5 Reasons that Farm Boxes are a Good Investment (Though Not Always Financial!)

In our busy lives where shopping can be a big barrier to healthy eating, one of my surefire strategies for eating more fresh fruits and veggies has been to have them show up en masse at my door.  I am convinced that seeing a fridge full of goodness has the psychological effect of making us want to eat more fresh goodies and also combats my natural instinct to horde the good stuff (especially fruit) due to a feeling of scarcity.

THE COST

I’ve always thought “this is a great deal” when I get my farm box deliveries and look at the bounty of what I’ve received in comparison to what I might usually spend at the store.  And I maintain that it is! But, that said, I should warn you that depending on the service and/or season, it might not always be a financial win that you receive.

I ran the numbers this week and here’s how much my farm box cost me vs. roughly what it would have cost at Whole Foods Market for the same items:

 

DO FARM BOXES PAY OFF- (1)

Now please keep in mind that this is a comparison of just one week and one service and also doesn’t take into account that the produce showed up at my door.  I know that my summertime box in San Francisco not only contained a lot more produce but had more of the “expensive stuff” and would have likely come out on top in this comparison, so it really does vary by week, season, and service.

Either way, please don’t let the straight dollar comparison deter you! I’m convinced that net negative dollars or not, getting fresh, wholesome produce delivered to your door.

WHY YOU SHOULD GET A FARM BOX EVEN IF IT COSTS A LITTLE MORE

1. Fresher produce = more nutrients

Of course, I can’t speak for every single produce box company out there, but far and away most of them are sourcing ingredients more locally and fresh than what you might find in a grocery store.  You should certainly check out the buying policies of the company you’re considering, but I always look for ones who are sourcing local produce from small farms (if not picking it directly from their own farm), to ensure the highest quality, most freshness, and best price.

According to this study by UC Davis most store-bought produce is in transport, on shelves, or in your fridge for up to two weeks before consumption, during which time they are separated from their nutrient sources and “undergo higher rates of respiration, resulting in moisture loss, quality and nutrient degradation, and potential microbial spoilage”.   But consumers can maximize the nutrient content of their produce by buying items that are stored for less time, hand harvested, and picked at the peak of ripeness, rather than early.  

Produce box companies like Eatwell Farm, which I was a subscriber to when I lived in San Francisco (and I highly recommend), is amazing because they grow the produce themselves on their farm just a few hours away, pick it, pack it, and deliver it directly to your pickup site for you to use right away. It doesn’t get much fresher than that! 

2. Get inspired to try new things!

Ever eaten brussels sprouts? Cooked with romanesco? Roasted beets?  One of the biggest benefits to getting a farm box is that you’ll be inspired to try new things that you might not otherwise purchase in a store.  While this might sound like a down side on the surface, I encourage you to open your mind a bit to the possibilities that exist outside of your “produce comfort zone”.

Come on, we all have them. The same things we eat over and over again. In fact, a commonly repeated nutrition quote is that most of are eating the same 10-12 things in rotation.  

Research even cites this as a reason that kids are throwing away the fruits and veggies provided through their school lunch programs.  According to an article in The Atlantic, here are the most commonly consumed vegetables in 2012:

Vegetables_TheAtlantic

Source: USDA via The Atlantic

Probably, this isn’t surprising if you also examine your own vegetable consumption at home. How often are you reaching for the same tried and true items? What would happen if something new showed up at your door? Would you be more likely to try it, not just now, but sometime in the future when you see it on a menu or receive it in another farm box?  I think so! Which is reason number 2 that farm boxes are one of my top healthy eating strategies!

3. Feel the difference that comes from having abundant produce

There’s nothing like a fridge full of produce to inspire you to eat more of it! Somehow, the simple act of not buying my fruits and veggies piecemeal and thinking about their individual cost ($9 cauliflower…WTF) makes them feel precious.  I have always told my clients “the kale that goes bad in your fridge isn’t making you healthier” but I’m embarrased to admit that despite the fact that I both LOVE kale and know how to use it, I’ve let it go bad more times than I can count while waiting for that “perfect recipe”. 

With my farm box, on the other hand, I’m freed from the expectation of coming up with a recipe and then using what I’ve bought. It’s actually a total switch in thinking from “I bought it for this purpose and I’m going to wait until I’m ready to make that” to “oh crap, I have this abundance of X, how can I use it before it goes bad?”.

