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CSA recommendations for 2012?

bobabear Jan 9, 2012 08:33 AM

Hi everyone!

I have been contemplating joining Farm Fresh to You for a while now, but finally decided to sign up yesterday. Unfortunately their Yelp reviews were dismal - lots of spoilage, poor selection and terrible customer service. This convinced me otherwise. I came searching on Chowhound and learned about CSAs via two very helpful threads - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/764780 and http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/692288

However, both threads are a bit dated and I'm looking to hearing your recommendations + experiences on CSAs from last season (mid-2011 and on).

Specific questions I have are:
- Your favorite CSA? Why?
- Your experience from 2011
- Freshness and variety of the boxes? I'm concerned about spoilage because the FFTY reviews were pretty bad.
- Any other suggestions/thoughts?

I'm definitely going to do a 4 week trial, as it seems most of the CSAs offer this option. And for reference, I'm buying for 2 adults - we eat quite a bit of vegetables and thought a CSA would be a great way to try new and fresh fruits & veggies!

Thank you!

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  1. Robert Lauriston Jan 9, 2012 08:41 AM

    Full Belly is still great. The vegetables are as fresh as you can get without growing them yourself.

    Capay Inc. dba Farm Fresh to You is not really a CSA, which is why they don't have the same quality as real CSAs. FFTY is a vegetable delivery service with a 26,000-square-foot warehouse and 40,000 customers.

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7591...

    3 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston
      bobabear Jan 9, 2012 11:28 PM

      Full Belly seemed to be getting best responses from you guys, but unfortunately they don't have pick up spots in SF :( I forgot to mention I live in the city. Thanks for your responses though, Robert!

      1. re: bobabear
        Robert Lauriston Jan 10, 2012 09:38 AM

        Eatwell's a good one with pickup points in SF.

        http://eatwell.com/new-members/join-o...

        1. re: Robert Lauriston
          s
          Spenbald Jan 10, 2012 07:26 PM

          I can't muster up much enthusiasm for Eatwell. We tried the 4 delivery trial and always had something that was either badly damaged (a truly overripe melon had burst and leaked over much of the other produce) or wilted (at least 2 bags of basil that were limp and turning black). The other thing that surprised me about the boxes was how little variety I saw in August and September. We had 4 boxes delivered over 8 weeks and saw nearly the same stuff each time: eggplant, tomatillos, basil (no other herbs), and cherry tomatoes. For that part of the season, I would have expected and craved to see more variety from each delivery. We're trying out FFTY for a few deliveries. Today's looked promising, but I'm alarmed by the amount of plastic packaging used.

    2. a
      Abby0105 Jan 9, 2012 01:29 PM

      I am switching from Capay Valley Farm Shop to Mariquita Farm this year. The trigger was that CVFS no longer has a pickup location convienient to me, but I'm excited about the switch. I've been picking up Mystery Boxes from Mariquita the last couple of weeks, and the variety and quality (and volume!) of the produce has been great. They grow a number of heirloom/intersting veggies. In two weeks, Mariquita has already introduced me to two new ones (Portugese cabbage and pan de zucchero). I will keep getting the mystery boxes (at least most weeks) until the CSA deliveries start in March.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Abby0105
        Windy Jan 11, 2012 06:08 PM

        Mariquita is always exceptional. They do a good job with the CSA of varying week to week. All vegetables; they don't grow fruit.

        1. re: Windy
          w
          wally Jan 11, 2012 09:19 PM

          The mystery box has had apples and strawberries and they were selling cases of both.

          1. re: wally
            Windy Jan 11, 2012 10:51 PM

            Sorry, yes, the amazing strawberries are theirs. They don't grow other fruit though, and while Julia often offers fruit grown by friends along with the mystery boxes, it's not generally in the CSA boxes.

            1. re: Windy
              j
              jsaimd Feb 24, 2012 09:29 PM

              We got apples on boxes last year.

              1. re: jsaimd
                Windy Feb 25, 2012 12:53 AM

                It's not that there's never fruit, but Mariquita doesn't grow any of it except the strawberries. Fruit is a bonus, not something to expect from their CSA boxes.

