C is for Community

There’s a new CSA box on the block.

Mao Organic Farms delivers fresh produce via a CSA box.

Photo: Courtesy of Mao Farms

It used to be the stuff of vegetal fantasy: Wouldn’t it be great to have a weekly box from Mao Farms? The folks whose organic produce is splashed across fine-dining, local-sourcing menus across the state? The community-based venture whose twin goals are to grow youth and grow food? If they did a box, I would so sign up.

As of last month, they do. And it is every bit as good as we imagined.

Community-supported agriculture is just what it says: When we, the community, buy a CSA box, we make a deal directly with the farmer for a share of the farm’s bounty. It cuts out middlemen, and, in doing so, saves money and shaves days or weeks from the farm-to-table journey.

“We picked it this morning,” says Mao intern Jonathan Abell proudly, pointing to a perky head of purple broccoli. When? “5 a.m.” He grins, even though it’s 12 hours later and he’s going to be handing out Mao boxes all evening. Nestled inside the cardboard container are 14 different vegetables, fruits and herbs that were still rooted in the aina before daybreak. The carrots and fennel still have their bushy tops, the eggplants are plump and glossy, and the Meyer lemon smells like sunshine.

Mao’s box also includes a weekly newsletter that inventories its contents, offers recipe suggestions, and provides a “feisty message from the farm” reminding customers that buying a CSA box is “a form of resistance to the dark side of industrial agriculture.”

The box is also eminently practical. “We try to put together a box you can cook from,” says Cheryse Sana, the farm’s newest manager (she’s not yet 21). “And we try to give people what we have in abundance.”

Fighting the dark side has never been so tasty.

Want to try a CSA box?

Mao Organic Farms

Contents: Mao tries to “grow a bit of everything.”
Price: $32
Frequency: Weekly
Pickup: V-Lounge in town, and in Waianae.
More information: maoorganicfarms.org

Otsuji Farms

Pound for pound, one of the best bargains out there.
Contents: Asian staple vegetables like green onions, lettuces and bok choy. You can add to the box with the farm’s 20 other crops.
Price: $10 for more than 10 pounds.
Frequency: Once every two to three weeks
Pickup: In Hawaii Kai, and at Kaiser High School’s new evening farmers’ market
More information: 395-4131 or otsujifarm.blogspot.com

Just Add Water

The oldest CSA on Oahu.
Contents: Boxes are based around organic greens and bananas, and include a variety of other crops. Eggs are sometimes available.
Price: $20 to $30
Frequency: Weekly
More information: just-add-water.biz
Pickup: Six locations in Honolulu and the southeast side