Arugula. I hate it. The bitter, peppery taste in salads offends me, and I detest the aftertaste. I feel like a cow chewing on grass every time I eat it. I'll only tolerate it on very thin-crust pizzas with plenty of prosciutto to cover up the arugula. But even then, I prefer my pizzas and salads sans arugula. Also known as rocket, for my British friends.
That's how I met my neighbor Simon.
I offered a free bag of arugula that I found in my CSA box to my neighbors to get rid of it. We started an email exchange about CSA services which led Simon to ask me this question:
I've been generally curious about CSAs because it seems like there are so many options. If you could only have one, which would you choose?
Since I've been writing about signing up for CSA services, this is a good time for me to put my finger on the scale. With the potential $1000 commitment, I understand why it's important to reduce your risk. In this article, I'm going to share:
- which CSA services I choose to subscribe to
- why I like them,
- a noteworthy point about the service, and
- the cost per box.
My CSA Choices
Blue House Farm
Why: Best Value
Blue House Farm is the best value per dollar.
I get the most groceries from this CSA farm. The quality is always exceptionally high.
They always give me at least 1-2 fruit varieties. The past few weeks I've enjoyed persimmons, apples, and grapes. This is important because some of my neighbors have expressed dissatisfaction with only receiving leafy greens and seldom any fruit.
Blue House Farm offers a great variety of produce.
We get plenty of leafy greens accompanied by goodies like sweet potatoes and squash. I also enjoy uncommon vegetables they provided like kohlrabi and delicata squash, which can be hard to find at conventional grocery stores.
I like that Blue House Farm is an active community.
They do a great job of trying to keep CSA members feeling like they are part of a family. They do this by sending weekly email updates that provide a photo and a story from someone who works at the farm. Sometimes it is Sandy, the CSA Manager. Other times, the messages have come from the flower team or Brandon, the Field Manager.
They also hosted a Harvest Festival for families to come to the farm, pick a pumpkin, and go on tractor rides.
Important to note: I don’t choose the produce in the box. Every week, they give me a preview list of what I can expect to get that week. Sometimes, it changes depending on the weather. Usually, it is pretty accurate.
This is a pickup service.
I get the box myself at the Ace Hardware store in downtown. The pickup time is 3pm - 6pm every Wednesday.
Farm location: San Gregorio, near Pescadero.
Website: Blue House Farm
Greenhearts Family Farm
Why: Delivery to my door. Also, they offer one-time boxes, no commitment necessary.
Greenhearts Family Farm delivers right to my door.
This perk is hard to beat. They also offer great variety, including plenty of leafy greens, roots vegetables, and fruits. The amount of produce very comparable to Blue House Farms. Rarely, they might have a smidgen less than Blue House Farm's box. But, it is such a small difference that I can hardly tell (maybe 1-2 items, if that).
The fruits and vegetables are exceptionally high quality. I also enjoy the exotic greens they have offered me, including celeriac and fennel.
Farmer Paul and Aurora provide great customer service.
They’re the most responsive farm. Every time I call, I always get Aurora picking up the phone directly and fixing any problems I have. Farmer Paul also includes a little note in every box to describe their farm life each week. It is a joy to read.
Greenhearts Family Farm is the closest farm to where we live
I consider this a perk for us if we ever decide to visit the farm. I haven’t been on a tour yet. Aurora let me know that since they are a working farm, they are open to visitors from the CSA community, but I need to make an appointment ahead of time.
I loved that they offered a Thanksgiving-themed box last week. The box was bursting with sweet potatoes, potatoes, and garlic for those delicious mashed potato dishes. They also provided celery and carrots, mandatory additions for hearty stuffing. We also got some kale, spinach, and beets, which were wonderful as side dishes.
Important to note: I also don’t choose what comes in this box every week. They send me a preview email of what to expect. Usually, it is an accurate list.
This is a delivery service.
I put my box out every Wednesday night for the delivery team to pick up. When we wake up Thursday morning, we excitedly run downstairs to open our box to find our goodies for the week.
Farm location: Half Moon Bay.
Website: Greenhearts Family Farm
Eating With The Seasons
Why: Pick my own produce.
I subscribe to Eating With The Seasons because it lets me choose the produce I get that week.
I like to pick produce that I know will be missing from Blue House Farm and Greenhearts Family Farm, such as garlic and extra fruits. While Blue House Farm and Greenhearts Family Farm give us many fruit offerings, I still prefer choosing special items, especially seasonal fruits like strawberries, pomegranates, and persimmons. The other two services may not reliably provide me with these choices every week.
