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CSA's Any Thoughts or Opinions?

Looking to hear from people about their experience or opinions with CSA subscriptions. Are they a waste? A Rip-off? Great Value? Any opinions welcome. Thanks

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  1. What does CSA stand for? You'll get more answers if we know what you're talking about.

    3 Replies
      1. re: Kim Cooper

        Sorry for that it stands for Community Supported Agriculture.

        1. re: Kim Cooper

          Sorry Kim, but CSA is considered the common term. And I live in Boston, so it's a pretty universal thing. I could be making a wrong assumption, but I am guessing you may not be familiar with them. If not, I would highly recommend checking out the local harvest link ChinoWayne posted. CSA's are great! Enjoy!

        2. You might want to state which area you're in, as availability will vary.

          Some prior discussions -

          1. I've done Farm Fresh to You for several years. Started with them because they deliver to my home in Vacaville. Family of 4 become 3 and we don't use it all, but I do use a lot. Quality usually good and varied.In winter we love fennel, citrus, kale, collards, leeks, potatoes, salad mix (especially for my guinea pig!) but should ask for less bok choy and escarole. Soon green garlic, favas.Recent price increase (March), but also increase in options. I buy their snack mix locally as well.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Shrinkrap

              If mostly local is okay with you, then FFTY is okay. But Farm Fresh to You is not a full CSA in the sense that they do not support the local Community 100% (the C in CSA). They source the majority of the produce from Capay, but add variety with out of area items. IMO, that defeats the point of a CSA. I stopped the service after I received cilantro from Mexico, which can be purchased at Safeway for 1/3rd the price if that's what you want.

              From their website:

              "During the summer months, over 80% of the produce going into the services comes from our farm, Capay Organic. Contents are first sourced from our farm, then neighboring farms in Yolo County. Next, contents are sourced from outside the local region to provide the necessary varieties in your specific service, deviating from the Pacific Northwest in the winter months."

              1. re: Shane Greenwood

                Yes, I've noticed that since this thread started. And I have recently been promoting them to neighbors. And I'm facing a price increase, and a decrease in kids living at home. And I historically grow my own, and support our farmers market. So it IS food for thought. But if I'm not mistaken, Vacaville is off the beaten path, and without a lot of delivery options. I once looked into full-belly, but at that time, it was "close but no cigar". I think FFTY is going to remain an acceptable compromise.

                1. re: Shrinkrap

                  That path's pretty well beaten, CSA trucks coming from the Guinda area have to drive through Vacaville on their way to the East Bay or SF. Eatwell and Terra Firma have pickup points there.


                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Thanks! I'm checking it out! And now that you mention it, I think it was Eatwell I checked out in the past. I'm hoping the maps we current. Businesses are dropping like flies around here ....

            2. CSA= Community Supported Agriculture. Typically a subscriber pays a fee to pick up a basket of vegetables grown by a local farm, usually at a neighbor's house.

              It depends mostly on the CSA and partially your eating habits. I started with Eatwell and was initially very happy (lovely green garlic), but then left because I felt the quality of the produce in my box was poor (mushy apples, moldy strawberries) and far inferior to what they were selling at the Ferry Bldg. This is just my experience--hopefully some people that are stlll happy with Eatwell will post.

              I switched to Two Small Farms (http://www.twosmallfarms.com/) and I pay about $22/box. A typical box had salad mix, chard, carrots, radishes, parsley, a hard squash, strawberries and a couple of mystery items. Most CSAs try to provide pretty basic, common vegetables that families find relatively easy to use. The quality of the vegetables at Two Small Farms is very high. For example, I find the greens last at least a week longer than what you get at the supermarket. Most CSAs offer a trial period where you can get a few boxes without paying for the whole year. I recommend trying candidates out this way so you can get a feel for the produce and whether you find the pickup site/schedule convenient for you.

              In addition, I also pick up Mariquita Farm's Mysterious Thursday basket for myself as well as for friends and coworkers, so I've observed ALOT of people adjusting to CSA living. Both the Two Small Farms and Mariquita Farms are great value-compared to organic greens at supermarkets. Not so much value, if you're used to paying $1 for 3lbs of rotten peppers in the "MUST GO SOON" bin at your local nonorganic grocer.

