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Need Help with Choosing a CSA for Summer '12

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I have finally convinced the BF to try out a CSA this summer and I need help choosing between a few. After reading the postmortem thread for last summer I have whittled my list down to three:

Red Fire Farm- Easiest pick up
Waltham Fields- Like the PYO
Stillmans- Like that they offer two package options.

We are two adults living and working in Cambridge. Neither of us are vegetarian, but we are trying to eat more veggies (And enjoy eating them). My main concerns are price, quantity and variety of crops, and ease of pick up.

Any suggestions as to which I should sign up with?

Thanks

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  1. I've done Stillmans and Waltham in the past (still do Waltham). Waltham is exponentially better - in variety, quality, and definitely quantity. Unfortunately, spots at Waltham don't open very often and they have a waiting list in the hundreds.

    If Waltham wasn't an option for me, I think I would want to try something other than Stillmans, which I really wasn't impressed with.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DoubleMan

      Thanks for giving a comparison between Stillman and Waltham. Stillman only appealed to me because of the small share (and some favorable reviews). Since it will be our first time w/a CSA I'm a little nervous that we won't be able to eat it all. But unlike Red Fire they don't have a convienent pick up, and unlike Waltam they don't have PYO. There are still shares available @ Waltham for this summer.

    2. I have been a Waltham Fields CSA subscriber for 7 years or so, so that speaks for itself. In terms of price, when I first joined, the cost of a share was $525/season for ~20 weeks or roughly $26/wk, which is what I was buying on average per week at Russo's. Add in the taste benefits and it was very much justified.

      The cost of the CSA has gone up reasonably over the 7 years - it is now $625/season which works out to roughly $31/week, so still pretty reasonable.

      The variety has gotten better over the years, although the early season crops are naturally slanted toward greens and root veggies. Summer and fall make up for it. They have built up a raspberry patch that is pretty reliable for months, along with a brief burst of strawberries. They also have partnerships with other farms for in season corn, squash, etc. All of this is subject to the vagaries of the weather, but for example, when the tomato crop failed in the Northeast due to the fungus two years ago, they worked really hard to get some tomatoes, but also to make up for them with other crops.

      You get to manage what you want each week a bit - they usually have say 12 items for pick-up and you get to pick 9. That way, if you have not gotten through all your kale from the week before, you can get some onions instead. The pick-your-own is also great.

      The WF CSA is a vital part of our Saturday a.m. routine and it starts from your neck of the woods - we head out early, grab a coffee and a fancy pastry at Sofra, head over to the farm, really enjoy walking the fields and picking peas, beans, raspberries, cherry tomatoes, etc., then swing by Russo's if we want to supplement with fruit, milk, etc., hit the Armenian markets on Mt. Auburn and the Stop and Shop in Watertown for big box goods, and head home.

      Up until this year, we were two non-veg adults and we had to work pretty hard to get through everything each week. It will require a fair amount of cooking at home. If it gets overwhelming, you can split a share with someone too.

      Anyway, my two cents. I don't think you can go wrong either way.
      P.s. - can you tell I am excited for the coming growing season?

      11 Replies
      1. re: Bob Dobalina

        Thanks for such a detailed review. The price does seem reasonable compared to what I spend at Russo's each week. My concern with Waltham is that according to the website they don't plan to have Sat. pick ups (only Tues and Thurs) this season so it's not as convienent as Red Fire. However, a stop at Sofra on the way to PYO does sound like a very enticing way to spend a Sat morning.

        1. re: viperlush

          I know that Farmer Dave's was not in your final 3 choices, but I have done it for the past few years and I love it. I paid $590 for the 2012 season for both a fruit share (13 weeks) and a veggie share (20 weeks) which is very reasonable I think. I absolutely love the CSA--tons of variety, great staff, both a box and a choice option, and always free extras as well as a swap box if you don't like a certain item. I highly recommend it. Good luck with your CSA--it has definitely changed the way I cook, made me eat more veggies, and last year I even harvested garlic out on the farm for the first time in my life! I love supporting a local farmer and the quality is amazing.

