Last updated on October 25th, 2020 at 02:35 pm
We know that processed foods are bad for our bodies and a threat to small farmers. If you’re like me, you care where your food comes from and yearn for wholesome sustenance pulled straight from the earth. You want eggs with golden yolks and shells in lots of colors. Chemical-free fruits and vegetables pollinated by birds and bees. Beyond just better nutrition, we want to know that the people that produced our food are using methods that are both environmentally and economically sustainable. (Unsure how your diet impacts our planet? Take a fun quiz from the NYTimes.)
For those eager to join the ranks of consumers that take responsibility for what they eat, subscribing to a weekly box of fresh fruits, vegetables and artisanal farm products might just be your ticket. Traditionally, eating healthier, more sustainably-sourced foods has been expensive, and for most, not worth the extra research and inconvenience. But new subscription boxes like Farm Fresh to You, Full Circle, and Imperfect Produce have made it harder to hide behind such excuses by delivering healthy produce straight to your door at competitive prices.
In this post we’ll compare Imperfect Produce and Farm Fresh to You to help you decide if an organic produce subscription box is right for your lifestyle, and if so, how to choose the right one.
But first, what exactly is an organic produce box?
Whether it comes from a particular farm in your area or from several sources across the state and/or country, you’ll be sent a box of fresh food delivered right to your door. The box will most definitely contain fresh fruits and vegetables, and you can add various other products such as pasture raised eggs, dairy, handcrafted jams, small-batch honey, olive oil, fresh squeezed juices, dried fruit, organic coffee, granola, nuts or nut butters–basically anything you can find at your local farmers’ market.
It’s important to emphasize that what you get is fully customizable. Subscriptions start with a well-rounded mix of that week’s best seasonal produce items, but it’s easy to augment or adjust what gets shipped. Whether you are a fruit fanatic, veg-head, or love it all, you can choose the size and type of produce box that works for your dietary and culinary habits. Then, just a few days before delivery date, you can tinker with the items and quantities to customize its contents via a simple online interface or mobile app. Brussels sprouts out, beets in, or not at all. It’s all 100% up to you!
The subscription may also include recipes for preparing tasty dishes with the contents of your box. It probably will include access to a blog or newsletter with articles related to farming, food waste, organics, storage tips and local events. Some offer programs with benefits for referring a friend, school fundraisers and workplace wellness. In any case the presentation and additional materials are designed to make the experience fun, educational, and more rewarding than shopping at a grocery store.
Why should I subscribe to one?
Here’s a short list of reasons why I highly recommend a produce subscription box to anyone who will listen:
As discussed, swapping processed foods for organic produce is a smart long-term decision. But I also find that having a box of fresh veggies every week forces me to eat out less overall. This helps me control portions and eat less fat, since most restaurant cuisine is optimized for taste, rather than nutrition. In general, a produce box has been a great commitment device that motivates me to eat more greens.
In addition to supporting local businesses (i.e. farmers) who farm sustainably, providers like Imperfect Produce reduce waste by saving fruits and veggies that normally would be thrown away. Sourcing locally further reduces carbon emissions from transporting goods over long distances, which is doubly efficient given how much food is wasted in cross-country transport. (Side note: check out these interviews if you’re interested in discovering more sustainable startups.)
Access to such a wide range of fresh veggies has broadened my horizons. Occasionally I’ll forget to customize my box and end up with a random vegetable that I wouldn’t otherwise buy. This forces me to explore new recipes, and my culinary chops have definitely improved as a result! Variety is the spice of life, so I choose to embrace it. I also totally understand why this wouldn’t be welcomed.
While a produce subscription box may not seem cheap on the surface (more detail on pricing below!), in the long run I believe it’s the most cost effective way to eat. That’s a bold claim, but hear me out. While you might spend marginally more on organic produce, I’ve saved a ton using organic farm boxes by:
- eating out less and cooking more
- reducing my overall grocery spend
- spending less time in the grocery aisle
- feeling healthier every day
- referring friends for free credit
We’ll see over the long-run if I also end up spending less at the doctor, gym, and dentist as a result of a greener diet.