              Being a CSA member is definitely a learning experience. At first, you'll probably be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of veggies you get. In the beginning, I was like, "Carrots again? Parsley again? WTF am I supposed to do with all these turnips? One tip is to use the internet (carrot cake, tabouleh!) and pay attention to the newsletter that the CSA will give you. It usually has relevant recipes (see Two Small Farms website for example).

              Families that don't cook much, are uncomfortable with new veggies, and are unwilling to pay more than the bare minimum for food, in particular will have trouble adjusting. Some coworkers who dropped out after a couple of weeks, cited primarily unfamiliarity with the vegetables and secondarily price. Vegetarians and young families that eat at home alot tend to do adjust more easily.

              People who stick it out are the ones who learn that pretty much everything can be stirfried, roasted in the oven, and/or made into soup. For example, a janitor at work often picks up a basket. At first, I was concerned, because I thought it might be too much money for a woman from Mexico on a tight budget, but she insisted that she really liked how tasty everything was. I found that of all the people who tried the baskets, she was actually the one who was the most comfortable. Hideously bitter root she had never seen before? No problem--into a spicy stew with beef and beans that she made all the time anyway.

              11 Replies
              1. re: sfbing

                I had the same question about the turnips. (They wound up in a soup with leftover escarole and purple carrots.) But the bottom line is I eat a lot more vegetables because my fridge is full of them, and the fact that they're obscure adds to my interest.

                Just a note that Mariquita is one of the Two Small Farms. Their produce is exceptional and is served in many of the city's best restaurants. The CSA typically has a waiting list. The only downside is it's almost entirely vegetables. Incredible strawberries in the summer though. I believe the recipes are hosted on www.mariquita.com btw.

                The other key aspect of a CSA is where you live and how convenient it is.

                1. re: Windy

                  Yes, once you get the hang of it, the unfamiliar vegetables are the most fun. (I pickled some of my turnips with some orange juice and gin. And afterwards, I drank the pickle juice in a cocktail.)
                  One other thing is that you get a strong sense of the seasons in a not exactly enjoyable way. For example, in April, I was like "ooh strawberries and lettuce mix!". In August after I accumulated 5 bags of spring mix it was "I will die if I see another bag of lettuce!" Then in December I had a temper tantrum "Who can eat all this radicchio without any lettuce!"

                  1. re: sfbing

                    The surprise / adventure / random aspect of the box is a big part of why I subscribe. We pick up on Friday and I'll often dump everything out on the counter and improvise dinner.

                  2. re: Windy

                    I used to mash turnips with butter and green herbs. Yummy.

                    1. re: Kim Cooper

                      Just a friendly reminder, Folks, the focus of the S.F. board is where to find great food, whether at restaurants, retailers, or CSA's, etc. How you put the food to use is out of scope for this board, please feel free to share your recipes on the Home Cooking board, and discussion of food or cuisine in general on the General Topics board.


                  3. re: sfbing

                    We're in our 12th year with Two Small Farms, most of it as a Pick-up-site Host. I can't add much to the other posts except you might find that your food costs go DOWN because the vegetables are so good that the more expensive parts of a meal (meat, dairy, dressings and sauces) aren't needed nearly as much. Also, the need for Pharmacy aids for digestion, vitamin supplements will diminish or disappear completely. We eat less and less in commercial establishments because the best food is at home.

                    1. re: Rocksand

                      One interesting side effect of getting TSF's CSA box and this time of year, Mariquita's mystery box, is I now go to restaurants they supply, to research what real chefs do with the same ingredients.

                      I noticed Incanto had the same radicchio I'd just gotten in my box, and they said to make a salad with blue cheese. Maverick overcooked Mariquita's gorgeous red carrots.

                      Really good ingredients like these definitely do encourage eating in more, or at least eating more vegetables. Sometimes all you need to do is wash and slice.

