To Market, To Market, We...Don't Go: L.A.'s Best Farm-to-Home E-Grocers

Summerland LAWhen FreshDirect began delivering a huge selection of groceries directly to Manhattan residences and offices almost 12 years ago, the online service gave picky New Yorkers much to celebrate. (As well as plenty to be concerned about.) Now the West Coast has a similar option, thanks to a Seattle-based behemoth, but local food entrepreneurs have tapped into another particular niche.

We've noticed a growing number of businesses aimed at discerning farmers' market types who aren't interested in getting all their food via a major corporation, but have limited time, aren't jazzed by potentially restrictive CSA options, and might want to make an impulse buy of, say, a jar of small-batch jam or organic olive oil to go with their fruit and vegetable haul. These start-ups are finding new ways to cut out the middleman in shoppers' quest for great ingredients and the freshest produce. In addition to artisanal/farmers' market-to-table oriented e-grocer options, there's also the meal-in-a-box genre, which generally consist of a kit of parts with all the components, recipes, and in some cases, pro chef tips to ease the process of making your own stress-free "gourmet" meal; some examples include Plated, Tastery, Blue Apron, and Fare Trade. (The fate of Hollywood-based Pop-Up Pantry, however, serves as a reminder that this isn't the easiest food business to make a go of.) Raddish, a new L.A.-based subscription venture, delivers recipes and culinary educational motivation that's geared towards families, but doesn't come with food itself.

So, if you're tired of schlepping around town to procure your kale, free-range eggs, pasture-raised meats, almond milk, and fancy locally made chocolates, here's a breakdown of whose bringing what to local doorsteps, where they'll deliver to, and how much it costs.

Good Eggs
Good Eggs was founded in the Bay Area, and since then its basket keeps brimming with more promise as it expands. The company's buying practices adhere to the following criteria: transparency about sourcing, sustainable agriculture, commitment to animal welfare, and integrity in ingredients. You're not going to see that posted at your local Ralphs. As for the shopping options, Good Eggs is super flexible, and unlike many of its simpatico businesses, it's not a subscription service. For more of a CSA style arrangement, you can leave the produce decision making to the whims of the season by getting a box from the South Central Farmers, or add veggies and fruit of your choice (mostly from Jimenez Family Farm lately) to fill up your pantry. Orders generally have about a 36-hour turnaround time. Good Eggs' website is clear, easy to navigate, and full of love for the farmers and producers. The company steps up with personalized perks, such as leaving coloring books for customers with kids, or treats for folks with dogs. Plus Good Eggs is making an effort to ramp up its local involvement (and maybe help smooth out LA-SF relations) with events such as a recent River bike ride with the L.A. River Corp.

Sign up fee: None
Delivery fee: $3.99 and up with a wide delivery area, or avoid the charge and pick up at set scheduled sites around town. Bring your own bags, ideally.
We want this stuff in our box: Auntie Em's Kitchen, Almond Milk L.A., Mother Moo, Jimenez Family Farm, Morning Glory Confections, Marcie's Pies, Bling Bling Dumplings, Community Seafood, Fruigees, Fat Uncle Farms nuts, Bruce's Prime Pickle Co., Mark Stambler's Pagnol Boulanger
Delivery area: Wide coverage around L.A., plus Bay Area, Brooklyn and New Orleans.

Out of the Box Collective
Founded by Jennifer Piette in 2011, Out of the Box Collective delivers its preset options of boxes priced from $75 for the "Essentials Couples" kit with enough raw materials for at least two meals, and packages costing up to $220 for the Family Box, with food for five meals and miscellaneous snacks. During certain times of year, Out of the Box puts together clever and practical thematic collections (Oscars, Thanksgiving, etc.), and orders come with "Meal Plans" with the input of food pros, based on what's in heavy seasonal rotation. Or you can take the fully custom route. While not a part of its regular inventory, wine is sold for shipment within California via Out of the Box's gift shop section. Either order one-off box when you want, or sign up for a weekly/biweekly option.