Who are the major providers of produce subscription boxes?
The best known produce subscription services in the market right now are Farm Fresh to You (or Full Circle if you live outside of California) and Imperfect Produce. Both offer weekly or every other week delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables delivered right to your door. Likewise both promise a selection of the season’s best harvest at any given time, pre-picked for those who are flexible and like being surprised, or with customizable options for box size and contents if you prefer more nimble control.
Do organic grocery subscription box services like Imperfect Produce deliver to me?
The first thing to figure out is if you live in a neighborhood where produce boxes are delivered. These subscription boxes are still relatively new and although service areas continue to expand rapidly, they might not be available in your ‘hood just yet. Imperfect Produce’s delivery area now spans over 20 metro areas including the Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Portland, and Seattle on the west coast, as well as major cities in the midwest, Texas, and on the east coast:
To see if they deliver to your area, enter your zip code here.
Farm Fresh to You‘s delivery is currently limited to California, but their parent organization, Full Circle Farms, services other west coast cities such as Portland, Seattle, Spokane, Seattle, Boise, and the state of Alaska as well. To see if your house is located within their delivery radius, click one of the two option below:
How exactly do farm produce subscriptions work?
Whether you order from Farm Fresh to You or Imperfect Produce, the process is the same:
1. Find out if delivery is available in your area
Just pop your zip code into their locator and your delivery date of the week should appear.
I am lucky to live in Pasadena, so delivery was not a problem, but make sure you’re within range before going too far down any rabbit holes. Here are links where you can enter your zip code and find out if Imperfect Produce vs Farm Fresh to You vs Full Circle are available near you:
If you live in an area where Imperfect Produce, Farm Fresh to You, or Full Circle don’t deliver, check back again soon. Coverage areas are expanding rapidly and it should only be a matter of time.
2. Select your delivery frequency
Weekly is the default. If you prefer less often, choose every other week or once a month. This can be adjusted if you find you want something different once you get started.
I started with once per week and found that just for me, my small box lasted into the second week, so I changed that. There is no penalty for switching back and forth depending on your needs.
3. Choose the size and contents of your box
Both Farm Fresh to You and Imperfect Produce both have 4 box sizes. The right box/frequency depends how many mouths you have to feed and how often you like to cook. The small box is perfect for 1-2 people, the medium or “regular” size is built for households of 2-4, while the large and extra large can sustain 4-8.
Farm Fresh to You offers six box content themes:
- All Fruit
- All Veggie
- Mixed Fruit and Veggie
- No Cooking
- Traditional CSA (“Community Supported Agriculture” — for those who want the most local and seasonal foods.)
While Imperfect Produce offers four box content themes:
- Mixed Fruit and Veggie
- All Fruit
- All Veggie
I go with organic when the fruit or veggies don’t have a skin that will be peeled off. Otherwise I stick with conventional produce so the Mixed Fruit and Veggie was my choice. Sometimes when I customize and try to add organic strawberries, I’ll find that they are sold out because the Organic box customers get first dibs.
You will be able to choose from many different farm products at both companies, but overall Farm Fresh to You has a much wider variety. They offer over 100 specialty farm products like pasture-raised eggs, dairy, handcrafted jams, local honey, organic nuts, dried fruit, olives, fresh flowers and more.
Imperfect Produce specializes in, well, mostly produce, with only a limited selection of shelf-stable products to cover meal planning needs such as rice, pasta, cereal, condiments, coffee, seasonings, nuts, and dried fruits.
Both companies include recipes, storage tips, stories and suggestions for enhancing the contents of your box. Oh, and FYI, the boxes themselves are quite sturdy, but neither company will take them back for reuse.
4. Creating an account
You have to create an login and provide billing information. Whether you go with the default box or customize your selection, you are able to see how your adjustments impact the price in real-time. Thus there should be no surprises on your credit card statement.