                      And as Robert notes below, the savings over individually purchasing these items is significant. I was never willing to spend $4 a pound on tomatoes at Bi-Rite or Ferry Plaza, but I happily turn over $25 for a fridge full of organic tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc. For the price of one restaurant dinner, I have more than enough vegetables for a whole week.

                    2. re: sfbing

                      Thanks for the in depth review. Greatly Appreciated! I think now that I'm not quite ready to make that shift and use that amount of vegetables, but maybe someday.

                      1. re: rthorn46

                        When I first started and had trouble adjusting, I split my subscription with a friend so that we each got a basket every other week. That might help make it less intimidating when you do decide to give it a whirl.

                        1. re: sfbing

                          Yes, that's what I do. Highly recommended, especially if you don't have a big family.

                        2. re: rthorn46

                          Grab a few friends and split one! My first year 4 of us shared one. We rotated the pick up each week and had fun meeting and catching up once a week to divvy up the share. It was a great intro, leaving all of us loving it and wanting more! So the following year we split 2 shares amongst the 4 of us (1/2 share ea), and now we are all on our own single shares. lol. It's addicting! Also, some farms offer 1/2 shares. Enjoy!

                      2. I subscribed to Two Small Farms last summer, and the produce was great. After a while we got sick of summer squash and beets, though. I haven't had a beet since CSA season, and probably won't be craving them again for months.

                        1. We have done Two Small Farms for 6 seasons and love it! It has become better IMO over the years. We get a lot more variety now. The quality is better than grocery store and some farms at the farmers market. You adjust to the different produce - for TSF you do get some bitter greens, cardoons, turnips (not that they are that unusual), favas and sunchokes sometimes. We can go through 2 boxes a week with 2 adults and 2 kids, but almost all meals are eaten at home and heavy on the veggies. Many veggies will last 2 weeks in the fridge. Other rave is that they are administratively very organized, which isn't always the case with CSAs. It doesn't work well for people who don't like new things or people who must form menus early in the week because the boxes change frequently from the list released on Tuesday morning.

                          1. I've been a Terra Firma subscriber for about 4 years. I can't imagine life without it. It's always been a fantastic value, selection, convenience, and treat!

                            1. I subscribed to a CSA out of Petaluma last year, and was only moderately happy with it. As it turns out, I really don't like turnips, and even a handful of zucchini every other week was too much. I was also really disappointed with the fruit selection, but I think that was a quirk of the farm I chose.

                              On the upside, I probably wouldn't have picked up chard, I loved the lettuce (no spring mix for us, but beautiful little heads of lettuce), the carrots were amazing...

                              Even though we were only every other week, it just didn't work well for us. I was still visiting a farmers market every week, since I didn't feel like I was getting the produce that I most wanted.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: cyberroo

                                I'm in my third year of doing CSA with Full Belly Farms and cannot see myself ever not doing it. I pick up my weekly box ($17) where they have set up a single-farm farmers market. I love the freshness and variety of veggies. Full Belly has a turn-back policy for any items a subscriber doesn't want. You get a credit on an item you do want. Additionally, the often have other no-veg things to buy, like beans, flour or eggs.

                                It is working really well for me but I like the challenge of figuring out how to use veggies I am not familiar with. There is a weekly newsletter that has offered some great recipes

                              2. http://www.eatwiththeseasons.com/ , while not a proper CSA (they don't grow their own produce, but source from other farmers), is nice in that you can actually choose what you're going to get. If you're fairly picky about your produce (I dislike bitter greens and squash and and and), it's a pretty good way to go.

                                I've been a subscriber for about a month now, and so far I have no complaints.

                                1. Second on Full Belly.

                                  Here's a sample comparison from my blog showing how one week's box compared with the same stuff at the farmers' market the next day:

                                  - 1 bunch broccoli (1 lb.)
                                  - 2 navel oranges (2 lbs.)
                                  - 1 bag salad mix (8 oz.)
                                  - 1 bunch broccoli rabe (14 oz.)
                                  - 2 large bok choy (1.5 lbs.)
                                  - 2 large leeks
                                  - 1 bunch carrots (1 lb.)
                                  - 1 celery root (1 lb. 5 oz.)

