February 3, 2011
In deep winter, the greatest challenge for a committed locavore may not be coming up with yet another way to eat root vegetables, but the icy slog to the farmers market. Luckily, there are a number of services that deliver organically and locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
With community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs) and farmers markets rising in popularity, farm-to-kitchen-table eating has never been easier. As of last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recorded more than 6,100 farmers' markets across the country, up from 1,755 when it first began tracking the markets in 1994.
We tested companies in four cities to check out their promises of "local" and "organic" produce. With each service, we chose the standard size order, which amounts to a week's worth of fruits and vegetables for a two-person household; and we specified the "seasonal" or "local" box when available.
In Los Angeles, we signed up for FarmBoxLA, requesting the produce be left on the porch in case we weren't home. FarmBox bills weekly through PayPal, but you can ask to pay with cash or check. We emailed to ask if we could use American Express instead and owner Reisha Fryzer emailed back to confirm and called to set up our account.
After the first delivery, customers are encouraged to put a $50 deposit on two reusable containers that get swapped out with each delivery. Ms. Fryzer said that since she was making extra deliveries the next day, she would drop off our produce in paper bags.
The fruits and vegetables arrived for the most part in top condition. A trio of sweet, funny-shaped kiwis, two large Asian pears, multicolored fingerling potatoes and a kohlrabi—common in Kashmir but sometimes difficult to find in L.A.—were part of the mix. However, the lettuce had to be thrown out after wilting in the sun between its morning delivery and the time we came home that evening.
There was no information about where the produce came from in the bag, though on the FarmBox blog Ms. Fryzer lists the farms she buys from each week at farmers' markets in Hollywood. She said the yet-blank "Farms" section of the website will soon include photos and information about the farms. The website includes recipes and news about different produce. FarmBox offered more bonuses than any of the other services: They will take any unused produce to a local food bank or farm to use as compost; or they'll jam or pickle it for you for $10 a jar.