Pandemic CSA Boxes: A Delicious Learning Curve


The pandemic got me a bit nutty about who was touching my fruit and veggies. I decided that a CSA box would help reduce the number of hands touching what we were eating, and the box delivery would support local farms.  I have been testing the wide-variety of delivery services that sprung up in the wake of the virus – many sourced through restaurants who had regular relationships with the farmers (who, in turn, needed to move their product). It feels right to support these growers, and the bonus has been that we are eating more seasonally.

Years ago, I had a CSA box come to the house on a weekly basis – Jennifer Field Piette was a client (I built her first website, ten years ago) and she has built a nice business curating seasonal crops for households, complete with recipes and menus.  Her ahead-of-the-curve business was suddenly of-the-moment for quarantine living – you can read about her here in the New York Times, in an article that describes the rise in popularity of the CSA box, and includes several other vendor options in Los Angeles.

In the six weeks of the corona-virus shut down, I’ve sampled several  CSA boxes  and have loved having plenty of garlic and shallot and citrus in my pantry. I have discovered tastes I didn’t know before: Japanese yams, lettuces with cute little toe-sized leaves, tangerines so sweet I never wanted to touch a Clementine Cutie again, and eggs the color of saffron. In the midst of the hellish quarantine, these boxes were gifts that kept on giving- just look at the color of these eggs!

I learned that each vendor does a few things well, but none does everything perfectly. Just like you can’t get all your food from TJs (somehow you still have to visit Gelsons or Vons for cereal and who can deny the need to do some big box shopping for staples). The CSA box delights, but doesn’t solve all your kitchen dilemmas. And usually presents new ones.

You’ll certainly receive a box that is seasonably spot on, but includes unfamiliar items.  Many actually require a bit of research to even identify not to mention prepare. I learned about an app that can help you tell what comes in your box (called “Picture This” which is a plant identifier ). I had nettles delivered and wasn’t even sure what they were; then, I scoured the internet to learn for a nettle soup recipe, and learned to blanch the first so they didn’t sting my fingers; they didn’t exactly satisfy my fox-hole mate, a husband who would be happy having a NY steak and iceberg lettuce each night, without variation.

Bottom line? I just can’t quit the boxes. The flavor, the sense of connection to a farm, and the nightly quandary are all pleasures I have lots of time for during this strange spring. The CSA box option has gained momentum and popularity; many of your favorite restaurants are likely providing food from their favorite farms, and it is possible that this way of life will continue post-pandemic. These are the places I have tried!

Edible Gardens LA – Run by Lauri Kranz (who wrote a book about Edible Gardens) and sourced from a variety of your favorite farmers market vendors, these boxes are pricey, but come with a freshness that isn’t replicated in other boxes and really does feel hand-made. My favorite item (besides the gorgeous saffron colored eggs) are actually grains and flours sourced from Tehachapi Heritage Grain Project. 

Clementine – Order a CSA box directly from Tamai Family Farms for delivery at the shop on Fridays –  these are items friendly to the casual cook, a reasonable selection of tomatoes and carrots and strawberries. It is a comfort to drive by and have the cheery staff put some goodies in my car from the restaurant. You can also pick up flour and lots of soup and make-at-home grilled cheese.

Rockenwagner – This local bakery sources from County Line Harvest, and offers well-priced goods in reasonable amounts; delivery includes a few loaves of bread from the bakery (not really a hardship) and you can pick up items from the bakery, including a very good chicken noodle soup.

Narrative Food – Robust business that provides careful selection of vegetables and fruits and also includes wine, gifts, grains, cheese.  Narrative’s signature is the idea that food tells a story, and Jennifer curates meals for you – if you’re super busy and trust her planning, you that you can order a box that includes everything for several meals (including recipes). Jennifer is the grand dame of the sustainable, organic, specialty box.

Lady and the Larder – another wonderful option, also sourcing from County Line Harvest, these boxes need to be picked up but are reasonably priced with add ons from egg farmers and DIY pizza kits. This retailer does lovely cheese plates, for when we are back to “normal” and you have party that requires a showstopping display.