I’m catching up, this post is only two days behind! This week was another gorgeous box. At the end of this post I go through my pros and cons for Full Circle and absolutely perfect produce is definitely a pro. (Although also potentially a con, as I discuss below…)
What came in my box:
Cauliflower, Organic – 1
Baby Bok Choy, Organic – 1.25 pounds
Eggplant, Organic – 1
Bunched Carrots, Organic – 1 bunch
Yellow Finn Potatoes, Organic – 1.5 pounds
Cucumbers, Organic – 2
Red Leaf Lettuce, Organic – 1 bunch
Green Chard, Organic – 1 bunch
Nectarines, Organic – 4 *These were not actually in my box.
Santa Rosa Plums, Organic – 6
Donut Peaches, Organic – 5
Strawberries, Organic – 1 pint
My substitutions this week: baby bok choy instead of red bell peppers (those guys are on my permanent exemptions list!), bunched carrots instead of onions (I’m out of carrots, not out of onions), nectarines instead of pluots (just because I can, although apparently I can’t, since they’re not here).
Some of the carrots have been dispatched into a smoothie (Farmer B and I are calling it the “Sunset Bunny”: carrot, banana, strawberry, ginger, lettuce, coconut water). More carrots, cucumber, lettuce, plums, nectarines, and strawberries went into sushi (I love fruit sushi so much right now, maybe it’s a summer thing). One of the cauliflowers and several of the potatoes were roasted with homemade herbamare and olive oil. I’m not sure what I’ll do with that eggplant. It’s quite handsome, but I mostly only like Italian eggplant in baba ganoush, and this would make a tiny batch. Not sure if it’s worth the effort (of washing the Cuisinart, mainly!) I do love caponata, too, but that would require going to the store for olives.
A note on donut peaches: I have always wondered what the point was. They’re small and their shape means they have a much higher ratio of icky furskin to yummy fruit goodness. But in the spirit of having some actual CSA adventurousness, I didn’t substitute them in my box. And boy am I glad! I get it now, I totally get it. If a weird flat shape and high furskin ratio is the price we must pay for such flavor, I will pay it every time! Donut peaches are the best. I’m not even going to try to describe the flavor in words, but there were glades with unicorns and rainbows and stuff.
I’m adding this post to the marvelous round-up of CSA posts spearheaded by In Her Chucks. I remember back when I started in 2007 that CSA blogs were few and far between, and how thrilling it would be to come across some distant stranger who was documenting their box as well. Heck, any information at all about CSAs was hard to find, which is why I started this blog in the first place. But now CSAs are more widely available and better known, and there are oodles of sexy box-contents photos for me to ogle across the web.
Mushroom and white bean paprikas over “caulipots,” mashed potato & cauliflower (from Appetite for Reduction)
So I wanted to fill you guys in on what I think of the Full Circle box so far. That is, after all, pretty much the entire point of this blog. I checked back to see why I stopped my last box (Farm Fresh to You) and it was a combo of financial and lifestyle. Full Circle is really working for me right now, which is great. The cons are not inconsequential; however, they are mostly cons in comparison with a traditional CSA (like Eatwell). Since I can barely make it to the farmer’s market anymore, what I’m really comparing Full Circle to is running out to the Whole Foods down the street to grab some stuff. In that comparison, considerations about carbon footprint and miles traveled and farmer sponsorship are likely equal or better in favor of Full Circle.
- So far I have been thrilled with EVERYTHING that has come in my box. This is due to a few different things:
- Very high quality produce. Sometimes there are little bugs in the cauliflower or bug-bitten leaves of baby bok choy, but I don’t mind this since I am currently embracing eating insects (unintentionally, but not going to any lengths to avoid it) as part of eating organic, real food. There has never been anything bruised or brown or wilted. Even the fruit hits this magical spot where it’s mostly ripe enough to eat when it arrives but not so ripe that it goes bad by the next morning.
- Ability to customize. Full Circle is very easy (and enticing) to customize. You can replace any fruit or vegetable on the list with a second batch of something else on the list, or you can choose from a list of substitute options that is as long as the box contents themselves. This enables me to ensure I don’t end up with an overflow of something I haven’t used fast enough. No more dreaded “lettuce graveyard.” I usually end up subbing 2 ingredients, sometimes 3 or 4.
- Large size. Because of money concerns, I’ve always ordered the smallest size my CSA offers, sometimes even dropping it down to delivery once every two weeks. I got my first two Full Circle boxes free, however, through a promotion they offered when they first opened in the Bay Area, so of course I went for the largest size, the Harvest box. What I discovered, and the reason I have continued to get the Harvest size (clever marketing, guys!) is that with this size, the ability to customize, and the really nice balance of fruits & veggies in the box, I don’t need to go to the store. Ever. At some point I suppose I’ll need to go restock grains and beans and rice vinegar and stuff, but I haven’t needed to buy produce since I started getting my box. I don’t know if I’m saving money in the sense that what I pay is averaging out to a lower price per item, but the savings in energy & time is overwhelming.
