Thursday, May 5, 2011

Operation Grassroots Alaska: Glacier Valley CSA

This week's edition of "Operation:  Grassroots Alaska" is focusing on an alternative to Alaskans to Full Circle Farm called "Galcier Valley CSA".

I learned about Glacier Valley CSA the same way I learned about Full Circle Farm.  Through Groupon.  The biggest difference was that I missed the Groupon on Glacier Valley CSA because there was a limited amount of Groupons available and they just FLEW (the 400 and something Groupons was gone by the time I got online at 9:00 am...that's telling you something *laugh*).  The service, though, continued to intrigue me after my disappointing experience with Full Circle Farm and I kept going back and visiting the site again and again to read up on Glacier Valley CSA and what they had to offer compared to Full Circle.  Especially when I learned that it was created as a direct result of Full Circle Farms.

Taken from their website is a quote from one of the creators of the business...

"All summer long, as Arthur and I worked to promote our market, we couldn’t help noticing the hundreds of Full Circle Farm produce boxes stacked in coffee shops all around town. These boxes of produce are air-freighted from Washington, and subscribers pick them up once a week. (I subscribed to Full Circle a few winters ago, and it was a fun way to get through the winter, when our Alaskan fields are frozen and the farmers’ markets are closed. But I stopped my subscription as soon as the farmers’ markets opened, so I could support our local farmers, take advantage of the wonderfully fresh local produce, and pick out my own mix of vegetables.) So we felt disappointed that all these stacks of boxes from Washington were filling people’s pantries and refrigerators all summer, instead of the gorgeous and fresh (not to mention economical!) local produce that was for sale at our farmers’ market."

So, after reading that I REALLY wanted to try the service for the blog to do a direct "more local" comparison to Full Circle Farm, but at the same time I wanted to wait until later in the year (closer to summer) to get the most bang for my buck buying a box so I could get more local produce.  At the same time, though, I REALLY wanted to get a box ASAP because the basic box contents were so close to the basic content on the Full Circle Boxes for this time of year (remember a lot of what I got from Full Circle Farms I bought special to go with my box).  I didn't want to shell out 35.00 (the price of the box) for a one time shot to do a review, but I really DID want to get a box to do a review.

So, I did the only thing a frugally minded cheapskate like me would do.  I wrote to the company and begged them to do another Groupon *laugh*.  Unfortunately, they have no plans to do another Groupon anytime soon, BUT they were nice enough, once they discovered my grand scheme to compare the services, to give me one box for the same price as I had gotten my Full Circle Groupon for (22.00).  I was thrilled with that so I ordered my box and waited to see what would unfurl.

The first e-mail I got from them giving me an actual update on the box contents already gave me hope for the box.  The e-mail told everyone that the mushrooms that they were supposed to get locally had fallen through so they weren't going to be the box this week and that the original greens (I can't remember which type to tell the truth) that were going to be in the box didn't meet quality standards so they were going to substitute in Kale instead.  When I read, "Didn't meet quality standards" it gave me a good feeling, let's just put it that way.

And so, today I went down to the pick-up location I had picked (there are two in Palmer) and picked up my box.  And BOY was that way easier than the Full Circle location.  All I had to do was drive up, put on flashers, run in, grab box while still LOOKING at my car and was back out on the highway in 3 minutes flat.  It was awesome.  There were no hallways to run through, nada.  Just easy peasy pick up.

Now onto the nitty gritty.  My box contained what was above.  My reaction?

I will SO be using this service again!

I opened my box to reveal huge things of lettuce, broccoli and Kale that were green, vibrant and beautiful.  I dug deeper waiting for disappointment, but really didn't find any.  The ONLY piece or produce with an issue was a teeny mushy carrot in the bottom of the box which I got on my hand as I was pulling the loads of carrots (I'm assuming that were put in to substitute the loss of the mushrooms) out of the box.  How I'm going to go through that many carrots is beyond me (I still have some Earthbound Farms carrots in my fridge too), but since I love locally grown carrots I'll give it the good ol' college try ;).

The lettuce was fresh and crisp, with not one bad spot on it and I'm so looking forward to turning that into salad the next couple of nights.  The potatoes looked like they'd been dug up pretty darn recently (and they smelled like good old fashioned dirt, no bad potato smell anywhere and guess what?  Not one sprout did I see!).

The broccoli REALLY impressed me.  Compared to Fred Meyer...well there is no comparison.  The broccoli in my box was just beautiful looking.  No nasty black looking spots in the florets, no wilting anywhere on the broccoli at all.  It is just beautiful stuff!  And it came with a good amount OF it, which is a nice thing indeed.  I almost want to turn it into broccoli cheddar soup, but I don't want to waste it either, so I'm torn *laugh*.

The apples didn't have one bruise or scuff on them, the mango looked ripe (notice the beautiful red on it) and tasted even better (yeah, I've already eaten half of it *laugh*).

The Kale was crisp and not at all wilted.  I'm going to boil the bitterness out of that stuff and quickly fry it with some bacon grease and top it with crumbled bacon as a side.  No, not really health conscious, but it'll taste SO good ;).

The box even came with locally grown sprouts (some weeks the boxes even contain locally made tofu, which from what I understand once you have real made tofu it's totally different in flavor and texture and a LOT of people swear by it compared to the store bought stuff).

Another neat thing about the box is that it comes with their newletter the "Glacier Grist" which not only gives you an update on what the farms are doing, but also gives you some recipes to use the contents of your box.

Now, the one disadvantage to this service is that you don't have control what comes in your box from week to week.  They DO give you updates on what is going to be in upcoming boxes and you can suspend or cancel your service at any time (just like Full Circle Farm).  Honestly?  I don't really see this as a problem in that they do seem to know what they are doing on what produce is fresh enough to go into the box and get delivered for pick up and I love trying new food, so if I end up with a mystery plant one week, I'm not going to worry about it too much.

Another thing you'll see if you go to sign up is that you have to pick up your boxes.  There is no home delivery available.  But, I'm not sure of the other pick up locations, but there are TONS available to you (even in Palmer we have 2 pick up locations) and if they are as easy to get in and out of as the one I went to was, I'd say that picking the produce up would not be a big deal.

In short, I am really looking forward to summer when I fully plan on subscribing to this service and I'd definitely encourage those of you who live in Kenai to give this service a try (I've heard horror stories of Full Circle Farm from that area) if you are looking for a good alternative to Full Circle Farm.  And yes, Glacier Valley CSA guarantees local and/or Organic produce.

Here's what they have to say on the Organic issue,

"Is the produce organic?

The boxes are a blend of local and organic. Everything we bring up from outside Alaska is certified organic. Since there aren’t that many certified organic farms in Alaska, filling a box with local organic produce is a tough thing to do. Occasionally we get an Alaska Grown organic vegetable, but since our focus is on providing as much local food as we can, most of our Alaskan produce is not certified."

So, to sum up, here's a quick comparison to Full Circle Farm.

Full Circle box:  1/2 the produce was beyond hope and some of it (like the mangoes) had to be thrown out. Only 1/4 of the lettuce was able to be salvaged and the produce items I ordered specially were total and complete disappointments.   And their customer service, in a word, sucked (and yes, I tried to come up with better words and kept coming back to that one).  Verdict:  Would not buy from again, no matter how cheap I could get a box.  I could do as good or better in quality shopping at Carrs, if not Fred Meyer, for much cheaper and get the same type of customer service.  Price on those boxes normally:  47.00 shipped (weekly or bi-weekly), can be delivered to Anchorage and Eagle River to your door, everywhere else pick-up only.  Pulls produce from everywhere from Mexico to Canada and is air shipped out of Washington to Anchorage where it is then either air shipped to other locations or trucked to you (like the Valley).

Glacier Valley CSA Box:  Every item, with the exception of one small mushy (and sort of gross to get on my hand) carrot, was beautifully fresh and just begging to be eaten.  The pick up of the box was easy and their communication was excellent on keeping people updated about the boxes (you can even go to their Facebook page every week to see if they've delivered to your area of Anchorage yet for that week's box).  I can't say what their customer service was like other than they were really nice to offer me this box at a discount to try the service out for this review and I'm happy that I didn't have to give their customer service a run for it's money on anything else :).  Price on box:  35.00 weekly or bi-weekly normal price (price for Kenai and Girdwood is 39.00 due to added shipping charges).  Must be picked up at your choice of location and if you have a business where you want to make it a drop-off point you can contact them to try and get a new drop off established in your area.  By their own admission the boxes in the summer contain MUCH more local produce (like that doesn't make sense right?), so if you are in it for the local produce, summertime is definitely the season to join up.  Also, one other thing to note.  They do ask that you return your box so they can reuse them, so it's probably a good idea to take some reusable shopping bags with you to the pick up point, unload your box and just leave it there unless you want to drop it off later.

So, yay for local produce and for the pick up location being right around the corner from me (like everywhere in Palmer ;).  I think this is going to be a kicking summer for buying local!  I'm so happy!

Thanks to Glacier Valley CSA for giving me a discount on this box to try out the service and give a literal apple to apples comparison.  I appreciate it!

Stay tuned next week as I give "Mocha Moose" a run for it's money on locally bought coffee vs. store bought :).


Sarah said...

Thank you for the review! I have been interested in trying a service out like this since I saw a Full Circle Farm truck. I just purchased the Moolala deal a few weeks ago for $70 in organic produce for $19, shipped to my door from is supposed to come in a cooler box. I figured it was worth a gamble for $19 (it included shipping) I could send you my review of that service once I recieve it if you would like?

Alaskan Bargain Hunter said...

I don't mind you sending me a review of the OrganicAcres service if you want, but just to warn you I ordered that too *laugh*. Depending on where you are in Alaska though, that might be cool to see what the difference in quality would be depending on the part of Alaska it gets shipped to :). I'm really hoping that one comes out of shipping alright and/or we don't end up with an entire cooler box of salad mix for 19.00 (I have my fears ;). We shall see though!