          1. re: chicken pot pie

            Do they have a veggie and fruit option or do you have to purchase both individually?

            1. re: viperlush

              You can purchase them separately.

            2. re: chicken pot pie

              I buy from Farmer Dave's at the Beverly Farmers Market occasionally and have enjoyed their stuff. Not a big issue for me, but just in case this is a priority for the OP in making choices, they are Integrated Pest Management, not organic.

              1. re: fesenjan

                Nah, organic is a bonus but not important to us.

            3. re: viperlush

              Viperlush, my looking at the website has Saturday as a pick-up time - it is also the most popular pick-up day by far. Not sure where you were seeing that info.

              http://communityfarms.org/index.php/csa

              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                I saw that you had mentioned that you did a Sat pick up, but when I checked the website last week it said only the Tues and Thurs. So I emailed them on Friday and asked if they would be having a weekend pick up this summer and the response was "right now we only have Tuesday and Thursday pickups."

                1. re: viperlush

                  I think I might know what's going on - just a guess, but wonder if the remaining shares being sold are being asked to pick-up exclusively on a weeknight to get some balance in the harvest/pickup schedule.

                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                    That's probably it. It does say that for new shareholders its Tues and Thurs. It's a shame, but understandable.

                    1. re: viperlush

                      Yes, you guys are right. I think with the long waiting list they wanted to be able to open it up to more people but the Saturday pickups are crazy busy, way more than the other two days. This will be our 7th summer and we love it, but I wouldn't want to do it either if I could only do Tues/Thurs.

          2. While I have no comparison to make with other CSAs, we've done Stillman's for 5 consecutive years. If that is not a ringing endorsement, don't know what is.
            Produce is great, half share option was perfect until our family grew to justify the full and the Stillman family are all lovely. We're signing up with them again this year -

            1. I have been a member of the Heirloom Harvest CSA for the past 4-5 seasons. They are great, with wonderful variety, quantity and quality. We are a family of 3 vegetarians, and a 1/2 share is plenty for us! John, the CSA farmer, also donates alot of produce to inner cities (worcester mainly). They are in Westborough, but have a Cambridge pickup coop that is currently looking for members. You can get more info at:
              http://www.heirloomharvestcsa.com/

              2 Replies
              1. re: Science Chick

                Thanks for the suggestion, but I don't know if it would work for us. I don't think that we would be able to participate fully in the co-op (drive out to pick up crops or host a pick up location). Of course when the BF worked out in Hopkinton this would have been perfect.

                1. re: viperlush

                  I was in a co-op in Brookline one year, and I only had to do a pickup once in the whole season. Not too bad. Some pickups are on weekends as well, depending on the day they choose.

              2. I'm still a huge fan of First Light Farm CSA: Farmer Mike's passion shows through in his immaculate gardens and selection.

                1 Reply
                1. re: pastrytroll

                  Thanks for the suggestions, but we really need a CSA with a pick up in Cambridge (or as near as possible).

                2. Thanks for all the help. I think we have whittled it down further. After discussion we decided that since it will be our first year, pick up location is the biggest factor.

                  Red Fire Farm- It has the most convenient pick up for us. ($690-$720 for veg and fruit)
                  Farmer Davids- Also not a bad pick up location. ($650 for veg and fruit)

                  We really liked the idea of the Waltham Fields, but the pick up is just too inconvenient for us (distance and days of week).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: viperlush

                    Viper, see my reply above - Saturday is definitely a pick-up day.

                  2. If you're looking for a Cambridge pickup location with extended hours (beyond farmers market hours), The Clover HUB location (Inman Sq / Cambridge St) is hosting pickups for 5 different CSAs:
                    Ref Fire Farm
                    Marshall's Farm
                    Drumlin Farm
                    The Food Project
                    Lindentree Farm (sold out)

                    Signups are going on throughout February for the season. We picked Marshall's so we could have the 1/2 size (just 2 of us). Also note that the Ref Fire one makes you select fruit and veggies separately.