      2. scarmoza Jan 9, 2012 01:59 PM

        Not a CSA, but we're currently thrilled with Luke's Local (San Francisco Only). It offers some fresh fruits and vegetables (from Capay Farms) plus bread and other very delicious prepared foods.The meal box that we get includes a lovely loaf of bread from Sour Flour, half dozen farm fresh eggs, some apples and pears, winter squash or green vegetables with easy recipe, 3 generously portioned meals,two burritos, spiced almonds. Last month most of the food was prepared by Rice Paper Scissors. We were on vacation last week so we haven't received one in January yet but our friends who also get the box really liked last week's meals by Chef Blair Warsham.

        http://www.lukeslocal.com/meal-box.html

        1. b
          billraymond Jan 9, 2012 02:01 PM

          I've been fairly happy with Eating with the Seasons however I had to cancel them recently. Their food options were pretty good, their "extra small bag" was actually pretty plentiful and the vegetables were usually pretty good. The reason for why I canceled was due to their lack of pickup locations. I live right outside the Castro and had to go to a small shop in Noe Valley to pick up the food. Apparently, they just merged with (or were bought out by?) another CSA in hopes to offer more locations/better produce but I've seen nothing on that front for a long time.

          If you live near their pickup locations, I think you will like Eating with the Seasons and their customer service though.

          1. JoyM Jan 9, 2012 02:30 PM

            We've been doing Farm Fresh to You since last July, and never had any of the problems you mention. The food is always fresh, and every time I've sent them an email they've gotten back to me within an hour. I like the variety of stuff they send, and I like having a list of things that I don't like that will never be in my box. I know they buy from a lot of different organic farms, but I just don't see how that's different than supporting one individual farm. We used to get a box that came directly from a farm, but found we were throwing out or giving away half the box because they didn't allow you to exclude things you don't like. If you look on their website you can see exactly what's in each of their boxes each week and decide for yourself if you like the variety.

            10 Replies
            1. re: JoyM
              Robert Lauriston Jan 9, 2012 02:58 PM

              The stuff I get from Full Belly was often picked the day before, same superior quality as I see at the Berkeley farmers' markets, sometimes better.

              The quality of Capay Inc.'s produce is more like what I see at the grocery store. To supplement what they grow on their own farms, they buy produce from farms from Washington to Mexico, truck it to their huge cold-storage warehouse in West Sacramento, and pack dozens of different boxes for different markets, plus custom boxes for individual customers.

              Full Belly was short of produce one week last winter and substituted some chard from Capay Inc. The leaves were four times the size of any chard I'd seen in the farmers markets and had that tired, stale look of grocery store produce that's been traveling for a while. Though it was labeled as Capay Valley produce, I can't imagine how their farm, 15 miles up the road from Full Belly, could have grown such different chard.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                jason carey Jan 10, 2012 09:25 AM

                Well, different breed of Chard, different soil type, more water, more fertilizer, pick later in vegatative cycle.. that is how.

                1. re: jason carey
                  Robert Lauriston Jan 10, 2012 09:39 AM

                  Theoretically possible, but if it were that sort of variation, why would it be two orders of magnitude larger than any of the stuff at the farmers market?

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                    jason carey Jan 11, 2012 08:42 AM

                    Have you ever had a garden? If you have spent any time with growing , you would understand.

                    1. re: jason carey
                      Robert Lauriston Jan 11, 2012 09:34 AM

                      Yes, and I grew up nearby, and have been buying produce from Capay Valley organic farms since the 70s.

                      Have you ever compared supermarket organic produce from Mexico with local farmers market organic produce?

              2. re: JoyM
                y
                yellowstone Jan 11, 2012 09:36 AM

                JoyM,

                There are several differences between a single farm CSA and a vegetable delivery service in terms of support of the farmer. Essentially, CSA is focused on supporting growers, and veggie distribution clubs are focused on providing a service to customers. The differences to the farmer include:

                - The CSA model has the member assume some risk for the season -- if one crop fails the farmer doesn't go out of business since he still gets paid for it. If the farmer is selling to a distributor, a failed crop is pure loss.
                - CSA supports the farmer by paying for the season up front, covering early season expenses. Most food delivery organizations take the money up front, like a CSA, and then purchase the produce from the farmers during the season at wholesale prices. The farmers don't see the money until they deliver the produce (just like regular distribution models).
                - CSA format ensures that farmers are growing diversified crops which is an important part of sustainability. A distributor could be buying from many large monocropping outfits and combining them into a "share."