Sign up fee: $40 fee to cover cost of reusable packaging
Delivery fee: Free delivery with orders over $45, $15 for orders under $45.
We want this stuff in our box: Red Bread (also see below about their own delivery service), Sqirl, Malibu Honey, Matthew Kenney Juice Kits, Pig & Pastry pot pies, Saving the Season, Straus Milk
Delivery areas: Ranges from Santa Monica to Thousand Oaks to Pasadena

Venice Merchant
Giles and Laura Donovan, AKA the Venice Merchants, deliver crates of small or regular sized produce packages (with several recipes included) on Wednesdays. The Donovans' scope is currently expanding, with Topanga service added on Thursdays, and today's opening of Santa Monica Merchant, a brick-and-mortar shop at Santa Monica Place's upper level food complex. Monday and Thursday delivery to the wider Santa Monica area will start soon. Customers place orders for weekly or every-other-week service and can add other fresh items to their box, such as meats, fish, butter, goat cheese, fresh bread, and almond milk, since owner Giles Donovan claims he hasn't found a dairy that meets a certain standards. Donovan describes his role as "a non-farming aggregator" who selects produce that's then delivered to the customer ASAP, ideally within 24 hours of picking. "We are not creating an online food service because we want to create Amazon. We are doing it online be it's the quickest, most efficient way you as a member to connect you to a farm," he says. Furthermore, all the vehicles in the Merchant's fleet are biodiesel fueled, since "we don't compromise on anything."

Sign up fee: $20 membership fee
Delivery fee: A small crate costs $24.99, while the regular package is $39.99.
We want this stuff in our box: It's mostly about the produce here, since Donovan has personally visited every farm he sources from. He describes the meats as "slow raised" animals.
Delivery areas: Venice, Topanga, and Santa Monica coming soon

Summerland LA
Based downtown, Summerland LA soft launched a few months ago with an official debut this month. It's a no obligation model, but offers prepackaged assortments. Pick from the all fruit, all veggie, or the 75/25 combo box (the larger ratio us given to fruits), with produce directly sourced from farms in the region. The website gives a weekly update of what specifically is included in the boxes, which come in two sizes and range in price from $30 to $52. The still early work-in-progress market section, which unlike Good Eggs and Out of the Box doesn't have a breakdown by category, features some items that will look familiar from the other sites (it's never been easier to get Sqirl jams online and brought to your home), along with nonperishable splurges such as Apolis bags and local favorite Hedley & Bennett aprons. The website comes loaded with recipes, too, and partnerships with local known food personalities such as Catherine McCord of Weelicious and Joy the Baker are possibly forthcoming.

Sign up fee: None
Delivery fee: None
We want this stuff in our box: Pasolivo olive oils, Frog Hollow preserves, Granola Project, Installation Coffee Co. cold brew
Delivery areas: Summerland LA's 25 delivery radius includes communities such as the South Bay, Sherman Oaks and Pasadena

Red Bread
Red Bread is already known for its natural leavened sourdough and its newish café and marketplace on the Westside. Now its motivated crew has added the Magical Grocery Tour Sunday delivery service, the seeds of which were planted in 2010 when Rose and David Lawrence brought their products to loyal customers via delivery using an electric bike. Rose Lawrence explains that "Our delivery service has kept pace with our growth offering fresh organic and local produce, sourdough breads, organic baked goods, house made preserves and pickles, popsicles, raw dairy, grass fed meats, prepared brunch and prepared dinners to the doors of Westside homes Sunday morning by 10 a.m." In line with the company's commitment to sustainability, Red Bread's delivery vehicle of choice is electric, naturally, and all packaging is compostable. Lawrence describes the process as "a personal approach," meaning decisions are entirely up to the customer who deals directly with an assigned "bread head" to coordinate each order, which must be placed by Thursday at midnight.

Sign up fee: None
Delivery fee: Minimum $55 order
We want this stuff in our box: Red Bread's signature product is strong incentive enough, but it would be nice if the website offered more inventory details.
Delivery areas: Westside only; check your ZIP code in the box at the upper right corner of this page.

FarmBox L.A.
While some of the other sites convey a certain seriousness of purpose, Farm Box L.A. presents all youthful, sunny cheer. (Your second grade daughter will probably love it.) The delivery subscription or individual order service offers a wide range of choices for produce boxes, or boxes with produce and bread and meat, or just ala carte items. So if all of your kohlrabi experiments have failed, then FarmBox will allows substitutions. Other boxes are designed for Paleo diet adherents, pets, and juicers.

Sign up fee: None
Delivery fee: $4.95 for orders under $50
We want this stuff in our box: SoNo Trading Co. mustards, Savour This Sauce, Fat Uncle Farms, Uncle Bill's Bees honey
Delivery areas: Most of L.A. County is covered, plus Long Beach, and as of this past week, FarmBox OC is available in Orange County.

About the Author

Jessica Ritz is a freelance writer, L.A. native, and current Los Feliz resident. She also blogs at Taster Tots L.A., a restaurant and food website for families.
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