The Good Food Box bounty. Photo by Julia De Laurentiis Johnson/Torontoist.
Back when Torontoist was briefly a Londonist, we got our weekly veg dropped off at our door through an organic delivery company. The produce was not only organic, it was also local and seasonal when possible. We looked forward to that little box of taste-promise every week, and to the culinary challenges it posed. Like our own little Iron Chef with ten vegetables, we needed to be creative with our bounty. What’s a great recipe for red cabbage, acorn squash, and that little green Martian, kohlrabi? We researched new ways to throw these things together and expanded our repertoire, careful to use all the contents of the box each week, and felt defeated if we let something go to waste, our challenge lost (winner: Iron Chef Trashcan).
For those who live in the city, who work a lot and don’t have a car or live close to a good market, this really is the kind of service that’s worthwhile. If you’re fuzzy about which vegetables or fruits are seasonal at what time (or don’t really give a crap), the organic delivery box does the work for you and your taste buds benefit. When it’s December and the only locally grown foodstuffs available are apples and potatoes, the boxes still come filled with organic produce found mostly within the Americas (like tomatoes or zucchini). With most companies you can ixnay the produce you don’t like and create a bespoke, sometimes local, all-times organic produce box delivered to your door about once a week.
Interested in trying out a box? We’ve done a review of four companies that deliver in Toronto—Green Earth Organics, Food Share’s Good Food Box, Mama Earth Organics, and Wanigan—who graciously offered up their services for review.
As we opened up the large green Rubbermaid box left on our porch by Green Earth Organics, our first reaction was, that’s it? We ordered their cheapest option (the Regular Box, intended for one, at thirty-seven dollars) and the selection appeared meagre, filling only a third of the cavernous container. And though the Quebec carrots were huge, bright, and ready to eat, and the baby blood oranges were like candy, the bananas (from Ecuador) were green, and the mango had a firmness begging to be lobbed through a window—it eventually decomposed before ripening. The company does, however, have a comprehensive website that handily sells other organic items, like condiments and cleaning products, any of which can be added to your weekly order. But the stiff price of the produce box and its hit-and-miss quality makes this company a choice for those with truly no time to go grocery shopping. Otherwise, you could find this same kind of quality for less at Loblaws.Art Eggleton to coordinate emergency food services for those hit hardest by an early-’80s recession. Food Share has expanded to offer many programs, including Field to Table Schools, Toronto Community Garden Network and the Good Food Box. We ordered the largest, at thirty-two dollars, and it was packed: with kale and carrot tops spreading out once we popped the constricting lid, we bet a family of four could be fed on this fresh stuff for just under two weeks. Though items like the mango, bananas, and tomatoes are organic without being local, the Good Food Box is firmly focused on sourcing locally. Paul DeCampo, Good Food program manager, estimates the proportion of local produce in any Good Food box varies between a third in the coldest months up to roughly three-quarters around July, with some August boxes even hitting the 100% mark.
Everything in our box was tasty and unspoilt. But enjoying this box requires a bit of work, as the Good Food Box does not deliver to your door (hence the mega-affordable prices). They distribute through something they call Good Food Box Stops—about 130 dotted throughout the city. Volunteer stop coordinators take orders, collect payments, and make sure customers pick up their orders (and return the re-usable boxes when they’re done). You can email them if you’re interested in finding the stop nearest you.
The Good Food Box offers a great product while promoting social consciousness and community. If you don’t mind the pick up and drop off, this is the best choice. leafy art). Reliable, if a tad expensive for lack of imagination (when imagination counts most in the bland, colder months). And maybe we just hit them on a rather uninspiring week. If there was no other competition, they’d be a fair choice. But then, you know, there is… metrosexuals) contains a mix of fruit and vegetables to reasonably satisfy two for a week. Jim from Wanigan’s Brampton HQ tells us they’ve cut every extra expense to be able to offer their product at the notably lower price. Like when they took an idea from the Big Carrot and decided to use biodegradable plastic bags to transport their produce to customers instead of re-usable boxes. When they used boxes, he said, they went through a “crazy amount of hot water, soap and cleaning supplies to keep [the boxes] going, plus we lost hundreds, even thousands a year” and found the switch to biodegradable bags could help trim the fat of excess costs.
The price, home-delivery convenience, and product quality really made this one a champ. If we didn’t have the care to source out a Good Food Box Stop near us, our money would go to Brampton.
We know you could go to the grocery store or farmers’ market to get your fresh food—sure, you know what you like, you get it, hey it’s even a bit fun. But the best part of getting a produce box is the element of surprise. We never would have known what a kohlrabi looked like or what Tuscan kale tasted like without our weekly vegetable tickle trunk. Is it a bit sad to be so jazzed over vegetables? Maybe. Did we narrate the preparation of a few dinners as if we had a live studio audience? Sometimes. But with so few surprises left in life, wouldn’t you like to be faced with this one day, challenged to make it into something appetizing?