These days, getting a CSA (community supported agriculture) box is a pretty standard way to live out a mildly twee country-mouse-meets-city-mouse locavore lifestyle. This year, you can subscribe to everything from your own fish "CSF" from Cape Ann to a chocolate CSA from Somerville. It's a damn good time to be a city mouse.
While the option feels natural to us now, fresh organic produce in Boston used to belong to the farmer's markets, or Whole Foods, or fancy farm-to-table restaurants. Lucky for us plebian home cooks, sustainable-produce providers Boston Organics — who celebrated their 10-year anniversary on June 2 — forged a very different trail.
If you've never had the pleasure of cracking open one of Boston Organics' green boxes, here's how it works: choose from a variety of customizable combinations — half-fruit, half-veggie, for example, or the "Dogma" box, which contains entirely local produce — and they'll drop it right on your doorstep. Each week is a surprise — and you're billed less per month than that gym membership you never use.
With nearly 2000 deliveries per week, Boston Organics founder Jeff Barry and his team have come a long way since 2002, when weekly deliveries averaged around 70. Back then, Barry was a one-man show, aided only by a flimsy fold-up map — and the occasional hand from his wife, who would take time off work to help make deliveries in their van. "She probably wanted to kill me more than once," he says, a sheepish grin spreading over his face. "I have a terrible sense of direction."
An East Coast native (born in Boston, raised in Providence), Barry attended college in upstate New York, then spent time in Africa with the Peace Corps, teaching English and building a central village marketplace — "a sign of things to come," he jokes. Eventually, he found himself in San Francisco, where he encountered the direct inspiration for his future business: an innovative farm-quality-produce delivery system called Planet Organics.
Fired up by this simple idea done well, Barry got some pointers from Planet Organics' founder, packed up for the East Coast in order to be closer to his family, and set out to unleash the Netflix of produce on Boston residents.
"When we got here, I just hit the ground running," he says. His original bare-bones publicity campaign consisted of trawling up and down Mass Ave, posting flyers wherever he could. "I had done some preliminary research, found some suppliers and farms, and went to farmer's markets to talk to growers, but I think I overestimated how simple the process would be."
Taking in all of the walls crammed with potatoes and grapefruits, it's hard to believe Barry ever had any trouble stuffing boxes to their limit. "I never think of what we went through as that difficult, but whenever I sit down and really think about it, it really wasn't easy," he says, admitting that growers never seemed to want to talk to him. "Up until a couple of years ago, I was hesitant about the business expanding, because I didn't think there was enough local produce to keep us going. But now, with this whole local movement going on, we're finding that we have to turn away growers."