The first time I asked Alex to pick up my CSA box with me, I planned it all wrong. It was exactly two years ago, on a cold, misty Friday night.
We drove deep into the suburbia where street names are vaguely related and yet juxtaposed with other references that make no sense. We drove past the Spanish cities of Aragon Boulevard, Seville Way, and Avila Road. Then we turned the corner and passed by some American universities of Georgetown Avenue, Notre Dame Avenue, Yale Drive, and Colgate Way. As you might be able to tell, we were lost in the suburban maze.
I swallowed my pride and finally turned on the GPS. It routed us to a dead-end street. He had never been to this part of town before and understandably started asking many questions.
I scanned the road and spotted the old, beat up Volkswagen van that lives permanently on the curb next to our designated spot. I pointed to the house we just pulled up to.
“That’s the place. Go in their yard, past the gate, and get the box,” I told Alex.
“What is this? Some kind of drug deal?” he asked me. Alex was not eager to trespass on a stranger’s property, unsure of what he’ll find.
Today, we share this tale with friends as a funny story of our first CSA pickup together. At the time, it was hardly funny. In fact, it felt was uncomfortable and strange. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about how to avoid the awkwardness of picking up my CSA boxes.
In this article, I’ll help you figure out how to avoid a similarly awkward situation.
We’re covering 3 points:
- What we’ve learned to improve picking up our CSA box.
- How to choose the right location for you.
- Alternatives to picking up your box.
Picking up our CSA box
During the day, my pickup looks like a sweet cream beige Folk Victorian house with baby-blue trim.
It’s a cute little house with a clipped lawn. At night though, with the shadows and leafless trees, it house casts long knobby shadows. There’s just something spooky about walking into a stranger’s yard at night. It always looks empty from the outside. The only hint that people live there is a night light that glows from the front window, casting silhouettes from the candlesticks on the dining table.
This is how Alex first encountered the house.
Back to the story of his first CSA pickup. He finally made his way to the lawn. I saw him walking in the wrong direction towards a neighboring house.
“No, no, it’s the other one,” I hissed from the car.
He jogged towards the directed I pointed at. After stumbling around because the front lawn was under landscaping construction, he unlocked the wooden gate. Inside, he discovered a giant cooler filled with many brown bags. He picked up the bag with my name on it and scuttled out of there.
“Geez, that was so weird,” he told me as soon as he made it back to safety.
That experience was not too different from my first time picking up the CSA box either. I didn’t have any idea where the pickup location was so I was pacing around trying to figure out where to go. I couldn’t tell if I had the right house or where the gate was.
A Better Way
The second CSA box I subscribed to has a much smoother pickup because it’s at the local Ace Hardware store. It was easier to find, and I used my GPS.
The staff, being as helpful as they are, continue to ask me if I am looking for something in the hardware store whenever they see me pop in and out multiple times. I laugh it off and explain I’m picking up vegetables, Yes, at the hardware store.
Now that they have seen me coming every Wednesday afternoon, they are used to me, and they nod and carry on. It’s no big deal.
Here’s what I did differently to make the situation less awkward and frustrating:
- Use my GPS so I don’t get lost
- Say hello and explain why I am there
- Time it so I don’t go during rush hour traffic
- Try to make friends with the staff
- Choose a commercial location in downtown as opposed to going into a resident’s backyard.
These are hardly revolutionary insights. But they’ve made the experience much better.
How do you choose the right CSA pickup location for you?
Routine, routine, routine.
I look at what I routinely do in life. I swim in the afternoon. I go grocery shopping on Friday nights. I drive to both of those activities so that’s the perfect time to pick up. Making a special trip from home just to pick up is asking for trouble. It takes too much willpower to do that.
The first 2-3 times are the worse. It’s unfamiliar and a new habit. But after that, it becomes easy. I pick up one of my CSA boxes on the way to the swimming pool every Wednesday afternoon. I pick up the other box Friday evening during our grocery run because it’s on the way home.
Most pick up sites are available for 4-5 hours so I’ve never arrived and been turned away.
And of course, location, location, location.
Based on my routine, I chose the location of the boxes that will be on the way to the swimming pool or on the way back from the grocery store. It becomes a no-brainer to pick up because I’m already out and about. It doesn’t add much more time to my journey.
If you work for a big company, it is worth asking whether there is already a CSA service that delivers to your workplace. I know some locations, such as Google, Adobe, and Stanford, have CSA farms deliver boxes to their campus. This might be more convenient than commuting somewhere after work to retrieve your box. I’ve also seen churches and schools serve as delivery locations. However, some of these locations are only open to staff and members, so double check.
Farmers markets also serve as pick up locations because the farms are often selling produce there.
Since I don’t have a superhuman memory, I also set up a recurring calendar reminder that pings me 30 minutes before my routine tasks. These reminders have saved my bacon more than once.
What if I don’t want to deal with pickups?
Another way to get your box is delivery like Google Express and Amazon Fresh services. I’ve discovered there are CSA farms that will deliver to my doorstep. It is a joy to wake up in the morning, walk downstairs and find a box of fresh fruits and vegetables coming to me. I am grateful to the hardworking men and women who are up at the crack of dawn delivering my produce. It ensures the boxes stay fresh in cool temperatures and helps them avoid traffic.
Of course, the price of the CSA box that delivers to my door is about $10-16 more than the other CSA boxes that I pick up myself. You’ll have to ask yourself: is that extra cost worth it for you to avoid picking up a box every week?
Well, sometimes, I don’t feel like picking up my box.
In those cases, yes delivery is amazing.
Usually, the reason for my irritation is my own fault for running late and not planning ahead. Then, I remember the pain of dealing with a Costco or Trader Joe’s parking lot. The hassle of the CSA box pales in comparison to the cow-eyed people at Costco walking all over the parking lot with giant carts and completely oblivious to their self-preservation. If you’ve been to Costco, you know what I’m talking about.
An unexpected benefit I’ve enjoyed is chatting with fellow members at the pick-up areas and getting recipe ideas from them. Sometimes, I run into other members who pick up at the hardware store. People tend to be friendlier than at the grocery store where nobody talks to each other and most people are looking mildly stressed like they can’t wait to leave.
Despite this benefit, I’m still a fan of delivery. I love waking up Thursday morning and knowing a have a box of fresh fruits and vegetables waiting for me. It’s bliss.
Can I volunteer to be a drop off location?
I’ve learned that some CSA farms will set up a new drop-off location if you volunteer your home and get about 10 members onboard. So, if you’re open to strangers like Alex and me sneaking through your property, have a wide network of neighbors, and desperately don’t want to commute to a pickup, serving as a drop-off location would be a great service to volunteer for.
We learned the process of signing up is easy. You do everything online. You can start receiving a CSA box in less than 2 weeks. However, doing your homework ahead of time is the most important. Choosing whether pick up or delivery is the right choice for you is important to a positive experience. If you don’t opt for delivery, choosing which pickup location works for you is even more critical.
To make it easy for yourself, think about the routines and locations you frequent and choose a location based on those activities.
To this day, I’ve still never met the homeowners where we pick up our box. Since the first time of picking up, we’ve learned to pick up in a more graceful manner without all the shady business of peeking at people’s property. It kind of takes the fun out of it. But now it’s a routine task like brushing our teeth.