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CSA Reviews

Last week, I had suggested doing more thorough comparisons of CSAs by posting pictures and box contents. (Reference: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/986846

)

Here are the contents of the Medium box from Terra Firma Farms that I received September 3rd 2014. This box currently costs $27 per week, and I get a small discount by prepaying quarterly (3% bonus).

Overall, we really like the variety of TFF. As usual, they have their strengths and weaknesses. I find myself stocking up at the farmers' market on stone fruit, strawberries, avocado, and eggplant. But mostly we are very happy with the quality and variety of the veggies. The nuts and citrus are great. You can often buy surplus fruits and vegetables at a good price -- I bought 12# of organic yellow tomatoes for $15 earlier in the summer for canning, it's hard to beat that price.

I weighed everything on my kitchen scale, and tared for any containers:

Shisito peppers -- 5 oz
New Potatoes -- 1 lb 9.6 oz
Painted Serpent cucumber -- 7.2 oz
Yellow Onions -- 1 lb 4.1 oz
Peaches -- 15.4 oz
Heirloom Tomatoes -- 1 lb 9.3 oz
Green Beans -- 8.2 oz
Gypsy peppers -- 1 lb 6.5 oz
Seedless Grapes -- 1 lb 10 oz
Seeded Watermelon -- 8 lb

Next time I go to the Lake Merritt market, I'll look for these items (or the closest thing to them) and post equivalent prices.

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  1. This is a little off topic. I don't subscribe to a CSA presently, but did pick up a Mariquita Mystery Box yesterday. I subscribed to Mariquita for a while, but there were just too many potatoes for us. We aren't a potato family and it seemed each week there were potatoes. We only subscribed for 9 weeks so maybe it was the season for them.

    Yesterday my mystery box contained, about 2 lbs of Gala apples, a container (like 16 oz strawberries come in) of mixed heirloom and cherry tomatoes (so sweet), a 4lb bag (size of the paper bag not weight of the tomatoes) of really ripe mixed tomatoes, 3 purple onions, a huge bunch of oregano, a large bag of orange beets, 1 bunch of chard, a large bag of tomatillos, Bulgarian carrot peppers, bag of Romanian peppers (sweet), a bag of Alma paprika, a 2 lb bag of baby russet potatoes.

    Mariquita doesn't usually have much fruit if any in their weekly deliveries and there is only 1 size so I really like their mystery boxes as I seem to get some extras not in a regular box but they only come once a quarter to my neighborhood. I also bought a flat of strawberries for $28 and 12# of dryfarmed early girl tomatoes for $15. I had subscribed to another CSA too and I notice that there doesn't seem to be much green leafy vegetables in any of them.

    4 Replies
    1. re: jzc

      I don't consider this to be off topic at all!

      How much are the mystery boxes? So that isn't a subscription? Kind of nice, if not. You have to be a TFF member (or a recipient of a gift) to get access to the special prices on bulk items.

      I don't remember exactly how much I paid for flats of strawberries at the farmers market earlier this year, but that seems comparable. The tomato prices, however, for buying in bulk seem great at both farms. Usually the stands at the market don't advertise a discount for buying in bulk ... I should start asking. TFF doesn't guarantee the variety of tomato that you get, some of them wouldn't necessarily be great for canning.

      1. re: Torina

        The mystery boxes are $25. You sign up for the mailing list and then if you want a box, you order it, usually a few days in advance. The newsletter also lists what is going to be bulk for the week.

      2. re: jzc

        I love the mystery boxes, especially as they are opt-in and I can skip a week or two if need be. The tomatoes and padrons have been recent highlight, but I have never gotten one that I thought was not an excellent value.

        1. re: jzc

          We did Mariquita/Two Small Farms for 8 years. We stopped one year when we couldn't afford the payment and I do miss it. It's cheaper than a farmer's market, but I use Sigona's a lot now. Not always organic though. I still get the Mariquita mystery boxes and bulk deliveries as the prices are very good and quality fantastic. The mystery boxes are bigger and a better value than the weekly box, but the amount you get for any one item tend to be bigger. Both are a great value if you shop at farmer's markets or places like WholeFoods.

