Non-Profit Small BusinessWritten by Jason Ubay On 02 November 2010

The CSA veggie box from MA`O Organic Farms. The content varies every week, but you're guaranteed to get something leafy and green.

I remember the first time I pulled a Hakurei turnip out of the box. I held it up, looked at it and thought, “What the hell is this?” Then I bit into it, and it bit back with a bitter, spicy tinge.

Back in January, I became a CSA (community supported agriculture) subscriber for MA`O Organic Farm’s box of vegetables. The organic farm in Waianae had just started its program, and by chance, I had just visited them for the story MA`O Farms: More than just farming, appearing in this month’s issue of Hawaii Business magazine.

If you’re not familiar with CSAs, it’s a subscription to farm produce. The consumer pays a set amount on a weekly or monthly basis, and the farm provides a box of fruits and vegetables. For the farmer, it’s a steady source of income, and to the consumer, it’s a regular source of fresh produce without having to go to the market.

With a CSA box, consumers get whatever the farm harvests that week. Therein lies the challenge. Today’s consumers are used to going to the grocery store and getting the produce they want in the amount they want. With a CSA box, you’re getting what’s in season.

As of September, MA`O had 117 CSA subscribers. At $32 a box, that’s $3,744 a week, or $194,000 annually. “The CSAs, to me, are one of the most exciting things we got going on right now,” says Gary Maunakea-Forth, managing director at MA`O. “We feel like we get a fair price and I think meeting our customers and getting to know them and being at a place where it’s easy to congregate, it’s really kind of exciting.”

Personally, I enjoy it. I think I’ve eaten more kale in the last 10 months than I have in my entire life. I’ve eaten stuff I would have never bought at a grocery store, like green garlic, tapioca or agretti. I also became a better cook because preparing your own meals every day is the only way to get through the box.

There are challenges. Since I live alone, I knew I needed to split the box with a coworker to make sure I got through the whole thing. After a while my co-CSA subscriber couldn’t take the weekly amount of veggies. It’s not that she didn’t want the veggies, it was just too much. So, I ended up finding another person and it became a rotation: I would pick up the box on Monday, split it and hand the other half to the first person in Week 1. In week 2, I’d pick up the box, split it, then hand it over to the second person. And so on. The rotation is now up to five people. It takes some time and effort, but it can be done.

Also, customers pick up the vegetables at the V Lounge on Monday evenings. I enjoy going for the company, the pizza and the $3 Grolsch. And during this time of year, Monday Night Football brings even more of a draw.

At first, cooking the vegetables were a challenge, but I’ve figured out most of the cooking greens will taste good if sautéed in butter, garlic or bacon, or all three. However, I’ve recently taken to a vegetarian diet, partly because of the documentary Earthlings. (It’s how people treat animals and focuses on pets, food, clothing, entertainment and scientific testing. It’s brutal and graphic, but in my opinion, a must-see for meat eaters.) So I’m thinking less bacon and more tofu. And butter. If there are new items that I’ve never eaten before, I’ll Google it to find something quick, easy and simple. With produce this fresh, there’s no need to overpower it with seasonings.

As for those Hakurei turnips, I’ve got three easy ways to eat them:

1.     Slice and put into saimin.

2.     Slice and dress with fresh lemon or lime juice and salt.

3.     Just bite right into it. After you eat a lot of them, it doesn’t taste so bitter.

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Managing Editor, Hawaii Business magazine. He's also representing the mag on Facebook and Twitter at @hawaiibusiness. You can follow him on Twitter at @jubay.

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