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Pandemic problems, produce solutions

Still don't know what to do with Romano beans in Yasukochi farm box

A tightly packed cubic foot of garden goodness, delivered weekly.
A tightly packed cubic foot of garden goodness, delivered weekly.

Sometimes, the best things come about by accident. That’s how it was with my pick for San Diego’s best Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm box, offered with free home delivery by Yasukochi Family Farms. The Oceanside farm was established in 1929, and survived its namesake family’s forced detention during WWII, so that now it has passed to a fourth generation: brothers Kerry, Ross, and Donal Yasukochi. “At one time, we were one of the biggest tomato farmers in all of California,” says Donal. “But when Mexico started exporting tomatoes, we had to change our business model.”

For years, Yasukochi Family Farms made do selling produce at farmers markets and local restaurants, and then by supplying farm boxes to employees of the Oceanside School District. But it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that Yasukochi’s county-wide CSA box truly took off. It was on a Thursday in March 2020 that the Yasukochis learned the weekend farmers markets were cancelled — indefinitely. Given that farmers necessarily plan their harvest schedules months in advance, the news meant the family faced the prospect of letting vast quantities of produce simply go to waste. While packing school district boxes Friday morning, they decided to test the concept of a CSA box on a larger scale. One of Donal and Norene’s daughters put the word out online, along with Donal’s phone number.

“Before we knew it, my phone was ringing off the hook,” the farmer recalls, “like, every three seconds.” By Monday, the Yasukochis had fielded more than two thousand orders. It took several pickup trucks, rented vans, and the combined efforts of the whole family to deliver all the fruit and vegetables. “We sold everything we needed to sell, plus we were getting orders for the following week,” says Donal. “So I started calling some of my farmer friends, and they had all produce that they couldn’t sell...The rest is history.”

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The Yasuckochis began packing weekly boxes with produce from their own and connected farms. Daughters Brianne and Britinee stepped in to set up e-commerce and distribution, and the family invested in a fleet of drivers and vehicles to deliver the boxes to customers’ doorsteps. Most weeks, the Yasukochis receive between two and three-thousand orders from all over the county: from Oceanside all the way south to San Ysidro, and as far east as Alpine. They strive to make every box consistent in quantity, with quality guaranteed. “If a person in Ramona gets a tomato, and for some reason it’s smashed, or has a worm in it,” pledges Donal, “We’ll put two or three tomatoes in a bag, and we’ll take them out to Ramona.”

I’ve been a weekly subscriber for two years, and found it a better and more consistent bargain than previous CSAs I’ve tried. A large box goes for $39, but the $29 regular box — a tightly packed cubic foot in volume — provides enough for a family of four. Boxes regularly include some variety leafy greens, carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, peppers, and cruciferous vegetables. Seasonally, we look forward to avocados, baby bok choy, Brussels sprouts, winter squashes, and incredible sweet corn; plus fruits ranging from peaches, pomegranates, nectarines to cherries and Asian pears. Customers have no say what goes into the box, though for a few dollars, you may add the likes of extra oranges, apples, berries, cucumbers, and artichokes, plus local honey, flowers, or a dozen eggs from Escondido’s Fluegge Egg Ranch.

There are always plenty of household staples, but I’ve grown to appreciate the changing varieties within each box: it helps us avoid nutritional ruts, and inspires new recipes in the kitchen (though we still don’t know what to do with those summer Romano beans). Most fun though: every once in a while, there’s a special something extra in our box. A couple of times each, we’ve received live basil plants, locally grown shiitake mushrooms, and heirloom tomatoes. And we never go a season without finding something you can’t get in grocery stores. Just this month, we enjoyed Mini Macho Watermelons, which possess edible seeds, and a few exceptional greengage plums.

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A tightly packed cubic foot of garden goodness, delivered weekly.
A tightly packed cubic foot of garden goodness, delivered weekly.

Sometimes, the best things come about by accident. That’s how it was with my pick for San Diego’s best Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm box, offered with free home delivery by Yasukochi Family Farms. The Oceanside farm was established in 1929, and survived its namesake family’s forced detention during WWII, so that now it has passed to a fourth generation: brothers Kerry, Ross, and Donal Yasukochi. “At one time, we were one of the biggest tomato farmers in all of California,” says Donal. “But when Mexico started exporting tomatoes, we had to change our business model.”

For years, Yasukochi Family Farms made do selling produce at farmers markets and local restaurants, and then by supplying farm boxes to employees of the Oceanside School District. But it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that Yasukochi’s county-wide CSA box truly took off. It was on a Thursday in March 2020 that the Yasukochis learned the weekend farmers markets were cancelled — indefinitely. Given that farmers necessarily plan their harvest schedules months in advance, the news meant the family faced the prospect of letting vast quantities of produce simply go to waste. While packing school district boxes Friday morning, they decided to test the concept of a CSA box on a larger scale. One of Donal and Norene’s daughters put the word out online, along with Donal’s phone number.

“Before we knew it, my phone was ringing off the hook,” the farmer recalls, “like, every three seconds.” By Monday, the Yasukochis had fielded more than two thousand orders. It took several pickup trucks, rented vans, and the combined efforts of the whole family to deliver all the fruit and vegetables. “We sold everything we needed to sell, plus we were getting orders for the following week,” says Donal. “So I started calling some of my farmer friends, and they had all produce that they couldn’t sell...The rest is history.”

Sponsored
Sponsored

The Yasuckochis began packing weekly boxes with produce from their own and connected farms. Daughters Brianne and Britinee stepped in to set up e-commerce and distribution, and the family invested in a fleet of drivers and vehicles to deliver the boxes to customers’ doorsteps. Most weeks, the Yasukochis receive between two and three-thousand orders from all over the county: from Oceanside all the way south to San Ysidro, and as far east as Alpine. They strive to make every box consistent in quantity, with quality guaranteed. “If a person in Ramona gets a tomato, and for some reason it’s smashed, or has a worm in it,” pledges Donal, “We’ll put two or three tomatoes in a bag, and we’ll take them out to Ramona.”

I’ve been a weekly subscriber for two years, and found it a better and more consistent bargain than previous CSAs I’ve tried. A large box goes for $39, but the $29 regular box — a tightly packed cubic foot in volume — provides enough for a family of four. Boxes regularly include some variety leafy greens, carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, peppers, and cruciferous vegetables. Seasonally, we look forward to avocados, baby bok choy, Brussels sprouts, winter squashes, and incredible sweet corn; plus fruits ranging from peaches, pomegranates, nectarines to cherries and Asian pears. Customers have no say what goes into the box, though for a few dollars, you may add the likes of extra oranges, apples, berries, cucumbers, and artichokes, plus local honey, flowers, or a dozen eggs from Escondido’s Fluegge Egg Ranch.

There are always plenty of household staples, but I’ve grown to appreciate the changing varieties within each box: it helps us avoid nutritional ruts, and inspires new recipes in the kitchen (though we still don’t know what to do with those summer Romano beans). Most fun though: every once in a while, there’s a special something extra in our box. A couple of times each, we’ve received live basil plants, locally grown shiitake mushrooms, and heirloom tomatoes. And we never go a season without finding something you can’t get in grocery stores. Just this month, we enjoyed Mini Macho Watermelons, which possess edible seeds, and a few exceptional greengage plums.

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