                These are just some differences off the top of my head. Note that I am not saying that food delivery services are bad! Many farmers choose to participate in them, and many people (especially those with many strong "dislikes") prefer them, so they are clearly filling a need in the market. However the format differs significantly enough that many (perhaps even most) CSA farmers would like there to be different terms for the two models (check out the facebook group "If you don't know your farmer you are not in a Csa" to see some cranky CSA farmers doing facebook activism).

                1. re: yellowstone
                  JoyM Jan 24, 2012 04:43 PM

                  Thanks, that's helpful to know. It's true -- it would be better to support a farm directly, but the reality is that we'd be throwing out a lot of the food if we didn't get to exclude things we dislike, and we pickup would be difficult for us. I think it's still better than shopping at Safeway, and the produce IMO is much better than a lot of what's in the store or even in the farmer's market.

                  1. re: JoyM
                    j
                    jsaimd Feb 24, 2012 09:33 PM

                    For us we learned to like things so reallt don't throw out food. 15 years ago I wouldn't eat visible onions, peppers, not to mention greens or salad. Now I like it all...and I owe a lot of that to the CSA.

                    1. re: jsaimd
                      JoyM Mar 1, 2012 12:51 PM

                      Easier said than done, especially with kids.

                      1. re: JoyM
                        j
                        jsaimd Mar 1, 2012 10:35 PM

                        True - but if it is reassuring at all my kids adore agretti, cardoons (when cooked correctly) - both things that my kids would have never been exposed to without CSA. My kids will only eat cauliflower when straight from the farm (it is very sweet), same with turnips. They have learned to like chard and collards a lot, simply because we have had them around and it is what there is to eat.

                        In all fairness, they gag down arugula, escarole and other bitter greens and do balk when we get them.

                        This is our experience though - we don't throw out much food from a single box, but I know others have had a harder time.

              3. t
                turtl_girl Jan 9, 2012 05:47 PM

                I've had Terra Firma for a couple of years now and have been very happy with them (www.terrafirmafarm.com). One interesting thing is that they grow and include nuts (pistachios, walnuts, etc.) which are really delicious -- but if you have allergies that might be something to flag.

                There is a good balance of fruits and vegetables (usually half and half) it's all organic, and everything is exceptional picked-this-morning quality. Nothing comes in the box that wasn't grown on the farm. The farm is also good about communicating what will be in boxes, any changes, recipes, etc. There is a range of sizes you can get -- and you can switch sizes easily if need be.

                I spend a fair amount of time at farmer's markets, and what we get in our box is always as good as the best organic produce you'll see at the market.

                2 Replies
                1. re: turtl_girl
                  Robert Lauriston Jan 9, 2012 05:59 PM

                  Full Belly's boxes have occasionally included nuts, also once in a while a bag of their whole-wheat flour or polenta. From April through September you can add a flower bouquet to your order.

                  1. re: turtl_girl
                    bobabear Jan 11, 2012 09:26 PM

                    Terra Firma looks great, but both the locations most convenient to me are wait listed :( Darn.

                  2. t
                    Tonyettehill Jan 9, 2012 05:57 PM

                    I totally did Farm Fresh to You and was really disappointed. Their produce spoiled within 2 days and then I complained to them and was told that I would not have to pay - then I received an email that I was going to be sent to collections for not paying them. They finally took care of it - but it left a really bad taste in my mouth.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Tonyettehill
                      bobabear Jan 9, 2012 11:34 PM

                      From Yelp, it sounded like they went bad when they offered a GroupOn deal. Almost all the reviews in the past months are poor reviews from GroupOn buyers :( Glad I did some research before buying!

                      1. re: bobabear
                        Melanie Wong Jan 10, 2012 12:46 AM

                        The problems with moldy, unripe, squashed produce delivered by Farm Fresh to You date back further than that. I'd hoped that Capay would have improved by now. Here's a link to a thread from 2009 where several of us posted our problems with the service. At the time I was splitting the box with a friend. We were using two different CSAs, alternating weeks. It was very easy to see how inferior the FFTY box was compared to J & P Organics CSA that delivered to my home.
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/648065

                        -----
                        Farm Fresh To You
                        1 Ferry Bldg # 9, San Francisco, CA 94111

                      2. re: Tonyettehill
                        b
                        billraymond Jan 11, 2012 09:10 AM

                        I got the Groupon as well and was incredibly dissalointed. While I know the produce comes from farms, they were very dirty with soil and old so they spoiled quickly. I too wondered if the Groupon deal had anything to do with it but a yelp check suggested otherwise.