                                  Full Belly weekly cost (paying quarterly): $16.50

                                  Purchased at the Berkeley farmers market the next day, the same items would have cost about $24 total, so I saved over 30%--and that's not counting the extra portion of bok choy I snagged from the drop-off site's free box, where subscribers toss items they don't care for. There was also a box of free Meyer lemons, which would have been a thrill if I hadn't brought them myself.

                                  If you live in San Francisco, I recommend the CSA programs of Eatwell Farm, Terra Firma Farm, and Two Small Farms (High Ground Organics and Mariquita Farm). You can find additional CSAs serving SF and other parts of the Bay Area on omorganics.org.

                                  Capay, Inc. (Farm Fresh To You / Capay Organics) has perhaps outgrown the CSA niche--4000sf cold storage, national wholesale operation, retail store, annual sales estimated at $1.2 million by Dun & Bradstreet.

                                  1. Our family has been subscribing to Full Belly for about 8 years. I love hearing from the farm in their weekly letter, almost as much as I enjoy and appreciate the produce. Because you receive whatever is in season at the farm there is not a great deal of variety in the winter and greens can get tiring. This week's carrots were amazing!

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: leahoak

                                      Make some of us can start a "what's in my box" recipe thread on Home Cooking. I've got some carrots, artichokes, and radicchio to deal with.

                                      1. re: leahoak

                                        Winter's my favorite time for the CSA box. I never get tired of greens.

                                        We have in the past stopped our subscriptions in the summer since Full Belly's tomatoes are often underripe and never as good as Lucero's, and their stone fruit is often so hard,, green, and sour that it goes straight into the compost bucket.

                                        Most of the recipes in the newsletter could to my taste be improved by the addition of pork, anchovies, and/or nam pla. Most weeks I include recipes in my blog post detailing the box contents.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Pork is good in nearly everything, but I think CSA newsletters tend towards the vegetarian because a lot of subscribers are.

                                          I hesitate to talk about Mariquita too much because people might take my basket (there is often a waiting list), but their tomatoes are incredibly good. So ripe that they sometimes explode when you look at them funny. When in season, they also often sell the San Marzanos and the heirlooms by the box.

                                          1. re: sfbing

                                            Yes and those of us who live too far east for their CSA and to pick up the weekly mystery box can usually manage to get those tomatoes.

                                      2. The CSA to which I belong (Full Circle Farm in Sunnyvale) is a little pricey, but honestly, that's not the point. I like the Iron Chef challenge of getting a basket full of produce that I don't pre-select. It's kind of fun to make new things--who knew one could come up with so many recipes for kale and kabocha squash??? I also really like the idea of supporting a local farm (especially since our community worked so hard to have surplus school land diverted to this use instead of 54 high density houses smack-dab in the middle of a single-family residential area). I'll gladly pay a premium for a CSA program any day!

                                        1. We use Eatwell. Starting in this CSA about 4 years ago. I eat a ton more vegetables then I used to and am eating things I hardly knew existed (i.e. Kale). I enjoy the Eatwell newsletters, philosophy, and farm outings. Eatwell sponsors Strawberry & Tomato picking days on their farm a couple times a year. http://www.eatwell.com/

                                          1. Here's my question about CSA's: if you have access to good farmer' markets, do you really need them?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: WCchopper

                                              From the point of view of the shopper or the farmer?

                                              As Robert Lauriston pointed out above, there can be a significant savings to the shopper to get a CSA basket as opposed to going to the farmers market. Plus, I kind of like being forced on occasion to be creative and adventurous with my basket (kohlrabi, soncino, puntarelle) as opposed to just buying what I'm familiar with (tomatoes, apples). Also, the CSA frees up a lot of time as I don't HAVE to go food shopping as much.

                                              When I asked Julia of Mariquita Farms about CSAs from their POV, she said that CSA income is much more reliable and was a great help to them for running the farm as opposed to relying on credit. You can also read why they decided to stop selling at the Ferry Building at this link: