Saturday, April 23, 2011

Operation Grassroots Alaska: Full Circle Farm

This week's highlight on Operation Grassroots is on a service called Full Circle Farm.  This is actually part of my quest for finding nice fresh produce and other items on a more "local level" if I can find it.

First off, this is NOT an Alaskan based business (they are based in Washington), but they do sell some Alaskan based products (most notably Matanuska Creamery milk).  Their produce and stuff actually comes from as far as Mexico, which surprised me when I signed up and looked at what they had to offer.  Most importantly though, this is a resource available to Alaskans for the purpose of getting organic produce, meat and other organic fresh products and in the case of Eagle River and Anchorage they'll deliver this stuff right to your door. 

The way Full Circle works is this.  You sign up with them and then once a week or once every two weeks you get a box of produce.  You can substitute certain items out for others (like I substituted out tomatoes for mangoes because my husband can't take tomatoes with his acid refulx and I substituted out more chard instead of a cucumber...that type of thing).  You can also buy items on top of the items in your "main box" from their grocery department (which they put in a separate box from your produce, which is good since you don't want meat with produce, etc.).  In Anchorage and Eagle River you can get this box delivered to your door (I'm not sure if all areas are eligible for delivery in those areas since I didn't have addresses to go from) or you can choose to pick up your box (in the case of the Valley you have no choice but to pick up your box at given drop off locations). 

If you pick up your box at a delivery spot they have certain times you can pick up your box at the drop off location.  At the location we used we had to pick up our box on Friday from 1:00 to 9:00 pm.  They do pack the milk with ice and the meat is frozen SOLID and then packed with ice and put into insulating materials, so I'm assuming that it'd last for a while sitting in the boxes.

Okay, now onto the nitty gritty.  How much does this service cost and is it worth it?  Well, the box itself (if you pay full price...I paid for mine with a Groupon and discount code so I paid about 37.00 for everything seen above after Groupon and Discount code were applied.) costs 43.00 for a standard box (47.00 if you have it delivered) and 54.00 and some change for a big "family box" (I'm not sure of the price on the shipping on that one).  The meat, when I ordered it seemed reasonable.  I paid 12.00 for 2 "sirloin steaks" and 4.00 for "chicken legs" and the milk is 6.75 per gallon (yeah I know...hard when you pay 4.76 for the same gallon at the store).

So, I went with baited breath to pick up my box and opened it super duper excited.  The first thing I noticed was that the wording for "chicken legs" was wrong.  It should have read "chicken leg" and a teeny one at that, but well, I figured it was organic and I should have read the poundage closer.  Then I pulled out my produce and realized a couple of things.  One:  The lettuce was literally beyond hope pretty much (the picture above shows its best was really wilted and the edges were was that close to rotten...I salvaged 1/4 of the inner leaves and that was it).  And Two:  If I didn't use the strawberries that night I was going to end up throwing them out too because they weren't in great shape either.  The mangoes looked GREEN (as in they weren't the right color for being ripe) and very squishy, which made me hope that maybe I was wrong and they were actually just ripe, but nope, I went to eat them and they were so sour I ended up throwing them away (after cutting out numerous bad spots) and I LOVE mangoes.  I wanted to cry on that one. 

The turnips I ordered special because they were supposed to come with their tops on and the site extolled the nutritional value of the greens.  I LOVE greens anyway, so I figured they were worth trying and it was something I couldn't get in the store.  And then I get the turnips out of the box and quickly realized they had no tops and I had paid for just turnips, which I wasn't happy about because of the price tag attached.  The garlic even had spots of mold on it.

To put it simple, I'm really glad I bought this stuff on such a steep discount.  I wrote to the company and complained and all they did was ask me to fill out a survey on my experience.  Needless to say I canceled my membership to their service the same day I opened that box when I saw what their customer service was like.

There were some good points to the items in the box.  The peas were very tasty and it came with a decent amount of them.  And the fingerling potatoes were nice and I'm hoping to make them into some kicking roasted potatoes for dinner here next week or so.

Overall, though, my opinion of the service at a glance is that it's the same quality of produce that you can get at Fred Meyers on an average day and you can probably BEAT said quality of produce at Carrs, and yes I mean that on organic produce.  You can DEFINITELY beat the quality of products I got if you take into consideration non-organic options.  The milk and meat are terribly expensive for what you get, and while I know that hormone free beef can be somewhat hard to find, I just got a great big package of hormone free organic chicken at Carrs for much cheaper than that 1 lowly chicken leg was.  Now mind you, I DO live in the Valley where I can go down and get a gallon of Matanuska Creamery milk for 4.76 a gallon or so and I have Carrs and Fred Meyer right down the street, so if you live in outer areas, this service might work great for you and I am not trying to say that it's not great for some people.  I'm just saying that for the 78.00 the items above would have cost without discounts and Groupons...I wouldn't pay those prices just for Organic items.  They are just becoming more and more readily available anymore and you can get them, if not cheaper in some cases, you can still get them fresher and you can at least pick the items out yourself.  But that is just me.

I know other people had to have had better experiences with this outfit than I did or they wouldn't be in business today, but honestly I was really disappointed in it and won't be using it again, even if I CAN get discounts on it.

Next week I'll be highlighting a local Alaskan business (if I can get a chance to e-mail them to ask permission), so stay tuned for that!


Jessica @ Alaska's Best Grocery Deals said...

Oh no! So glad you shared your experience.

Alaskan Bargain Hunter said...

I just wanted to warn people and give them an honest review of one of the services available up here. I have heard from several blog readers over e-mail today too who quit using Full Circle because of the loss of quality the last four or so years. Not a good thing with the prices they charge. I'm getting a lot of cool feedback on alternatives to their services though and am looking into those for future Grassroots posts, so I guess it wasn't all bad :).

Anonymous said...

I took a peak in a box at the pick up point and was not impressed. Yes I can do better price and quality on organics if I shop smart.

Alaskan Bargain Hunter said...

Definitely. I agree with you 100%. I do love my Glacier Valley CSA boxes though :). I've been signed up with that service for, what, two or so months now and haven't been disappointed with anything I've received. Heck, I just made cream of mushroom soup with some mushrooms that I got in my box 3 weeks ago and they were still good (mind you my fridge is awesome :). That's what locally grown produce will get you for freshness.