CSA 2.0, the New Generation of Produce Boxes

Community-supported agriculture subscriptions have been around since the '80s, but they’ve become increasingly popular over the last decade. Now, an inspiring crop of online options has made CSAs customizable in ways that used to be impossible.

With the traditional CSA, you pay in advance and get a weekly delivery of local farm crops. There’s usually a minimum purchase or contract commitment, and what you get is up to the farm. Depending on the season, you could end up with a box of kohlrabi and rutabagas.

Today’s CSA-inspired food sites have the same local-sourcing, community-supporting principles as classic CSAs, but online marketplaces such as S.F.-based Luke’s Local and Good Eggs give you way more control over what's in your delivery box, how much you get, and how often it comes. Instead of just produce, Good Eggs lets you add a breadth of things that used to be the exclusive domain of shops and farmers’ markets: olive oil, bread, jam, yogurt, flowers. You get a direct connection with purveyors, with the ability to order items in the quantity you desire.

(Good Eggs is an option for folks in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Brooklyn; Luke's Local is available only in the SF Bay Area.)

I’m not arguing that the traditional CSA model is bad—it’s great, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a consistent schedule, with plenty of time to prepare a given volume of purveyor-picked goods each week. For a lot of us though, our packed schedules leave little time to cook up every last bunch of parsnips or mustard greens in the box. The last thing anyone wants is for a percentage of the weekly CSA bounty to end up in the compost bin.

As a CSA consumer, Luke Chappell, founder of Luke’s Local, struggled with this very issue. “I thought, ‘What if we could combine chefs’ meals with fresh produce and artisan goods like bread and coffee that would offer a well-balanced mix of products tailored for busy people?’” Luke’s boxes give you the option of ordering produce, if your schedule permits kitchen time, or opting for ready-to-eat meals or dinner kits designed by chefs. Versatility and customization, key factors in CSA 2.0.

If you decide to go the dinner kit route, it will cost you around $30. This includes a recipe and the majority of the ingredients (some pantry items are required) needed to make a dinner that would serve two to three people. Like anything, you pay for convenience. This may not be the most inexpensive meal option for the average family, but for those who can afford it and don’t have time on their side, sourcing local foods has probably never been easier.

Photo of Luke's Local dinner kit box by Ryan McQueen.