Traditional community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs have been evolving and maturing over the years, adapting to the changing needs of consumers who are spoiled for choice at grocery stores and farmers markets. Houston's own Utility Research Garden designed its CSA to be as accessible as possible, offering a drop-off location at Black Hole Coffee and a shipment of farm-fresh veggies for only $30 a week.
But some, like Elizabeth Winslow -- one of the founders of Austin-based Farmhouse Delivery -- realize that this still isn't enough for some consumers: consumers who want farm-fresh produce, but require even more flexibility.
That's why Winslow and her partner, Stephanie Scherzer, aimed to do something different with their own CSA. Farmhouse Delivery was founded in Austin three years ago to deliver fresh, local produce to people's homes or offices for less than $40 a week. Farmhouse lets its customers know which fruits and vegetables to expect ahead of time and lets them swap out any unwanted produce -- a radical difference from most CSAs -- and even sends recipes with each shipment.
"It's not the cooking that's daunting," explained Winslow. "It's the planning and the shopping and the inspiration." Winslow, a professional chef who owned her own restaurant for years, writes the recipes herself. She designed each one to take around 30 minutes.
She had the idea of founding Farmhouse after she and Scherzer decided they needed a company that would showcase all the good organic food Scherzer was growing at her two-acre urban farm and that could also showcase Winslow's recipes and ideas for making the most out of seasonal produce.
Three years later, Farmhouse Delivery has now expanded to Houston and Scherzer's farm is still providing produce -- as are dozens of family-run farms between here and Austin. And this is another way in which Farmhouse Delivery differs so much from traditional CSAs.
"These farmers don't have time to do the marketing and delivery," said Winslow. So she and Scherzer do it for them, buying as much produce as possible from all the farms, then mixing and matching it into each weekly delivery.
"The farmers set their own prices," Winslow explained. "So we can balance pricey things from one farm -- like some really extraordinary snow peas -- with less expensive items."
A typical "weekly bushel" of produce like the one that Winslow brought to the Houston Press offices earlier this week arrives in a simple plastic container with an ice pack inside. "It's designed to sit out for four to six hours," Winslow said.
In this week's sample shipment, there was a giant head of Romaine lettuce, Tuscan kale, spring onions, spinach, turnips, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, oranges, limes and a sweet potato the size of a child's baseball bat. Winslow had thrown in a dozen yard eggs as well, varying in shades from reddish-brown to light cerulean blue, because Farmhouse Delivery also offers shipments of eggs, bread, cheese, coffee, meat and a host of other Texas-raised foods that can be packed inside your weekly bushel.
The ice pack is important because so many of the Farmhouse shipments go to offices (on Wednesdays) or homes (on Saturdays), although Winslow has recently worked out an arrangement for a drop-off point of their own here in Houston: Revival Market.
You can sign up for Farmhouse Delivery's weekly bushels for $37 a week (which comes with enough produce to feed at least two) or $39 for every other week. And there's one last way in which Farmhouse differs from most other CSAs: You can sign up for a single week at a time, so try it out for yourself.