Dining Out: Veggie Boxes

Igrew up in a big faux Craftsman with a front porch so huge it housed a hammock, a porch swing, a hanging wicker chair and a table with room to spare. For most of my childhood, every two weeks that porch came to life before I did with the activity of the vegetable coop my parents hosted. Whichever family’s number came up had to drive down to the farmers’ market before dawn and buy a truckload of whatever was in season. Then they had to distribute the vegetables evenly across a couple dozen boxes for every other family to pick up—a couple hours work, easily.

So I am well aware of what a luxury it is that such weekly boxes can now be purchased, for very reasonable prices, ready-sorted. For $20 or just a little more, one can buy a weekly box of organic fruits and vegetables from a couple different services, available for pickup at a variety of different Midtown/Downtown locations.

My girlfriend Joy and I are natural customers for veggie box providers. We keep our house well stocked with fruits and veggies. More often than not, meals are salads, smoothies, or an especially huge mound of whatever most needs to be eaten piled into a big iron skillet with olive oil and spices. Our motivation for seeking a veggie box was not to increase our consumption of the healthy stuff but to spend less time driving to farmers’ markets, seeking out the best providers with the least pesticides and so forth. A secondary pull was to be forced to learn new culinary tricks by regularly confronting ourselves with the unfamiliar.

But getting started down the veggie box path can be difficult at first. Our first try was with the provider we both knew best. I featured Soil Born Farms in this column in April, while Joy knew them back when she ran the store Green Sacramento. They’ve got a great reputation for both their quality and their community work. But apparently lots of other people know them as well. My inquiry into getting a box from them landed us on a waiting list for their fall season. My last email from them last month ended with the not-so-encouraging words “feel free to call the office for an update if you have not heard from me towards the end of September.”

Our next attempt was with Del Rio Botanicals. Also an organic provider with a good reputation, Del Rio also proved to have some barriers to entry. Mainly, that the proprietor, Suzanne Ashworth, insisted that I come out to see the farm—which is located near the river, most of the way up I-5 to Woodland, a good 20 mile drive for us.

Now I’ll admit that I’m a harried urbanite by nature. I really didn’t want to take time out of my Saturday to go. But Joy did want to, and I’m glad we did. The farm itself is pretty inviting. She allowed us into her house, which has an amazing kitchen, of course, with a 180 degree view onto the fields outside from the sink and counter. We got to see the goats—for $5 a week, you can “rent” a goat, in the form of getting a small amount of organic, gourmet goat cheese in your box. There were quail, which produce little tiny eggs—we got some in a recent box—and can be purchased for meat as well. The fields and gardens held a huge variety of plants, a preview of the broad variety of stuff that would be arriving every week.

We’ve been picking up our box at Waterboy each week for about a month now. Sometimes it can be a struggle to use everything, or figure out what to do with it. I recently found myself eating quite a lot of figs. I also picked up some okra at the farmer’s market the other week—then found more in the box for 2 straight weeks. Luckily, I love the slimy southern stuff, and cooked it all up in a couple of huge pans of improvised faux jambalaya the other day (sausage, scallops, tomatoes, green peppers, green tomatoes, with lots of paprika, red and black pepper and sweet basil, served over brown rice). If we hadn’t started ordering our weekly box, that’s a wonderful meal that never would have happened.

Veggie boxes

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