5. Optimizing your box
You can start customizing your box roughly five days before delivery. The customization window closes 48 hours before you receive it. You can nix the seasonal default and replace with things needed for your recipes, and/or add farm products other than produce to round out your meals. If you need to pause for a week when you anticipate working late in the office or going on vacation, it’s easy to login and do so.
As you get used to the deliveries, take note of what works and what doesn’t. Pay particular attention to quantities, so you don’t end up with a box full of garlic.
It’s a good idea to plan meals around the upcoming order, so you know what you are going to do with that eggplant when it arrives. It’s a shame to lose any of it to the trash at that point, and in the case of Imperfect Produce, sort of defeats the purpose.
6. Customer Service
If there are any problems — like missed items, missed deliveries or mistakes in your order — let them know! Both Farm Fresh to You and Imperfect Produce are responsive to your disappointments and will do all they can to make it right. I’ve been in touch with customer service a few times, and they were able to resolve my issues promptly.
What does a box of organic produce typically cost?
For many, the biggest hurdle to healthier eating is price. Understandably, it’s where the rubber meets the road. The good news about farm subscription boxes like Imperfect Produce is that they’ve grown to a large enough scale to be quite cost-competitive. Check out the chart below to help you compare prices side by side and determine if it’s something you can stomach:
Local Produce Delivery Box Comparison: Imperfect Produce vs Farm Fresh to You
$16 (+$5 delivery)
$12 (+$5 delivery)
$23 (+$5 delivery)
$15 (+$5 delivery)
$34 (+$5 delivery)
$21 (+$5 delivery)
$41 (+$5 delivery)
$26 (+$5 delivery)
(use code: EATFRESH) or $10 off each of your first 4 boxes
(use code: IMPERFECT20)
|Box Themes||All Fruit
Mixed Fruit & Veggie
Mixed Fruit & Veggie
|Areas with Service||West Coast||West Coast
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As you review prices, keep in mind that it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges! Farm Fresh to You only offers 100% certified organic produce. Their model promotes ecological and environmental farming practices despite the higher cost of going pesticide-free, which may explain their higher price tag.
Imperfect Produce offers the choice of both organic and conventional produce. Because their model is based repurposing food that might otherwise be wasted (i.e. safe and tasty, but not 100% up to grocery store’s impossibly high standards) their product is purchased from farmers at a steep discount, which is great for consumers.
The real comparison is your happiness factor with the varieties of produce throughout the seasons, and how eagerly you embrace new and unusual foods that you find in your box. Getting a seasonal selection of produce isn’t for everyone, but the only way to find out is to try. I’m clearly an outspoken advocate, but several of my friends that I’ve referred ultimately decided it wasn’t right for their lifestyle. Others are hooked!
Imperfect Produce vs Farm Fresh to You vs Full Circle: How to choose the right organic farm box
Beyond price and availability in your area, the core philosophies of each company are quite different and will likely be what attracts you to one vs the other.
Overview of Farm Fresh to You
Philosophy: Three generations of the Capay Family Farm, located near Chico CA, have been committed to all organic farming practices, healthy crop rotation, encouraging a diverse ecosystem around the fields, efficiently using local water sources and selecting produce varieties that grow well and taste great. They have been committed to a real food revolution connecting people to the farm and the third generation is scaling the farming up to serve more customers through social media, farm tours, and growing partnerships with local farmers and artisans to bring the farm stand to you.
Ultimately, their hope is that the price we pay for food should reflect the real cost of production. This way those who own the land can keep it productive and fertile, afford to pay workers a living wage, and turn a big enough profit to encourage future generations to follow in their footsteps.
This family connects with other LOCAL, like-minded farmers to deliver their produce to your door. You might receive produce from the Capay Farm or others they partner with that sell farm products such as hand-crafted jams, pasture-raised eggs, dairy, artisan olive oil and small-batch honey. This is a very close-knit group that works together to make the face of Farm Fresh to You.