- I was suspicious about whether Full Circle would be in line with my food values. They’re too slick, too well organized, they span several states! I wondered where my food would come from with this Washington-based organization, particularly because Full Circle recently bought Eating With the Seasons, which I felt was pretty cavalier about sourcing locally. But upon closer investigation, Full Circle actually seems pretty awesome about sourcing from (mostly) local, small-scale farms. On their website, each item on the list of things that will come in my box links to an information page about the farm where it’s grown. I know it’s easy to write a compelling pastoral narrative that makes you feel all warm inside and has no actual relationship to reality (remember the Petaluma Egg Farm scandals?) but Full Circle’s stories have won me over. Why? Because both Full Circle and many of the specific farm stories focus on how the farm employees are treated. In my mind it’s easy to spin pretty tales about being a steward of the land and lie about the happiness of your chickens, but claiming you give health benefits to your workforce and are dedicated to eliminating the toxicity in their work environment seems like a much more brazen level of deception. This may be my own particular naiveté, and I welcome any comments correcting my mistaken beliefs, but for now at least it really goes a long way towards making me feel glad to be part of this organization.
- Home delivery. I’m tired. Home delivery works really well for me. I’m not sure I could actually do it the other way. Part of why I was excited to start a box again is that I kept missing the Wednesday farmer’s market in my neighborhood when I was too tired to go out that day.
- Great customer service. Full Circle is super responsive to queries, they call and email to check in to see how everything is going, and when the credit card I had set up for my automatic payment stopped working, they notified me but assured me my regularly scheduled delivery would still happen. They also let you put deliveries on hold for any reason, which is not always the case with CSAs.
- Easy to use web interface. It’s very easy to navigate the customer part of their site, make changes, check information, etc.
- Green Grocer – I haven’t used this yet, but you can also order other food a la carte to be included in your delivery. You can order more/different produce as well as all kinds of other food.
- The biggest con for me is that Full Circle is not a real CSA in the traditional sense of the word. As I wrote in the past: “I love the concept behind community supported agriculture, the idea of giving reliable financial support to the necessary and extremely valued people who grow our food. The whole point of CSA-style relationships between farmers and consumers is that farmers can experiment and learn and go through disasters and medfly quarantines, and still know they’ll have an income, even if the plums are mealy or the tomatoes are quarantined. Because this is the bottom-line reality of our food system: If no one took the risks to grow the food, there would be nothing to eat. Organic and sustainable and ethical and biodynamic and all that may seem like a luxury (which they aren’t really, in the long run), but food itself is not. The burden of producing a necessary commodity under variable and uncertain circumstances (no widget factories to make our fruits and veggies) should not have to be entirely assumed by the producer. I really believe this. I am, in fact, quite passionate about it.” With a system like Full Circle’s, particularly with the option to customize, I am not making a commitment to the people who grow my food, advancing them cash in exchange for taking on the burden of growing in uncertain circumstances. It’s possible that Full Circle makes this kind of commitment to its farms/growers, but the exceptional quality of every piece of produce makes me wonder what happens to the less-than-perfect crops, and to the farmers who grew them.
- Full Circle has an immense carbon footprint compared to a traditional, single-farm CSA. Produce comes from different farms all over the state – maybe most of the farms are within 100 miles of SF, but that means much less with this kind of plan. Ten farms driving 100 miles to get their produce for that week to the Full Circle clearinghouse means 1000 miles of travel, I might as well be ordering from Mexico. Home delivery also adds to the miles traveled for each box.
- Newsletter is Meh. I think everyone in the Full Circle system (including Washington & CA) gets the same newsletter, which makes sense from an efficiency standpoint. But that means the recipes rarely use items that are actually in my box and the farmers profiled aren’t usually the ones who grew my food. My favorite part of the Eatwell CSA, my first CSA, was the newsletter, full of that week’s news and photos from the farm and recipes that all involved the produce came our box. This newsletter I usually scan quickly and recycle.
- Packaging. This is partly a pro and partly a con. The pro is that all the produce that is bagged comes either in biodegradable “plastic” bags or paper bags. The con is that the huge cardboard boxes don’t get reused as they do with most CSAs. Undoubtedly on their end there’s some math of human labor/sanitation/post-consumer recycled cardboard/etc where this is the most sensible plan, but I feel weird having this giant cardboard box to toss every week. (I don’t even toss them, in fact, they’re piling up in a corner. I think the guilt is paralyzing me!)
- I’ve also noticed that sometimes I seem to customize just because I can. I don’t have a problem with pluots, and if they came in my box I would enjoy them, but if I can have nectarines *instead* – well, who wouldn’t want nectarines?? This isn’t a real drawback, just something I’ve noticed about the psychology of choice as it pertains to CSA-style systems.