Important to note: Eating With The Seasons doesn’t grow their own food. They partner with local farmers to distribute their produce. As a result, they offer many grocery items beyond produce, such as cheese, butter, granola, ready-made salad, marinated tofu, pickles, etc. They also recently opened a Farmhouse Café, but I haven’t had the chance to visit it yet.
They have an extremely wide variety of produce.
I also get pasture-raised chicken and beef from Eating With The Seasons. These specialty items are often a better deal than what I find at Whole Foods. Surprised? Me too.
This is a pickup service. I get the box myself at fellow CSA member’s house. The pickup time is 3pm - 11pm every Friday.
Cost: $27/box (for 6-8 items)
Farm location: San Juan Bautista, south of San Jose.
Website: Eating With The Seasons
Services I Tried And Canceled
Farm Fresh To You
Why I tried it: They had a Groupon deal and they delivered to my doorstep. I continued my subscription after the Groupon trial because I liked it.
Why I canceled: I moved to Florida so I had to cancel. I decided not to return to Farm Fresh To You after I moved back to California because I didn't like the lack of variety. When I subscribed in 2013, I felt like I kept getting the same bok choi, radishes, and peppers. I'm not a huge fan of those vegetables, especially not every single week.
I've heard that Farm Fresh To You has since changed their model
Now, they allow customers to choose what they get every week. This is an excellent improvement in their service. Coupled with the delivery option, I may consider re-subscribing to Farm Fresh To You again in the future.
They are farther away from me, based in the North Bay, West Sacramento area.
So, I didn't think I would have as much of an opportunity to visit them compared to farms closer by, such as in Half Moon Bay or Pescadero.
One thing I do like about their farm is that it is still family run, despite being one of the biggest, if not the largest CSA service in the U.S. according to a 2010 article by Mark Anderson in the Sacramento Business Journal.
Website: Farm Fresh To You
Why I tried it: I love the idea of reducing food waste by selling ugly produce at steep discounts. I'm a believer in curbing food waste as much as possible and have zero problems with deformed produce. It doesn't hinder my enjoyment of food.
The prices were cheaper than most CSA boxes because of the discounts on the blemished produce. They also delivered to my doorstep. A typical box costs about $20 with about the same quantity of food at Eating With The Seasons, including the delivery cost.
Why I canceled: The quality was simply not there. Again, I love the idea of imperfect produce. I really wanted to love this company. The prices were cheaper. There was delivery. But if the quality isn't there, it doesn't matter how adorably misshapen the vegetables look because it doesn't taste good. The limes were dried on the inside and hard like a rock. The kiwifruit went from sour and unripe to mushy and brown, skipping the juicy, sweet step in between.
Imperfect Produce also sources food from all over, including Chile and Mexico. So, the produce isn't locally grown like the CSA boxes.
I tried 3 boxes but I simply couldn't justify investing in disappointing fruits and veggies.
I would consider re-subscribing if I heard that the quality was at a higher level than what I experienced. For what it's worth, my neighbors love this service and highly recommended it to me.
Interesting to note: Imperfect Produce is excellent at Marketing.
Most CSA services are well-run businesses - meaning the customer service is excellent, the service is reliable, and the food is high quality. But they aren't usually good marketers.
Imperfect Produce is the exception.
They produce professionally designed, glossy recipe cards with every delivery that showcased an interview with an Imperfect Produce employee. They sent me beautiful infographics and boxes with their marketing printed on the side.
They make me want to identify with the produce and grow an emotional attachment to the food. It's smart and perhaps it'll help overcome the deficiencies with the quality.
But for me, if it doesn't taste good enough, it's a deal breaker.
To Answer Simon's Question: My 1 CSA Choice
If I had to choose one service,
I would go with Greenhearts Family Farms. Why?
It is a delivery service. Furthermore, the produce is as varied and high quality as well as equal in quantity as Blue House Farms. Convenience is very important to me and sometimes it is difficult to pick up the Blue House Farm box during rush hour traffic.
Nonetheless, I like all 3 services - Blue House Farm, Greenhearts Family Farm, and Eating With The Seasons. I will continue to stick with all 3 because each plays an important role in my food system, and most importantly, it gives me inspiration for recipes that I can share with all of you.
If you find my review helpful, please leave a comment. If you subscribe to any of these services, or other services, please leave a comment as well so others can benefit from your recommendations.