4.  You’re eating with the seasons, without even thinking about it

Ever scoffed at the price of berries or zuchinni? I’m willing to be that, for the most part, the feeling that a fruit or vegetable is “so expensive” is inversely related to it’s local availability. Thing about it. Is it really so ridiculous that a grocery store would ask you to pay $5.99 for a pint of blueberries when they’ve flown it across the world to provide it?  Think, on the other hand, about the more cost effective process of bringing food from a farm up the street or a drive away.  Big difference, huh?

This point also goest to what we talked about earlier in terms of freshness and nutrition. The less shipping a piece of produce has to endure, the fresher it is when it gets to you and the more nutrition you get from it.

The cool thing about farm boxes is that most of them do this work for you, meaning you don’t have to think about your climate and what’s growing.  That said, get ready for some repeats throughout the winter seasons when less can grow. I just started getting a box from Full Circle in Seattle and even with importing some items from California (many CSAs and farms here don’t even have anything to sell in the winter), I’m still prepared for an abundance of kale, apples, and citrus on a weekly basis.  While some might think of this as boring, I sort of like the exercise of realizing that that’s the natural way of the world, and hey, if I want some blueberries I can always go get them for a premium price down the street.

From the San Francisco Fruit Seasonality Chart created by CUESA

From the Fruit Seasonality Chart by CUESA

5. Your money supports smaller farms

The best farm boxes are curating produce from a variety of small farmers you might otherwise not have access to and are helping to distribute their produce to a larger audience.  The aptly named FarmBox in LA says it well: “Farmers and artisans love FarmBox because they get to focus on what they do best—the farming and cooking—and we help them distribute their wonderful products to a customer base they may not ordinarily reach.”

This is one of the main reasons that I like supporting farm boxes. If you only purchase your produce at grocery stores then you only have access to the producers who can grow enough product to deliver at that scale. Nothing against them, but that is really limiting your exposure to great, smaller farmers in the area.

On the other hand, Farmer’s Markets have smaller producers but then of course you have the downside of making another trip out to get your goods. I personally love Farmer’s Markets but find that a farm box is a more convenient source when I’m very busy.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A FARM BOX AND A CSA?

At the end of the day, both farm boxes and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are great options. For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll distinguish them as follows: most farm boxes provide more flexibility than CSAs due to the fact that you have more control over the frequency of your deliveries including delaying or cancelling them whenever you like.  Most of them can create this flexibility because they are larger companies or farms doing the work of gathering together produce (from one or multiple farms) and can take on the administrative burden of delivery or making changes.

CSAs are a more traditional model in which a single farm offers shares of it’s farm for purchase in exchange for (usually) weekly boxes of the produce they grow during their seasons.  

Here’s a high level overview of the pros and cons of each.

FB CSA Comp_2

Frankly, I can think of no better place than in produce to invest some extra dollars.  Not only has my commitment to getting produce helped me get more into my family’s diet, but it’s also inspired me and my friends to try new things that you wouldn’t normally find us buying.  

FARM BOXES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Interested in getting these advantages for yourself?  Here are some of the farm boxes and CSAs that I cam across in my research (those with an * are ones that I’ve tried and love).

  • Farm Fresh to You* – San Francisco Bay Area
  • Eatwell Farm* – San Francisco Bay Area  (Great CSA that acts more like a farm box in that you can easily modify or pause and you only commit to 4 weeks at a time. Plus they have really cool events at their farm in Dixon!)
  • Farm Box – Los Angeles
  • Full Circle* – Seattle

Have you ever tried a farm box service? If so, what did you think and which one do you recommend? If not, what’s holding you back?

6 comments

  1. Melanie says:

    Thanks a lot for this great post Amy! I especially appreciated reading about how you turn “But how do I know what to cook with this “random” selection of vegetables” into an advantage. The reason I haven’t tried a farm box yet is that I don’t know how to fit it in with my weekly grocery store and farmer’s market visits. When to buy what and what to buy where so I am not buying too much/things I won’t cook with. Any thoughts? Thanks for this wonderful website and all the amazing work you are putting into it!

    • Amy Vig says:

      Thanks, Melanie! That’s a really good question and one I have combatted by subscribing to “boxes” that give a list upcoming contents ahead of time (usually at least a few days). That way I can plan around what I’ll have, even if it’s just something like “oh, I’ll get some beans and rice to go with those roasted veggies I’m going to make”. It does have the benefit and downside of not making farmer’s markets visits as necessary, though when I was getting Wednesday deliveries that was a sweet spot that motivated me to really use up my box before Farmer’s Market day came! Plus…all of this adds up to more fruits and veggies and hopefully the corresponding motivation to use them! I’m eagerly awaiting my delivery this week as I am running low on the grocery store produce I stocked up on at the beginning of the week. Thanks so much for stopping by, taking a look, and sharing your thoughts!

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