My experiment in community-supported agriculture (CSAs) has ended prematurely. As much as I relished the bourgeois joy of sampling organic produce, I decided it just didn’t make sense — not when I’d found the holy grail of agriculture on my second try. Incredibly, the system that stole my heart wasn’t even a proper CSA.
Mariquita Farm is a small family operation located near Watsonville, CA, specializing in heirloom and specialty produce. They do, indeed, run a traditional, customizable CSA subscription — but for casual cooks and the commitment-averse, however, Mariquita Farms offers the incredible Ladybug Buying Club. Each Thursday, their delivery truck sets up shop at a client restaurant and sells steeply discounted produce to the community. To participate, you simply have to sign up for their email blasts and reserve a Mystery Box: “like a csa box… except you don’t pay ahead… and we don’t really know everything that’s going to be in it until that day.” Fun, right?! (I mean, you do consider heirloom squash thrilling, no?)
On a Friday evening, the first Ladybug Buying Club email arrived in my inbox, boasting of other goods available alongside the Mystery Boxes. At this point, I nearly passed out twice: first, from the focus required to resist ordering extra strawberries, honey, and hats; and once more, with anticipation after submitting my pre-order form. In the days that followed, I received a confirmation email and a PDF newsletter describing the Mystery Box. Lovingly written by farm head Andy Griffin, the newsletter included storage tips, recipes, and information that sent me into a headspin of excitement.
That Thursday, Jay, ever my willing accomplice, came home hoisting a trash bag bursting with produce. Like… this was not just a dinky plastic bag left over from last night’s take-out — this was a heavy-duty garbage receptacle. “This. was. so. heavy.” he announced. “There is no way you are going to ever pick these up without me [and my fantastically useful car that makes grocery-shopping possible in this godforsaken city].”
I couldn’t hear Jay, however, because I was too busy tearing into the goods and screaming with delight. “Oh wow!” I exclaimed, holding up a horticultural-looking bush. “What the hell is this?!” I next tackled a pallet of ruby-red strawberries, immediately popping one in my mouth. “Mmm, so sweet,” I cried. I dumped a bag of adorable little new potatoes onto the dining room floor. “I can’t eat this because of my Whole30, but you should!” I screeched at Jay, who had, by now, fearing for his safety, left the room. At one point, I considered throwing veggies in the air, making it rain, and rolling around in the greens (heh). Yes, I thought to myself as my heart rate returned to baseline and I began methodically arranging the produce. This will do.
Since then, I’ve become less hysterical, but no less enthusiastic, about these deliveries. I’ve religiously ordered a box every week I’ve been in town — four boxes total, at the time I write this. These babies have nearly eliminated the need to go produce shopping, even while I was on the veggie-intensive Whole30. Other days, we’ve been driven to get creative in the kitchen — to our great surprise, making use of almost everything each week. The best part? Each Mystery Box costs a measly $25: a paltry fee for a surfeit of greens. Well, actually, let me revise that. The best part has been eating healthfully and affordably… but the value aspect is way cool.
Although I had meticulously documented my CSA subscription from Terra Firma Farms, I’m waving a white flag here. There’s too much good stuff to list! (More accurately, I just couldn’t force myself to sit down at the computer and recount what I’d received and cooked each time. Suffice to say, the produce was always fresh and the meals always enjoyable — with one exception. How was I to know that callaloo becomes offensively tart mush when sauteed? Therein lies the beauty of a CSA: you cook, you eat, you sometimes spit out, but you always learn.)