We picked up our first box from Eating with the Seasons today! It wasn’t actually a box – it was a brown paper grocery bag with my name on a label. Unlike Eatwell, which packed identical boxes and you could just pick up any which one, each bag from Eating with the Seasons is customized to each person. This alternative model is part of what attracted me to try out this new CSA.
With Eatwell the summer was a grind of tomatoes that would rot before we could use them and tasteless, mealy fruit. After that ended, I just couldn’t face another season of turnips which I hate and lettuce which I never have the energy to wash, dry, and dress. I’m very, very tired these days, which means Duck is doing a lot more of the cooking and when I cook I don’t necessarily want to get creative, I want to get us fed. So it made sense to try out a CSA that let us order nothing but kale for a week if that’s what we felt like we needed and/or could handle.
On the other hand, with the Eating with the Seasons model, I am giving up a lot of what I loved about the CSA idea in the first place. I have a comparison of the two models, below.
Eatwell – Nearly all the produce for the Eatwell CSA is grown on the Eatwell farm in Dixon, CA (66 miles from SF). The farmer-owner, Nigel, has talked about how challenging it is for them to always grow enough variety that our boxes stay interesting and varied year-round but they do a decent job of this. Occasionally they will supplement with something exciting (usually fruit) from another farm with to give even more variety. Eatwell has only one size of box for one set price. Each subscriber goes to a location near them to pick up their box, and all the boxes are interchangeable.
Eating with the Seasons – EWTS has a very different model. Their slogan is “Bringing the farmer’s market to you!” They started as a strawberry farm, and I think this is the only thing grown on their own farm. They provide produce from many other farms, most about 90 miles away but several in Southern California (400 or more miles from SF). A subscriber chooses from four different sizes: 6, 8, 12, or 16 weekly “items.” Each week you visit the EWTS site and see the list of what’s available that week. There is an online order form where you choose which things from the list you want as your “items.” One item could be a bunch of kale, or it could be 4-6 apples. A pound of brussels sprouts is equivalent to two items. There seem to be about 30+ items on each weekly list, with a great variety from greens and lettuces to other veggies, herbs, fruits, potatoes, onions, etc. Like Eatwell, you pick up your customized bag at a location near you. (You can also order additional things when you choose your CSA order – honey, olive oil, spices, jam, granola, and more, from local farms. For these you pay for each thing as you order it.)
Eatwell – One Eatwell box costs $27. If you pay in advance for multiple boxes, there is a discount (13 for the price of 12).
EWTS – The size I am getting (Small – 8 items) is $22. To see the other prices, visit the EWTS site. There is a 3% discount if you get an annual membership. I’m not sure if you pay for this completely in advance or if you commit to a monthly fee.
In general I found the quality of produce from Eatwell to be very high, despite my summertime gripes. In my limited sample size so far the EWTS quality has also been very good.
To see what came in my Eatwell box last February, check out my February records. It seemed like I would generally get around 10 or 11 items, which seems equivalent to EWTS, as the cost of an Eatwell box is between the cost of the 8- and 12-item bags.
Eatwell – With the exception of the summer, there was always pretty good variety in my Eatwell boxes. You can review an entire year of box contents, with photographs for many of them. I know the constant flood of lettuce that so plagued me was a response to subscriber requests, and in general they seemed open to listening to what people wanted, giving us different spinach varieties to taste-test and compare, and so on.
EWTS – Obviously variety is the main point of the EWTS CSA. Each week there are around 30 or more items to choose from, and you can also choose multiples of one item, which would be helpful for planning a party or big dinner or just if you are craving something in particular.
Local & Seasonal:
Eatwell: Eatwell Farm is located in Dixon, CA, about 66 miles from where I live in San Francisco. This is well within the locavore definition of “local,” which I’ve seen as within 100, 150, or 200 miles of where you live. The produce follows the same seasons I do, and when they get flooded out with rains, I’m feeling the same storms here. The farm has seasonal farm-visit days that helped me to really connect with where my food came from and who was growing it for me.