                        1. re: billraymond
                          daveena Jan 22, 2012 11:04 AM

                          That's funny - the produce I got from FFTY looked like conventionally grown produce I could have bought at Safeway. It was so clean it could have been grown hydroponically. The apples were waxed, the pears were super green and underripe, and the overall selection was really disappointing. I cancelled after one box and am going back to the Mariquita Mystery Box.

                      3. l
                        leefc Jan 10, 2012 01:27 PM

                        I also did FFTY for a year or so. In general, I had a good experience, but just canceled this week because their delivery date to my zip didn't work for my travel schedule. Regarding the freshness, I did get some spoiled items, but I could never tell if it was them or me as I wasn't home for a few days when boxes were delivered.

                        Have you considered another Capay Valley option, the Capay Valley Farm Shop / Farmshares? Not exactly a CSA either, though. I haven't seen much written up about them, but am considering them.
                        http://capayvalleyfarmshop.com/

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: leefc
                          bobabear Jan 11, 2012 09:23 PM

                          Capay looks great, but have no 4 week trial :( They also have no locations/hours that work well for me, but I do love their "shopping" option! Very cool.

                        2. s
                          sassygirl Jan 11, 2012 04:13 PM

                          Favorite CSAs:

                          Mariquita Farm - absolutely hands-down. Have been a full-season subscriber for 2+ years and love it. We stopped buying out of season veggies and learned to use the box and get more creative with our cooking. Freshness is guaranteed. Lots of pickup locations and it's easy to try before you buy with their Mystery Box Thursdays - at different restaurant locations every other Thursday in SF. Can't say more great things and I just wrote a check for the off-season pickup at Fatted Calf until the full season begins in March.

                          Soul Food Farm - if you eat eggs and chicken, this CSA will change your life. You will never eat such flavorful, healthy chickens and eggs. Can't bear to order chicken out or buy commercial eggs we are so spoiled by the quality of Soul Food Farms and the care they have for their farm.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: sassygirl
                            bobabear Jan 11, 2012 09:18 PM

                            Drool! I am going to the Ferry Building to get some of their eggs this weekend! Can't wait!

                          2. bobabear Jan 11, 2012 09:18 PM

                            Thanks for the feedback, everyone! Much appreciated.

                            I've decided to give Mariquita Farm a try since they have a drop off location next door to me. I'm also going to head over to the Ferry Building Farmer's Market this weekend and check out some of the other farms and pick up fresh eggs! Some of the other farms mentioned their fresh eggs and I must know how it tastes in comparison :)

                            Thanks again!

                            1. Windy Jan 22, 2012 12:48 PM

                              Just a note that Mariquita has been delivering mystery boxes nearly every week in San Francisco this winter as well as making them available every 2-4 weeks in Oakland and mid Peninsula. It's a great way to try out a CSA.

                              -never thought I'd be devouring turnips and kale

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Windy
                                The Chowhound Team Jan 23, 2012 01:23 PM

                                We zipped a question about Kale over to the Home Cooking board: http://www.chow.com/topics/829774 where we think it'll get broader answers. We hope people will jump over there to discuss it.

                                1. re: Windy
                                  m
                                  Martin Strell Feb 24, 2012 08:40 PM

                                  Thanks for the tip off on the Oakland delivery. I got my first box yesterday. Far better than any CSA I've gotten, both in terms of quantity and quality. It was a little bit of a challenge to get it all home on my bicycle, a problem I've never had with a CSA.

                                  1. re: Martin Strell
                                    Windy Feb 25, 2012 12:55 AM

                                    It's much better than any other CSA I've tried, even those with similar produce. The extras they offer are great too--right now a friend's Meyer lemons and Bearss limes and sheep's milk yogurt and farm eggs.

                                    Here's the page to get on the list for Thursdays in SF, Oakland, and beyond: http://www.mariquita.com/Farmers%20Ma...