                    -----
                    Clover HUB
                    1075 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02141

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: beforesunrise

                      Just as I thought we made a decision you added another to our list. We are now leaning towards The Food Project since the BF likes the "feel good" aspect of it. Also price and pick up convenience are the same as RFF. We weren't that interested in the fruit share so that isn't really a concern.

                      Thank you

                      1. re: beforesunrise

                        I emailed Bob at Marshall's Farm as I had a CSA with them in 2011 and they are only doing pick up at the farm in Gloucester this year. Is there a different Marshall's Farm that you selected? thanks

                        1. re: Berheenia

                          Marshall's (Gloucester) is doing a Monday pickup at Clover HUB in Inman Sq...at least according to the board in Clover they are. The sign mentions "Bob" as well as being the person who leads it.

                      2. FWIW, I really liked the Red Fire Farm CSA I had this past year. I liked that it was farmstand-style (i.e. you picked out individual vegetables yourself, as opposed to a pre-made box), and I thought there were some interesting things (lots of varieties of peppers, tomatoes, greens, herbs). Also, visiting the farm itself was a lot of fun (for example, to pick strawberries).

                        I think that if Red Fire is most convenient, you should be quite happy with it!

                        Dave MP

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Dave MP

                          Thanks for the reassurance. Don't tell my parents, but I think I'm spending more time choosing a CSA than I did a college. :)

                        2. I've done Stillmans' and RFF, and this year will be my 5th with RFF. I was tempted away to Stillmans by the weekend pickup and half share, but neither was worth it.

                          A half share was frustrating because you didn't get enough of many things to build a meal around (1 zucchini? 1 Red pepper?- 1 ear of corn?)
                          RFF works really well for me because I can pick it up during lunch downtown at Dewey Sq. I also like picking up at a farmer's market, because if I do want to get additional stuff that's not in my share, I can pick it up there.

                          I do wish that there was some kind of flex-spending- so I could get more brussels sprouts and fewer carrots or such, but I imagine that with the number of people they're serving now, that would be too complicated.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: cpingenot

                            1/2 share at Stillman's was always plenty for 2 people - worked out to 3 vs. 6 zuccini, 1 vs. 2 varieties of kale, smaller vs. larger container of blueberries, 1 vs 2 Red Peppers, and fewer pick-whatever-you-want options, but never silly things like 1 ear of corn.

                            1. re: Cork

                              It might just have been that they were having a bad summer- this was a couple of years ago, and like I said, I know that we got 1 of things that were kind of ridiculous.

                          2. Last year I got a half share from the World PEAS New Entry Sustainable Farming Project CSA, and I was really happy with it. They support new farmers and immigrant/refugee farmers, and sometimes include some interesting crops from different parts of the world that aren't very common around here. The shares usually contained some fruit. I picked up near Porter on a weekday evening which was perfect for me. I might try a new CSA this year, but just to see what else is out there. I highly recommend World PEAS.

                            1. I've been doing the Red Fire CSA for the 3 years and love it. They do offer PYO at the farm but I have never gone because I don't have a car. The variety and quality has always been great. I also do the optional add on fruit share.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: cassoulady

                                We thought about doing the fruit share, but it didn't seem worth it (quantity for $). ABout how much fruit do you get each week?

                              2. Thanks for the help everyone. We ended up going with Red Fire.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: viperlush

                                  Congrats on your choice - may you have many kale-filled days ahead!

                                2. First timer this year and I went with Brookfield Farm, mostly due to an insanely close pickup for me.
                                  Anyone have any experiences with them?

                                  1. Hello,
                                    I know I am a bit late in the game with this but I was wondering if anyone had ever used Sparrow Arc Farm in Maine. They not only have half shares but also have half the season, which would work well for my travel schedule. It's $225 for this.

                                    Or, I was also considering Silverbrook Farm in Dartmouth, MA.

                                    Any recos on either of these 2 farms are much appreciated!

                                    1. Does anyone out there have experience with the CSA offered by Ward's Berry Farm in Sharon? How does their quality and variety compare with others?