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Nonprofit Brings Organic Asian Produce to Southern California

The contents of a typical CSA box
The contents of a typical CSA box

Community supported agriculture (CSA) is all the rage these days. Here, CSA refers to subscription-based programs wherein customers sign up for a box of fresh produce, delivered or picked up on a regular schedule. The offerings are sourced directly from local farms and what you get is completely contingent on the member farms and what's currently in season.

There are a ton of them in Southern California and they have become a popular way to ensure fresh, healthier home dining.

Founded in the summer of 2013, Roots CSA is one of many local CSA options. But their target audience is different from the norm: rather than targeting upscale neighborhoods full of disposable income, Roots is dedicated to bringing fresh, Asian vegetables to the Asian communities in Southern California.

I stumbled across Roots while doing research on organic produce in the San Gabriel Valley. A predominately Asian and Latino community in the eastern corridor of Los Angeles County, the San Gabriel Valley rarely sees restaurants committed to serving organic food.

Chinese restaurateurs tend to cite high costs and lack of demand for avoiding organic purveyors. Chinese cuisine is traditionally cheap; through my interactions with these restaurants, I've noticed that they all source their produce and meats in bulk and from the same vendors. The same sort of mindset is applicable toward the different Asian communities throughout Los Angeles. Organic is not a priority.

Roots CSA is a game-changer in that regard. They stand out because they're a) a non-profit; b) serving Asian communities throughout the Southland; and c) sourcing from farmers who specialize in Asian produce.

The group was formed in conjunction with the non-profit, Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance in Los Angeles. While the employees are paid for their time, all of the profits from the CSA boxes goes to the farms.

Historic Filipinotown CSA
Historic Filipinotown CSA

The Process

You sign up online and will get a box of produce every other week. The price is $60 per season (three months) and pick-ups occur every other week. It's a grand total of six boxes per $60.

There are no rollovers; produce that isn't picked up for the week is donated.

They currently serve Historic Filipino Town, the San Gabriel Valley, and the Orange County. According to organizers, they're looking to expand to Little Tokyo, Thai Town, and within local colleges.

While Roots is intended to cater to the Asian community, anyone can sign up -- you just have to come pick up your produce boxes at the designated locations.

The Farms

Roots is currently in partnership with three farmers. In Historic Filipino Town, they partner with Cha Her, a Hmong farmer who owns Her Farms in Fresno, California. For the San Gabriel Valley, the produce comes from Greenshower Organic Farm, a two-acre plot in Rowland Heights. In Orange County, the vegetables are sourced from Beyond Bok Choy Farm in Fresno. While the farms aren't certified organic, they abide by organic practices and some of them are in the process of obtaining their certification.

The Produce

While the boxes occasionally come with more commonly-seen produce, the focus is really on Asian vegetables. Selections include baby bok choy, gai lan, yu choy, Chinese eggplant, napa cabbage, yams, Thai basil, Chinese green beans, and daikon. The website has a running archive of recipes and subscribers are notified on what exactly is in their box for the week. If ever you were interested in cooking with new vegetables...

November CSA load
November CSA load

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