Vicki Warren JANUARY 28, 2021
Vicki Warren JANUARY 28, 2021
With the Covid-19 pandemic surging in Southern California, health departments are asking us to stay home as much as possible. A great way to minimize grocery outings, as well as to lighten the environmental impact of our meals, is to subscribe to a home-delivered farm box.
Also known as Community Supported Agriculture (“CSA”), farm boxes originated with customers buying “shares” of a farm’s harvest before the beginning of the growing season. In this traditional CSA model, subscribers make a connection to the farmers who provide their food, and farmers have a reliable source of income with less risk. If the farm’s production is lower than usual in a season, subscribers get less produce and are not typically reimbursed. Everyone is disappointed together if a hail storm ruins one of the crops! Subscribers might be invited to participate in harvests or other events at the farm, and farmers send newsletters about what’s happening on the farm every week or two.
Today there are many CSA or farm box companies that offer fresh fruits and vegetables along with other food products from a variety of producers rather than just a single farm. Rather than subscribing for the season up front, customers can join at any time. Most farm box companies require a subscription for deliveries every week or two. Many of these farm boxes can be customized to swap in/out produce items as well as add market items such as bread, eggs, dairy products, grains, and meats. Here in Southern California, farm boxes are delivered year-round with produce offerings changing with the seasons.
There are many environmental and social sustainability benefits to the farm box model. Most farm box produce comes from local farms, reducing the environmental impact of food transport. Very little packaging is used – most produce items are loose in boxes without plastic bags or packaging, and the boxes themselves can be reused or recycled. Most farm box companies will pick up and re-use their empty boxes, although some have suspended this during Covid-19. Farm box products are likely to come from producers focused on lower environmental impacts – produce is often organically grown; dairy, meat and eggs are often from pastured animals; and some farms go beyond organic to use regenerative agriculture methods.
The farm box model gives small farmers and food producers an avenue to reach more customers in addition to selling at farmers’ markets. Subscribing to a farm box is a convenient way to support small family business and help keep local farmland in the hands of small growers. This is especially important in the pandemic, as farmers are seeing lower demand from restaurants and farmers’ markets. The farm box newsletters and recipes connect subscribers with the farms, teach them about growing methods and the seasonality of produce, and invite them to try new foods. Some farm box companies donate extra produce to food banks and/or give subscribers an option to make a donation with their order.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, consider adding a farm box to your menu if haven’t already. It’s a great way to get fresh and healthy food, reduce your environmental impact, and support small farmers all without leaving home.
Here is some information about a few farm box companies operating in our area, and you can find others at listings such as www.localharvest.org/csa/
Farm Fresh to You
Founded in Northern California in 1992, this large family-run CSA expanded to serve the Los Angeles area in 2007. Farm Fresh to You offers several types of home-delivered produce boxes which can be customized to change produce items and add market items such as pasture-raised eggs, dairy, bread, grains, plant-based foods, sustainably raised meat, fresh flowers, nuts, chocolate, and honey. All produce is certified organic, sourced at the family’s Capay Organic farm and other local organic growers. Market items are typically produced by small California companies. Customers must subscribe for recurring deliveries, which can be changed or suspended upon request. Customers may donate produce boxes to food banks, or add a monetary donation for food banks when customizing their box.
Imperfect Foods was founded in 2015 with a mission to eliminate food waste and build a better food system. The San Francisco-based company serves 38 states, offering imperfect produce, affordable pantry items, and quality eggs, dairy, proteins and more. Customers subscribe for weekly or bi-weekly home-delivered boxes including imperfect fruits and vegetables. Boxes can be customized to change produce items and add dairy, proteins, and packaged goods. Produce is sourced from 200 growers across the U.S. and sometimes from growers in other countries depending upon where “imperfect” foods are available at any time. While products are not necessarily local or organic, they are chosen with the goal of reducing the waste involved in growing and selling food.
Based in Chatsworth and serving Southern California, Narrative Food offers home-delivered produce boxes as well as add-on items including heirloom grains, pastured meats and eggs, wild-caught fish, bread, and other prepared items. Their “provisions boxes” include produce and a selection of additional items with recipes. The company also offers home chef services and personalized meal planning to support wellness goals. Narrative Food is a certified B Corp which meets social and environmental standards. Customers can subscribe for recurring orders or order a single box at any time.
Because of Resilient Palisades, I was introduced to Imperfect Foods early on in the COVID lock down. This has been very helpful and I have maintained this service. It gives me another avenue to get fresh produce, dry goods and staples, often cheaper than from the supermarket, even with paying a $5 delivery charge (if I don’t hit the free delivery minimum of $60.) As for ‘imperfect’, most often I do not see any kind of imperfection because quite often the issue is an overabundance that can’t be sold through usual channels. Often in these cases, the food would have simply rotted in the field. An imperfection might be a ding on the potatoes – certainly what you might see on produce from your own garden. Sometimes it is a product that has had a packaging change, so they sell it at a discount but can’t pass it through the supermarkets. It is helpful too that Imperfect Foods sells protein such as meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt, etc. As an example, they sell salmon parts that are the ends of the fillet that restaurants reject, or perhaps smaller pieces of the fillets. Restaurants don’t like those for their diners, but they have the same taste as what they serve, and I don’t care that my serving may be in two portions rather than one, particularly when I know that I am stopping perfectly good food from being thrown out. They also offer many foods that I have never tried, usually less expensive than I have seen them in my days of in-person shopping at Gelson’s. Each item is described, so I have a way of evaluating whether it is something I might like to try. Furthermore, they send me emails with handy tips and new recipes, which has expanded my repertoire at home and helped me to try new foods. They take pride in offering items that are ethically sourced, and often give you the choice to order organic or conventional produce (many times both are offered, sometimes at the same price.)
It isn’t always roses. Occasionally I’ll order something and they will run out, in which case I am notified by email before delivery. Sometimes an item or two may be missing from my order – bummer. Other times, I’ll open the box to find items that I didn’t order. What happens then? I notify them by email. They apologize for missing items and credit me for the cost. The unordered items – they are mine to keep. I’ve discovered some interesting foods that way – Sweet Thai curry, for example. Sometimes the very friendly representatives give me an additional credit to be used against future orders, for any inconvenience. I think the problem may be due to a rapid expansion during the COVID era, with so many more people opting for home delivery rather than going out and choosing their own tomatoes! One thing I like too – except when necessary (such as boxes of blueberries), the items I order are loose in the box, not wrapped in unnecessary plastic. After all, their whole premise is to reduce waste. Items that need refrigeration arrive within the box in an insulated bag complete with an ice pack (reuseable).
The process goes like this: I receive an email every Monday afternoon at 1 pm giving the options for the week – photos and descriptions. I click on those that I want, unclick any that they may have pre-selected for me that I don’t want, and then review the order by clicking on the Cart. The order stays open through 3pm Tuesday, and I can go back within that time frame to change my order. The box with my items is delivered on Thursday, left on my front porch – they do not ring the bell but text when it is on its way and also when it is dropped off. Then I unpack and enjoy my food. It is all charged to my credit card so there is no physical interaction with another person.
Imperfect Foods will give you a discount on your first order ($10 or $20, depending on current offers) if you are recommended by a current subscriber. If you are intrigued and want to try it, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will send them your email and you can sign up – or not! (Full disclosure – they also give subscribers a $10 credit for recommendations that result in new subscribers,so it is win-win.) You can cancel at any time. You can skip deliveries at any time with a simple click to notify them, such as when you will be away on vacation (as if!) You can set up standing orders for things you need every week or every other week. It’s easy and all on-line.
Helpful – thank you!