During the height of Washington’s stay-at-home order earlier in 2020, I wanted to find alternative ways to purchase produce. I already love to garden and know lots of local farms, but I also wanted to know what my other options were. Produce boxes seemed like a good solution!
I’d heard about produce box services like Imperfect Foods and Misfit Markets, and wanted to try them out. Since Misfits Market is not available in my area, I was not able to try them.
My only experience with a produce box delivery program before was Full Circle, who delivered a bag of refrigerated, locally grown produce to my front porch. It’d been years since I used them, and the market had changed drastically!
Produce Boxes I’ve Tried
I found a promo code for Imperfect Foods that gave me a discount on my first 3 boxes. This seemed like a great way to save food that would otherwise be wasted and cut costs a little! Plus, I liked the idea of not leaving my house to get produce.
We received TWO boxes for our order. One was jam-packed full of our produce and meat. The other box…had about 2 pounds of purple potatoes. Yes, it was the same, full-size box as the first one…but with basically nothing in it.
I was appalled that they would waste a box for so little food. The produce itself was disappointing, too. The squash had been scratched up and damaged. Some of the produce was clearly towards the end of its freshness.
The best parts: organic options, customizable, able to order meat/dairy/grains
I still get emails telling me to prepare my cart for delivery and once I start working through the list, I just don’t want enough of it to make an order. I’ve been skipping my weeks for a couple months now and probably won’t ever go back.
Still hopeful there may be a way to order organic produce online, I recently ordered a delivery from Azure Standard. Azure Standard is a company out of Oregon that delivers produce, meat, dairy, grains, pantry staples, gardening supplies and more by truck to local drop sites. Since I live in Washington, I’m able to get Azure deliveries every 1-2 weeks.
I love using them for pantry staples and even recently ordered my garden fertilizer through them!
They sell a Fruit & Veggie Produce Box that contains all organic produce and weighs at least 10 lbs for $40.
The best parts: all organic, pick up with rest of order
In a nutshell, I was not happy. Although I love Azure for everything else, some of my food was towards the end of its freshness, there was no ability to customize the box so I got a bunch of produce I don’t like, and some of the foods were impractical (fragrant young coconut, anyone?).
When I look at produce box delivery services near me, I keep going back to Full Circle. They sell locally grown produce in more of a CSA-style, which I like. Essentially, they advertise themselves as a “Farm Box Delivery,” which is way more up my alley.
Full Circle sells 4 sizes of boxes, you can customize your offerings, and you can add other local products, like dairy and bread.
In the past, Full Circle delivered to my house, but now, they only offer Tuesday pick-ups at local drop sites.
Since Full Circle started as an actual farm in 1996, they’re committed to sourcing from sustainable food suppliers. I don’t think all of the produce is local and their idea of small farms may be bigger than mine, but this is definitely a solid choice for freshness, food quality, and lower food miles.
I placed an order to try them again and will have a review soon! If you want to try Full Circle too, you can save $10 on your first 4 orders with the code SHARE40 or save $15 on your first order only with EATFRESH15!
Here’s what I don’t want in a produce box:
Since greens are so easy to grow in my garden, it feels silly to order them online. Plus, I don’t like to purchase greens from anyone except a local farm. With so many e coli outbreaks in salad greens, I feel leery ordering salad greens where I cannot see the processing. I always remove these from produce box orders.
Onions, Potatoes, or Carrots
Since I can either grow these or purchase them in bulk locally, I see no need to order this produce for delivery. If I can buy something for less than $1 per pound, I don’t feel like the cardboard box and shipping service is sufficient for the item’s value.
After receiving the Imperfect Foods box and the Azure Standard box, I saw that both boxes had foods that did not travel well like tomatoes and zucchini. I also received cucumbers that rotted very quickly from the Azure box, and I’m not interested in any of that.
Plus, since I have all of those crops in my garden and can buy more locally for a good price, this felt wasteful.
Obviously, it’s pretty clear that I am not an ideal customer for these services. I’m picky about the quality of my greens, I don’t want to pay for a cardboard box to be shipped with inexpensive staples, and I don’t want a box full of easy-to-damage produce that will rot quickly.
Will I try any produce boxes again?
Despite all of this, I still want to try a Full Circle delivery again soon because I think they fit my values the most. I imagine that because they deliver to a drop site and are based not too far from me here in Western Washington, they may offer better quality greens and delicate produce than a company shipping by mail.
Local Alternatives to Produce Boxes
Whenever I think about trying Imperfect Foods again, I keep thinking that it doesn’t make sense to waste cardboard packaging and the fuel for shipping to send food towards the end of its freshness across the country. From an environmental perspective, that does not work for me!
Instead, I’d rather spend my money on fresh, local sellers from my own community. This reduces my carbon footprint and supports small businesses!
Online Farmers Markets
For example, we have an online farmers market in my community called Kitsap Fresh. This program started while I was still managing a local farmers market, and it’s amazing to see how robust of a program it is! You can order online from a whole slew of local farms each weekend and pick up your custom order at drop sites all over the county midweek.
There is even another local service like this getting started just south of me so that even more people can access local food easily. If I’m already going to a drop site, why not pick up exactly what I want each week?
I’ve written multiple times now about a small business near my house that sells produce mostly from farms across Washington and Oregon. Earlier this year, they started allowing online and phone ordering. This was an incredibly easy way to pick up produce – we just stopped by to pick everything up when it was ready.
There’s no cardboard box, way fewer shipping miles, and just the food available when I wanted it.
CSAs from Local Farms
With COVID, some local farms even started offering online ordering so you could select the produce you want for farmers market pick-up!
Beyond that, many of my local farms offer CSA programs. If you’re already traveling to a drop site to pick up a produce box of food shipped in from wherever, why not support a local farm and get THE freshest food possible??
My dream: CSA delivery to my door
Honestly, if a local farm delivered to my door, I think I’d be 100% in. My favorite farms are about 30 minutes away from me, and it’s hard to imagine driving over an hour total after work to pick up a box. There is a closer drop site that’s only available part of the year for one of them.
If I find a local farm closer to me with a high-quality CSA, I may consider ordering. Otherwise, I don’t mind supplementing my garden produce with food from the farmstand and local markets.
Produce boxes are just not for me.
When I first started trying out produce boxes, I realized pretty quickly this probably would not be for me. I had a pretty strong reaction to the Imperfect Foods order and I was definitely disappointed with the Azure box, too. But, lots of other folks love both of these services!
I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with any of these boxes, I’m just not the right customer for these programs. They don’t fit how I like to shop or eat. I also think that for a similar amount of money, I could get everything I need from a local farm or farmstand.
Plus, I don’t feel like wasting a cardboard box or fuel for shipping when there is perfectly good produce available in my local area or region.
What do you think about produce boxes?
I’d love to learn more about what people like about produce boxes! I can see how they would be really convenient for the home bound, new parents, busy professionals and families, etc. I get that they are convenient and save a trip to the store!