                                2. l
                                  l_emily Jan 23, 2012 09:33 AM

                                  I was going to recommend Riverdog Farm, but I noticed that they do not deliver to SF, however I thought I would just mention them for other readers. I have been their box for two years and I have been very satisfied with their produce. For $20 a week, the box I get can easily feed two people. I get a decent selection of produce- mostly on the veggie side. In the summer I have gotten a wonderful array of melons, particularly my favourite, the Charentais- beautiful in scent, heavenly in flavour. My only complaint with that once in a while one gets a deluge of whatever has been growing gangbusters- example, last year I was getting tired of kale, getting for a few weeks in a row. But overall, that's such a minor issue.

                                  1. l
                                    laraleigh Jan 23, 2012 11:21 PM

                                    great topic! CSAs are different per each farm and there's a lot that farms are offering these days. One reader noted that delivery services are different than CSAs, though they may call themselves CSAs. Make sure you are buying directly from the farmer. Some farms buy items like berries or fruit or specialty items like grains from nearby farms, and that's cool but make sure you know where it's coming from.

                                    One long-time good source for finding CSAs and farms near you, or deliver to you is www.localharvest.org - a farmer-populated fully searchable awesome database.

                                    1. r
                                      rblack Feb 1, 2012 07:15 PM

                                      Which CSAs have home delivery within SF? I don't drive so its hard for me to get to most locations and difficult to get a big box of veg home.

                                      Cheers.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: rblack
                                        Robert Lauriston Feb 2, 2012 09:20 AM

                                        Get one of those collapsible shopping carts with wheels.

                                      2. Robert Lauriston Sep 10, 2012 09:23 AM

                                        Full Belly now has a pickup location in SF, in the Mission, and is adding a second one in Bernal Heights "near Glen Park and Noe Valley."

                                        http://www.fullbellyfarm.com/csa.html...

                                        1. m
                                          maatje Sep 26, 2012 02:01 PM

                                          Albert & Eve is great: superfresh veggies and fruit, delivery to your door, option to get a subscription or just order week by week. The quality has been consistently awesome and so far all of the produce seems local. This is not a farm-run CSA but a delivery service that sources from organic farmers - still, a great alternative, for the winter season especially, or simply if pick-up is not an option for you.

                                          http://www.alberteve.com/

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: maatje
                                            Robert Lauriston Sep 26, 2012 02:46 PM

                                            They have some decidedly non-local stuff mentioned on their Web site. Typically the non-CSA delivery services get much less local in the winter.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                              m
                                              maatje Oct 3, 2012 02:05 PM

                                              Not to be pesky, but I haven't had anything non-local delivered by them yet and I can't see anything non-local mentioned on their website. Unless you are perhaps referring to the picture of the bananas in the fruit box? (the delivery "boxes" are not actually boxes, that's just a picture). They also work together with a local non-profit (ALBA) based in Monterey County which runs two sustainable agriculture training farms, so it's not as if they are without local roots.

                                              1. re: maatje
                                                Robert Lauriston Oct 3, 2012 02:20 PM

                                                Chocolate, coffee, bananas (listed under "these boxes may contain").

                                                This time of year, getting all local is easy, but here's no way to tell from the list on their Web site what's local and what's not. Do they label the produce in some way so you know where each item came from?

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                  m
                                                  maatje Oct 5, 2012 12:35 PM

                                                  The coffee, honey, chocolate etc that they offer as add ons to the boxes all seems to be properly identified (the company they are sourcing it from is always listed). As I said I've never gotten anything that I suspected to be non-local before, so no, on the things that were delivered there were no labels. Do other CSAs label their local poduce? I've tried two other CSAs and one other delivery service before and there were never any labels on anything - you just trust that they are good folks and are not consciously trying to con you, I guess. Why do you have such strong suspicions against Albert and Eve? If you have information, I feel you should share it. I will definitely cancel my subscription with them if anything fishy is going on. But if not, I feel it is unfair to just cast suspicion on a company that you have no other experience with than just a cursory glance on their website by posting an offhand remark casting doubt on their business practices - you must know any such suspicion will turn people away.

                                                  1. re: maatje
                                                    Robert Lauriston Oct 5, 2012 01:03 PM

                                                    A*E makes contradictory claims. They say "You'll receive a weekly box of organic fruit and organic vegetables directly from the farm to your door" (just like a CSA) but also that they "source from Northern California farms whenever possible." And they sell bananas, which aren't coming from Northern California.

                                                    http://www.alberteve.com/product_p/fr...

                                                    On the rare occasions my CSA box includes an item from a nearby farm, they say so.

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