When most people think of community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, they imagine boxes of greens, beets, broccoli and other veggies, delivered straight from the farmer. But CSAs have spread their wings in recent decades, and now shoppers can sign up for a wide range of culinary and farm-based products straight from the folks who grow the crops and raise the livestock.
Since the pandemic, CSAs have been especially popular, giving people a way to source groceries without having to leave their homes. But COVID-19 safety aside, CSA boxes offer some of the best, curated offerings and freshest, peak-season hauls from land and sea.
Here is a roundup of some of our favorite local (and local-ish) CSA and subscription boxes that go beyond just vegetables.
Real Good Fish: seafood
Moss Landing–based CSA Real Good Fish offers sustainable, seasonal seafood. Deliveries are labeled to let customers know the name of the fisherman who caught the fish, along with the name of their vessel. It’s all part of an effort to humanize the people who provide our food and also offer 100% traceability so that customers know how their meal got from the ocean to their plate.
“Our underlying mission is supporting our local fishermen and local waterfront communities and to try to replace imported seafood in grocery stores,” said Real Good Fish’s Emily Hess.
Real Good Fish’s weekly delivery emails come with recipes and customers can add-on items, such as pre-made salmon burgers (delicious!) and crab ravioli, along with surplus fish from big-haul weeks. Weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly deliveries available in various sizes for pick-up at local, hosted sites across the East Bay. The fish is flash-frozen to remain fresh through the delivery process. $14-$33 per delivery, depending on size.
Forage: mushrooms and wild gathered ingredients
This CSA box grew out of Forage SF, a group that offers outdoor foraging classes with a mission to make Bay Area residents more aware of the edible plant life in our urban environment. Then came COVID-19, and Forage owner Iso Rabins pivoted to a CSA model, which has been surprisingly successful.
“It’s nice to be able to provide locally foraged stuff to people,” said Rabins, who also operates Uptown Oakland’s Forage Kitchen, an events space and shared kitchen and food business incubator.
The CSA offers large and small Forage and Mushroom boxes delivered directly to your home. Mushroom boxes contain wild and locally cultivated varieties, while Forage boxes include mushrooms, as well as other gathered edibles, like wild alliums, greens and local seaweed. Most of the items in the boxes you’re unlikely to easily find at most grocery stores, such as acorn flowers, nameko mushrooms, miner’s lettuce, New Zealand spinach and wild pecans. $48-$87 per box.
Frog Hollow Farm: fruit
If you’d rather have fruits than veggies, Brentwood-based Frog Hollow Farm (in operation since 1976) offers an organic, mixed fruits CSA “club” delivered weekly or bi-weekly. Each box contains two to three varieties and during peak season, Frog Hollow delivers to over 70 pickup locations.
“Everything that we grow is hand-selected based on taste profiles, not shipping and shelf life,” said Frog Hollow CSA director Lael Gerhart. “Everything is tree-ripened.”
As many Berkeley farmers market attendees know, Frog Hollow is famous for its stone fruits; the season lasts from May to September. CSA customers can sample 15 varieties of peaches alone during the summertime months. Boxes include avocados, too, because, hey, they’re a fruit! Prices (starting from $27.50 per box) and subscriptions vary; some clubs include a few shipments, some include weekly shipments for Frog Hollow’s entire season.
Tara Firma Farms: meat and eggs
Beef, pork, lamb, chicken, sausage, eggs and even offal from Petaluma-based Tara Firma Farms are delivered directly or are available at neighborhood pickup spots. The farm raises pork and some cattle, along with laying hens, and also works with outside suppliers that align with its vision of regenerative, pasture-raised, and organic or organically fed livestock.
To join Tara Firma’s CSA, you choose your “base share,” which can include a mix of meats, just chicken, sausage/ground meat or a customized selection. Its most popular choice is the premium share, which includes its highest quality cuts, like New York steaks, filet mignon, lamb chops and pork loin chops. Once you’re in on the share, you can add on additional cuts, eggs, cheese, veggies, fruit and other items like tallow soap, spices, Sonoma County-made olive oil or bone broth. Pick up in Berkeley or Albany, or via home delivery. $50-$100 depending on size and type of share.
Bluma Flower Farm: flowers
Bluma Flower Farm wins for the most unique location: on a rooftop in Berkeley. Owner Joanna Letz originally founded Bluma in Sunol in 2015, but moved to the top of an apartment building at the corner of Blake and Fulton in 2019. In non-plague times, Letz provides blooms for weddings and events, but when COVID-19 put the brakes on in-person gatherings, she felt it was a good time to revive her floral CSA, which offers bouquets weekly, every other week, or once per month over the farm’s 36-week growing season; the more you order, the less each arrangement costs.
You can also ask for direct delivery for an extra charge. Starting this month, the arrangements will include spring flowers like anemones and ranunculus; starting mid-May, the farm will harvest bachelor’s buttons, cosmos and other summer flowers and fall bouquets feature dahlias. $96 (for two deliveries) up to $1,827 for large, artful vase arrangements weekly for nine weeks.
Steadfast Herbs: herbal remedies
Steadfast launched its herbal remedy CSA seven years ago, with founders Lauren Anderson and Finn Oakes harvesting herbs from their own gardens and community spaces in Berkeley and San Francisco and transforming them into herbal elixirs, tinctures and teas. Now, the duo runs a small herb farm in Pescadero and sells their products both at the downtown Berkeley farmers market and through their quarterly CSA.
Steadfast’s CSA box includes five remedies, usually a tincture, a tea, something topical, something that’s culinary and a wild card suited for the season, such as a tonic for spring allergies or elderberry elixir for preventing colds and flu. Its most popular tinctures are for stress and sleep support and are included every other year for CSA subscribers, but you can also purchase them solo through their site or at the market. Boxes can be picked up at the downtown Berkeley farmers market or mailed to you. Steadfast’s CSA boxes retail for $68, but it offers them on a sliding scale, from $45-$80, asking those who can to pay more to allow others to pay less.
Rancho Gordo Bean Club: beans and grains
Good luck getting off the waitlist for Rancho Gordo‘s bean and legume club, just celebrating its 20th anniversary. The waiting list is currently a year long, but if you succeed, you’ll get four shipments each year of six bags of beans and grains from this cult favorite of self-professed “bean freaks.”
Twenty years ago, founder Steve Sando went to his first farmers market in Yountville and sold a bunch of chard to a veteran. “And I thought, I can garden and get paid for it,” he said. Thus his mighty bean dynasty was born.
Nowadays, the club has 28,000 on its list, hence the waitlist. Sando works mainly with farmers in California, but also some in Oregon and Washington that grow specifically for him — he buys the whole crop. His favorite bean? The delicate Marcella, named after famed chef Marcella Hazan, who encouraged him to grow it. Sando describes it as having “almost no skin, so it’s like this gelatinous orb that’s perfect on toast. It’s not for everyone, because you can’t stick it in a crockpot, you have to watch it.” $39.95 per quarterly shipment.
Vino! and OddLots: wine
While this isn’t a CSA per se, East Bay-based Vino! (It has stores in Oakland and Berkeley and its warehouse in Richmond) and its Albany sister store OddLots offer boxes of 12 themed wine bottles delivered to your door. Individually, each bottle retails from $10 up; 12 bottles together would be between $200 and $230. But the 12-bottle box is priced at $149.95, a major bargain.
There are boxes of whites, reds, chiantis, rosés, bubbles and more, but the customer favorite is Logan’s Oyster box, a collection of the wines that OddLots buyer Logan McDowell takes to the beach with his friends when they chill out and eat oysters. You can’t get more Northern California than that! Delivery is free.