          I think you had an off 9 weeks. Occasionally they have a bumper crop of a certain veggie. One year it was cabbage - a lot of cabbage. Another we seemed to get carrots every week for a bit. But it does vary a lot. You are buying a share of a farm, so it won't always be varied. however, we did get a lot of unique veggies that I loved, like varieties of peppers, different green leafies. I really do miss it. But we go through 2 boxes a week with our family, so buying in bulk is a lot more cost effective for us.

          FWIW, se usually had quite a few green leafy veggies. Lot of kale, chard, etc.

        2. I have been getting Farm Fresh to You, i think for at least 15 years. Recently downsized to a small mixed box, as both kids are gone now. This works WAY better, as I also grow a lot of my own, and like to frequent the local farmer's market and farm stands. I will be sure to take a picture next time, although I only get it every two weeks. Their website also shows what is coming, and lately they have been offering more customizing.

          http://www.farmfreshtoyou.com/home_de...

          8 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              I am reading the links but haven't finished. I think it's the non local stuff that excludes them, although I believe they offer a local only option. I really like supporting the local farms. We might be more valley than bay area here, but/and I sometimes wonder if the emotions and politics are a little different.

              Last weeks mango wasn't great, and obviously came from elsewhere, but so and so is my patient, or my husband's patient, and I want them to survive and to be able to afford to keep their employees health insurance. True for Full Belly and Terra Firma as well.

              Thanks for motivation to re-think. When we got here, there really where no other options for local delivery, and that might have changed. I really wanted Fully Belly, but they skipped my town on the way to "The" city.

              1. re: Shrinkrap

                From 1976 to the early 90s Capay was a small family farm similar to Full Belly and Terra Firma, but they've grown way beyond that. In 2013, they had 500 employees, 70,000 customers, and took in about $40 million.

                http://seedstock.com/2014/06/03/calif...

                The boxes come from a 26,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse with 12 truck bays around 40 miles from the original farm.

                http://www.bizjournals.com/sacramento...

                Their "traditional CSA" option may obey the letter of the new law, but it does not provide nearly as direct a relationship with a farm as Full Belly et al.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  This gets at an interesting question that is probably best discussed on some other board - what is the point of a CSA? Leaving aside questions of law, do CSAs exist to create a direct connection between small scale farming and their market? Or is it about disrupting the whole fresh produce industry? You seem to hew to the former.

                  My daughter in Montreal is a subscriber to a CSA, Lufa Farms, that takes the latter approach. http://citiscope.org/story/2014/can-u...

                  I would argue that disruptive model is more important and has a greater potential to transform how and what we all eat. Creating markets for small, specialized, boutique farms is laudable. But it is one step along a path towards a globally sustainable relation between increasingly urban consumers and the food they eat. In that sense, FFTY may have outgrown local laws, but may be further down a path we can all follow.

                  1. re: BernalKC

                    The law is new this year. I think Capay, Inc. and other delivery services posing as CSAs were the inspiration for the law.

                    The law pretty much codifies what I think a CSA is:

                    (a) “Community-supported agriculture program” or “CSA program” means a program under which a registered California direct marketing producer, or a group of registered California direct marketing producers, grow food for a group of California consumer shareholders or subscribers who pledge or contract to buy a portion of the future crop, animal production, or both, of a registered California direct marketing producer or a group of registered California direct marketing producers.

                    (b) “Single-farm community-supported agriculture program” means a program in which all delivered farm products originate from and are produced at the farm of one registered California direct marketing producer, and no more than a de minimus amount of delivered farm products originate at the farms of other registered California direct marketing producers.

                    1. re: BernalKC

                      There's nothing very disruptive about Capay, Inc.'s delivery service. Since they buy from third parties from Washington to Mexico, it's more like ordering organic produce online from Safeway than subscribing to a CSA. In some cases it's probably the exact same inferior product.

                      1. re: BernalKC

                        I actually see both Lufa and Good Eggs (also discussed in this article) as separate creatures from traditional CSAs (and see both as distinct from something like Farm Fresh to You, which my old office subscribed to for some time). All help to create markets for local food, but in very different ways and with different ends in mind.

