a high end meat.

                The month before that was all pork, including 2.5 lbs of pork belly, 2 lbs of ground pork, country ribs and spare ribs. Again, $70 for a share that consisted of 90% pork fat.

                It was a hard decision to stop supporting the Stillman farm, but I simply couldn't justify the value. I think they are really nice folks. I like their methods of raising animals. The few times we actually received a little lamb in the share it was delicious, and the pork tastes like pork. However, I felt I had to make the decision I made since I was beginning to feel ripped off.

                1. re: smtucker

                  I was curious if anyone else had reservations about Stillman's Meat CSA. I too have felt that they aren't living up to the promise of a 50-50 split between stew/ground meats and higher end cuts. Beyond pork chops and the occasional steak, it seems really heavy on the ground meats, pork bellies, and country-style ribs.

                  Its also not their fault, but I've found it exceptionally difficult to deal with small (read single serving) portions of stew/slow cook meat over the summer. I know how to cook it, I just don't want to on a hot day.

                  Again, they are lovely people and I appreciate their treatment of animals. Its just hard to justify the cost for what you get.

                  1. re: slowcookedbeef

                    Hmm... that's interesting, I seem to have gotten a different mix of meat than you have; I wonder how they split things up? (I pickup in JP, and I might be skewed because I got a double share in Sept. due to the fact I forgot to pick up in August.) I've gotten a whole chicken, a rack of ribs, three ham steaks (pretty hefty-sized ones), 3-5 ground pork or beef packages, two packages of bacon (quite lean, in a good way), and a big eye round roast, thus far. No lamb yet, but also no pork belly or stew meat. I have a 10 lb/month share. Not cheap for $7/lb or so, but I haven't felt particularly ripped off. And I really like knowing there aren't any antibiotics in my food...

                  2. re: smtucker

                    I hope that all of those who have a problem with the Stillman's meat CSA have actually voiced their opinions to Aiden and Kate. They need to know if you feel you're not getting what you were promised (and it will benefit everyone in the long run). And they may actually do something to make it right. The first month we got our share (we're only currently signed up for a 1/4 share - 5 lb/mo, but plan to up to 10 lb) I thought it felt awfully light. When I got home I actually weighed it and it was 3.9 lb! A far cry from 5 lb, and a real bummer for our introductory month. I sent Kate an email and she was very apologetic and they made it up to us (and then some) at our next pick-up.

                    We have been so thrilled with the quality of the meat that we're planning to increase our share to 10 lb the next go-around. I have never had bacon that tasted so good. Back in tomato season we made BLTs with Stillmans bacon and tomato and leaf lettuce from Stillmans CSA on Iggy's bread and thought we died and gone to heaven.

                2. Has anyone used Boston Organics? I've been thinking this would be a good CSA for us.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Gio

                    I don't think that this is a CSA but rather a food delivery service. A CSA is a local farmer who provides their produce to you. Boston Organics is organic first and only sometimes local. My own personal preference is for local and in season rather than organic at any time of year. But I believe with BO you get to choose exactly what you want each week which you don't get to do with a CSA. With the CSA you get what's in season that week.