Every Wednesday afternoon, Debbie Freeman drives to Lucero Organic Farms to pick up a box filled with bright red strawberries, star-shaped squash called flying saucers and deep purple plums.
Freeman is one of the many people in Lodi biting into the recent trend of purchasing produce in food boxes.
Food boxes, popular on the East Coast, are boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables that local farmers grow and pick themselves to sell directly to the community.
“It’s wonderful produce. They are so fresh. And the owners are such nice people. The strawberries got us hooked in the first place,” says Freeman, as she picks up her basket and quickly chats with Karen Lucero, one of the owners of Lucero Farms.
For the past 3 1⁄2 years, owners Karen, Bob and Curtis Lucero have been offering locals the chance to buy fresh fruits and vegetables as an alternative to the produce sold at the grocery store.
Through Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, farmers like the Luceros offer “shares,” meaning a box of produce grown on the farm, to consumers. Customers purchase the share, become a “member” and receive the box of produce each week during the farming season. This establishes a closer relationship between the farmer and consumer.
At Lucero Farms, customers pay for the food box in advance either for six weeks or the entire season, which runs from April to Thanksgiving. The regular box costs $114 while the larger box is $124.
Members pick up their basket directly from the farm every Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. It is freshly picked that morning or the day before.
“The hardest part for the customer is that there is a lot of variety that they haven’t tasted before. The flavors are richer and more exciting. We have had customers say they didn’t like nectarines until they tasted ours,” Karen Lucero said.
Depending on the season, Lucero farms grows strawberries, nectarines, peaches, plums, apples, pears and grapes. They also grow carrots, kale, different colored peppers, 14 types of squash and 60 varieties of tomatoes.
Food boxes are also offered at Fresh Edible Community Farms in French Camp.
Owners Diana and Bob Whitaker grow produce that is “beyond organic.” They don’t spray their produce such as lettuce, corn, potatoes and garlic. If they needed to spray, they inform their customers.
Diana and Bob Whitaker decided to sign with CSA because they wanted to eat food that didn’t have sprays or come from out of the country, where customers did not know who touched their food.
They have been selling food boxes through CSA for the past three years.
The closest place subscribers can pick up the food box is at Sheri’s Sonshine Nutrition in Lodi.
“It all has to do with transparency, meaning that we can’t lie to you. The farmers market is not that local. The person selling it could be an hour or two away from you, but you don’t know that. And in grocery stores, all that you rely on is the label. You are able to see all of the crops that we grow. It creates more of a comfort level because people know who handles the food,” explains Diana Whitaker.
With the rising trend of purchasing food boxes, local consumers can sink their teeth into fresh produce and gain stronger relationships with the local community as well.