                        We are also Terra Firma members (and can affirm that the medium box is apparently pretty consistent, since that's exactly what we got last week too!) I see our membership there as helping to mitigate risk for the farm to allow a small farm to compete with larger agro operations. Part and parcel of our membership is that in bad years--and there have been some--we may not get certain items, or we may get more of some things in bumper years. I've belonged to both Eatwell and Terra Firma, and both did a very good job of keeping subscribers up to date on farm conditions--weather that would affect yields; problems with particular crops; etc. Without the CSA, the farm might not have been able to absorb those losses, and might not have had a market to sell its surplus produce in the good years. The CSA, at least in theory, balances this out across seasons. That it also creates a farm-to-table connection is a co-benefit, but not a primary purpose--CSAs existed long before the farm-to-table movement gained its current momentum, though there are certainly more of them now.

                        There's certainly value in the more groundbreaking models attempting to disrupt the status quo, but I wouldn't overlook what many small farms can do when that energy is harnessed across regions as far as helping to shift markets. Unfortunately, I don't think either model is likely to do any serious shifting of large-scale agriculture or food consumption patterns, but that's another dilemma all together. :)

                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Thanks for the links. I was going to do that loan thing! I wonder how many of those employees are up this way. That's a lot of jobs.

                        It looks like there is still no one else delivering to my neck of the woods.

                        Well, Terra Firm gets pretty close; here is what they are saying about wanting to grow.

                        http://terrafirmafarm.com/help-us-grow/

                        No Whole Foods either. I guess you got to know your market!

                2. Full Belly yesterday:

                  6 oz. basil
                  2 lbs. 5 oz. Sweet Dumpling squash
                  2 lbs. 10 oz. melon TBD
                  1 lbs. 6 oz. eggplant
                  11 oz. grapes
                  17 oz. peppers
                  4.5 oz. garlic
                  2 lbs. 2 oz. tomatoes

                   
                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Melon was some cantaloupish type. Super underripe, hard, threw in the compost.

                     
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      The next time you get a melon, you can test the ripeness before you cut into it. Press the part of the melon that was connected to the vine. If there's some give it's ripe. Also smell the same area. If it's not ripe, leave it on the counter until it's ripe. You can do the same with a watermelon. If they picked it really early it might take a while. I've bought a melon (water, golden, etc.) that was "ripe" but I wanted it riper and left it out for 2 weeks before cutting it open. If it's already really ripe, then if you leave it out you run the risk of it starting to ferment or dry out.

                      1. re: jzc

                        Melons picked that unripe aren't sweet enough that letting them sit will improve them enough to make them edible.

                        I usually leave hard, odorless melons and peaches at the pickup site, just brought this one home so I could weigh it.

                        Melons are for me the saddest thing in local produce, even worse than corn in terms of how far quality has declined in the past 30-40 years.

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I got acorn squash in my box this week.

                      1. re: The Dive

                        The contents vary depending on your pickup day.

                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                          Occasionally they even vary from box to box at the same pickup.

                        2. re: The Dive

                          Me, too (Wednesday). Also, our peppers all were yellow and our eggplants were a long skinny variety rather than a plump round variety. Otherwise the same items, except that our melon was nearly overripe. It was not very sweet, but it was edible.

                      2. If anyone has a chance to buy the new (yukon gold) potatoes from TFF at a farmers market, jump at the chance. I simply steamed these and buttered them, and they had incredible flavor. Almost a coconut note to them.

                        The peaches are definitely on their way out and not as good as earlier in the summer. I would not say that stone fruit are their strongest suit.

                        1. This week's Full Belly Tuesday pickup:

                          3 lb 6 oz pumpkin
                          2 lb 2 oz tomatoes
                          1 lb 9 oz onions
                          15 oz yellow peppers
                          12 oz grapes
                          11 oz green beans
                          8 oz eggplant
                          3 tiny heads of garlic

                          For price comparison purposes, Full Belly has one size box, which costs $16.50/week if you subscribe quarterly (12 weeks), $16/week if you subscribe yearly (48 weeks, must be consecutive with none skipped), $18/week if you subscribe monthly.

                           
                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                            Wednesday delivery slightly different. Not sure what I am going to do with that pumpkin.