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CSA recommendations for 2012?

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. 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

      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: Robert Lauriston

          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. 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

        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

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

          1. re: wally

            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

              We got apples on boxes last year.

              1. re: jsaimd

                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. 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. 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. 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

              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

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

                1. re: jason carey

                  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

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

                    1. re: jason carey

                      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

                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

                  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

                    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

                      Easier said than done, especially with kids.

                      1. re: JoyM

                        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.