EWTS: Most of the produce on the list seems to come from farms in Watsonville and San Juan Bautista, which are both around 90 miles from here. There is also a fair amount of produce from places which are between 160 and 400+ miles from here. The items from Southern California are marked as such on the list, so it would be easy to avoid them, but it’s hard to hold back when I’m craving juicy fruit and there’s a list with all this citrus on it and all of it comes from SoCal. Also, with produce coming from so many different farms to the central EWTS clearinghouse and then to my drop-off point, the carbon footprint is significantly higher in this model even if I only ordered produce from the more local farms on the list.
Eatwell – This was my favorite part of the Eatwell CSA. Each week our boxes would come with a newsletter. The newsletter described what was in our box, with storage tips and cooking hints for each item. It also contained recipes using ingredients that came in the box, as well as news and pictures from the farm. I loved the recipes, appreciated the storage tips, and was fascinated by the farm news.
EWTS – No newsletter. Obviously with the customized boxes it would be impossible to have a newsletter with recipes that pertained to the produce, since everyone is getting something different. And the time that would go into a newsletter must be going into the arduous task of sorting and collating all those unique bags of produce. But I’m really sad about this! I miss the sense of community and connection and fun the newsletter brought. Without the newsletter and the produce that all comes from one farm where you start to know over time the people growing it, this is less a CSA and more a local, seasonal grocery delivery service that doesn’t even deliver to your home. “Bringing the farmer’s market to you,” indeed! The produce even comes with those big plastic tags on it that I associate exclusively with buying things at the supermarket.
Community Supported Agriculture:
Eatwell – This is community supported agriculture at its finest. Subscriber gives farm money. Farm uses money to grow food. Food goes back to subscriber. Taking some of the burden of financial risk off the shoulders of the food growers is the whole point of community supported agriculture.
EWTS – I have no idea if my subscription is providing security for the farmers who are part of this CSA. That is between the EWTS folks and the farmers, not between me and the farmers. With such a large list to order from, I assume the farmer’s don’t even know what specific part of their harvest is spoken for until the orders come in. Also, as I mentioned in the Newsletter section, there isn’t an emotional feeling of community either. I’ve only been doing this for a couple of weeks, though, so perhaps that will develop more over time.
Eatwell – Eatwell has a very easy-to-use website and a very simple sign-up process, and they are generally responsive to phone and email questions. They have many locations in the Bay Area and the one I used was a few blocks from my house. On the other hand, most of the reason I had to stop getting their CSA was that it was no longer convenient for my lifestyle to get a random assortment of vegetables each week.
EWTS – Eating with the Seasons has an awful website that is very confusing to navigate and pretty unpleasant (due to layout) to read through. It seems like a site designed by non-web folks who are doing the best they can, and I admire that, especially because their site involves online order forms for several different pick-up days (which means different ordering days). The ordering process is confusing – there are different box sizes as well as different subscription levels and these aren’t shown clearly. They also don’t deliver year-round and it is confusing to try to figure out what’s happening with that, as well. On the other hand, being able to choose my own produce obviously overrides every other consideration for now. The pick-up location is far enough from my house that I drive there, but still much easier than going to the store. (I can double-park while I run up to grab my bag, for one thing!)
Getting produce from Eating with the Seasons is not really fulfilling my CSA fantasies, or assuaging my need to contribute more actively to my food production system. But Duck and I were getting pretty haphazard with our shopping and ending up eating out or eating totally veggie-free meals several times a week at minimum. So at least now we get to choose 8 nice things that will be part of our diet for the week. In the two weeks that we’ve been getting the EWTS CSA (it’s been two weeks now as I write this paragraph) I’ve eaten a total of 3 meals I didn’t prepare myself, compared to 9 in another typical pre-CSA 2-week period (that includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as leftovers from eating out that served as meal). There are other factors at work, as well, but this is a huge victory for home eating, too.
Oh, and right: here’s what was in our first box. (Yeah, I know it was a bag, but it’s gonna be a hard habit to break. Or rather one I don’t have any motivation to break.)
Mixed apples (6)
Navel oranges (4)
Brussels sprouts (counts as 2)
Avocado (1 large, 1 small)
Beets w beet greens