If having a personal relationship with your farmer and you are okay with paying what it actually costs to grow certified organic sustainable food, Farm Fresh to You (or Full Circle for those outside of California) is likely the best grocery box for you.
Overview of Imperfect Produce
Philosophy: Wasting food is a tragedy when 1 in 6 people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. It’s bad for people and bad for the planet.
Supermarkets reject tons of produce for being too small or too large, bell peppers with noses, leeks that are too curved and kiwi twins. Supermarkets want produce that looks beautiful and unblemished on the outside, which means that they refuse “ugly” produce, like scarred fruits and vegetables. Perfectly good nourishment goes to waste every day simply because there isn’t enough demand for it. If the market is flooded with kale or zucchinis, oftentimes they will get left in the field because it’s cheaper than harvesting and transporting them.
Imperfect Produce is on a mission to reduce food waste by accessing farmers with overages or misfit produce they might not otherwise be able to sell. Using this food saves the labor, fertilizer, water, and land that went into growing it.
Imperfect Produce purchases this excess or ugly produce from farmers from all over the country at a reduced price. They pass the cost savings on to the consumer, making their produce box theoretically less expensive than purchasing from the grocer. The box may contain tiny potatoes, sunburned melons, or acorn squashes with a blemish from where they touched the ground. None of these oddities affect the quality or nutrition of the product, just aesthetics.
These imperfect items might otherwise have been plowed under in the field or discarded at market, but they are still edible and delicious! Imperfect Produce is giving otherwise trashed food a way to your table. If reducing waste and getting real food at a reduced price is most important to you, Imperfect Produce is the produce subscription for you.
What are consumers saying about Farm Fresh to You and Imperfect Produce?
Generally, the produce subscription boxes seem to sell themselves. Initially, it seems users are attracted to the novelty of getting a surprise on their doorstep. Once they get a few deliveries and learn how to customize for their cooking and storage capabilities, the price for Farm Fresh to You does not seem to be an issue:
Imperfect Produce subscribers generally expect more of a deal, and can be caught by surprise upon paying full-price when their initial introductory discount ends:
IMPERFECT PRODUCE REVIEW: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE NOT SO UGLY
March 11, 2018 / Raymond De Visser / EAT+DRINK
“One day Imperfect Produce showed up as a recommendation in my wife’s social media feed. The company from San Francisco sources “ugly” produce from local…
The Not So Ugly:
The produce overall has been of good quality. It didn’t taste differently from grocery store produce, and as you can tell from the photos, the imperfections were minor.
You can’t choose your delivery day, and the delivery window is very generous, so make sure to give clear instructions to the delivery driver.
Imperfect claims that you are getting a great deal on the produce (30 to 50 percent less than grocery stores). This may hold true if you shop at high-end grocery stores, but otherwise that estimate seems steep. “
This was my experience as well. I’ve yet to get an abnormally huge zucchini or a heart shaped pepper. I actually haven’t received anything very unusual looking at all. I started gardening myself and soon grew much more gnarly-looking veggies than anything that arrived in my “imperfect” box. Here’s another customer’s experience:
The Verdict: Imperfect Produce vs Farm Fresh to You -- which produce box is right for you?
Unwrapping a box full of fresh edibles delivered to your doorstep is like a mini Christmas or Hanukkah every other week. If you’re not big on surprises and prefer to meticulously customize each and every item, then hopefully the contents of the box will help support the integrity of farming methods employed to produce it and possibly save some misfits and overage from demise before their time! At the very least you will learn what is in season at any given moment. You may delight in new and unusual fruits and vegetables that will broaden your palate and your skills in the kitchen.
Pick farming sustainability and transparency — Farm Fresh to You — OR choose reduced food waste and competitive prices — Imperfect Produce. Enjoy the flexibility of size, theme, and delivery options. Customize to your heart, stomach, and taste buds’ content. Ultimately revel in a life full sustainably fresh produce! Let’s be honest: you can’t really go wrong. Try one (or both) of their generous discounts on your first box:
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