In the latest chapter in my monthlong project to feed my family only on foods from within 100 miles of my house, most of my meals last week came from the Out of the Box Collective. So far, I have made pasta with fresh tomato sauce, poached eggs in stir-fried greens, roasted chicken breast with potatoes and a red bell pepper sauce, steak with seared tomatoes, and vegetable soup, and I still have unused lamb shanks and vegetables in my fridge.
Founded by Jennifer Piette, a warm-hearted and plucky activist, Out of the Box is a comprehensive, CSA-type delivery service. Like most CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), it draws foods from several small-scale farms and artisans to bring customers dairy, grains, meat, eggs and, of course, produce, all raised under the loose definition of "sustainable."
Customers can choose pre-set boxes, such as the Vegan Couple’s Box or Family Box, or can build their own box, which is delivered to their doorstep each week. The set boxes include a weekly meal plan and recipes, so don’t worry about getting ingredients you don’t know what to do with.
Piette approaches food from an environmental perspective and only sources food from people she considers to be “stewards of the land” who are producing “clean food.” Although not all of it is local, the produce, fruit and meat boxes are, as well as some of the prepared foods. Piette says she is more concerned about “a long-term, holistic solution to our lost food culture” and “reliance on mass-production” than a strictly local diet. Still, I easily found lots of food that fell within my radius.
The box’s biggest problem was its expense; Piette works under the philosophy, “Pay the farmer, not the doctor.” I received the Family Produce Box, the Family Meat Selection, and a pound of fresh pasta for $177. That was ample for five meals for our family of four. According to a Gallup poll last year, the average American family spent about $150 a week on food for all meals, not just dinners.
You can order just one or two items, such as organic milk from pastured cows for $5.75 a quart or organic artisanal pasta for $7 a pound, which will keep down the cost, but most of the set boxes are more than $100.
The cost is justifiable from my point of view, as the box did not come from one farm (instead someone drove to many sources to pick up the orders), it included more than just produce, it was delivered straight to my house, it came with a fantastic meal plan and was large enough to feed my family for six days. Still, the cost is high, and I’m still searching for a less expensive option.
CSAs like Out of the Box are great if you don’t have the time to source food yourself, but this week I will be relying solely on farmers markets and the kindness of my friends with vegetable gardens. Though trucking all over L.A. to local markets may be less efficient, I love the hunt for local food and connecting with people over our shared passion.
My biggest challenge thus far has been finding a source for local milk. There are a number of local dairy farms in Chino, but most of them use large-scale, industrial farming techniques; I want to support more ecologically aware farms. If you know of a family-owned dairy farm with pastured cows in the L.A. area, please let me know in the comments below.