An al FreshCo Lay of the Land in 2020

It’s 2020 and we’ve evolved a bit since starting a full six years ago!

An Increasing Palette of Local Ingredients

Our mission remains the same of offering 100% locally and responsibly grown produce in the meal kits, and I’m happy to report that our local farming landscape has become even more vibrant than it had been in 2014, despite rising land values in the Boston area, which poses increasing pressure on farmers to compete with development for space to grow food. We are offering more value in the meals with beautiful fresh, cultivated mushrooms, wild-harvested sea vegetables from the crisp Maine oceans, more locally grown grains like pearled barley by Maine Grains and freshly- milled wheat from Alprilla Farm on the North Shore, and an abundance of vegetables from the farm where I work in Dover, in addition to Upswing Farm, Neighborhood Farm, Natick Community Organic Farm, Farmer Tim’s, among others.

Vegetables: We still only use vegetables that are grown in Eastern Mass from farmers we know and trust, and have quickly come to love! Many of the week-to-week vegetables we have in the kits are grown by us, the al FreshCo crew, in Dover at a CSA Farm. We are working on integrating more winter greens, which may make an appearance in late March in the kits, and we are experimenting with growing ginger this year! We have been learning what you all like to eat over the winter, and have gotten into a great routine of putting up thousands of pounds of tomatoes, peppers and spinach. We made a lot of harissa this year as well, with Farmer Tim’s beautiful carmine peppers, grown by Farmer Katie and her crew. We roasted the peppers and milled them into paste, and have been enjoying it in the harissa and on some polenta dishes.

Spices: Perhaps you’ve noticed all the new flavors in the meals! In line with our values of sourcing responsibly, we have been using meyer lemons we preserve ourselves from Fairview Orchards in Ojai, CA. It’s a beautiful way to take advantage of their excess harvest in March and April, and enjoy the bright and beautiful rays of sunshine that are their meyer lemons in our meals. We’ve been spending more time in the kitchen on our sauces and spice mixes overall, which includes getting more of our own fresh garlic into the mix: we hope you taste the difference! Plus any sugar we use in the kitchen is my own maple syrup that I make with 65 trees I tap with my family in New Hampshire. I love sharing this with you all, and think it’s such a beautiful way to connect with our land.

Fungi: We are working with two different mushroom growers: Fat Moon Farm in Chelmsford, MA and NH Mushroom Co. in Tamworth, NH, to bring you beautiful fungi in the kits. We’ve been using King Oyster mushrooms, a new strain called Black Pearl- similar to king oyster; Chestnut mushrooms and a variety of oyster mushrooms. We are also getting some of my own cultivated shiitake mushrooms into the meal kits. It’s a project I started four years ago, growing mushrooms on logs. 

Since I get large flushes of the shiitakes, I dehydrate them to preserve them, and they retain their beautiful earthy flavors. We have been using these dried shiitakes as the not-so-secret-ingredient to our kimchi that we sell as an add-on, and that we have in dishes like the Bibimbap and Kimchi Pancakes. That combined with Larch’s wild-harvested kelp makes a superior kimchi, better than it’s non-vegetarian (fish-sauced) version- at least in our opinion.

Grains: We have been working a lot more with the flint corn we grow in Dover. We tried making masa from scratch for tortillas that we had in the meal kits last week, and I deemed it a great success! There are so many cultural processes for grains we can grow locally, and it’s been so fun unlocking and experimenting with these processes to bring you a wider array of food that unlocks different nutrients and flavors. A blog post on corn is coming next, as the cultural and culinary history on this grain is immense, nevermind the current industrial-scale implications of the crop.

Updated Technology

Our website is in its form 3.2: we’ve been doing some updates on the site you’ve been used to using for the past few years. We have a new server, which hopefully makes the site faster to use, and some glitches have been fixed. If you notice anything amiss, we are still completing the update, so please email me with the specifics if the site seems to be doing something wonky. The purpose of the site is to be easy to order your food, so don’t hesitate to reach out to tell us if it’s not!

Compostable Packaging

We have ditched the plastic portion cups, and now have 100% compostable cups for our sauces! We made the switch at the end of the summer. Getting rid of the rigid plastic feels like a big victory. The cups are made from PLA (poly lactic acid from vegetables starches), and are compostable in high-heat conditions, which usually means they won’t break down within 6 months in a backyard compost system, but will in an industrial composting setting. We are testing this out in our compost at the farm; either way, it is not plastic, and our kids and their kids won’t be dealing with it in 100 years, so that is positive! With more education around plastic, and more money going into research and development on non-plastic alternatives, we expect to have a good alternative to the plastic bags we use for the produce soon.  Otherwise, as always, we will take back the twine to reuse (just leave it in your cooler on delivery day), and the paper and cups can be composted! We are so close to achieving packaging nirvana!

New Delivery Areas & New Pickups

We are still doing the majority of our deliveries by bike, because it turned out (despite some thoughts against), that it is way more fun, and way more efficient than driving in Boston! We have expanded our delivery radius to Lincoln, Natick, Needham, Newton and Wellesley. In Lincoln, we have now gotten enough density to start delivery by bike, which is great news! We are starting a pickup point at Natick Community Organic Farm in the spring, and will open up deliveries in South Natick and Wellesley, we hope to build enough support in those areas to start bike delivery there as well- so spread the word!

More people are reaching out to start new pickup points and to expand our home delivery service, please keep asking! We are remaining thoughtful about where we go to keep in mind the sustainability of our operation, as we are all farmers in addition to meal kit-makers. If we get enough density in certain areas, we are able to get a new bike delivery route going, to give a college kid, or a farmer, (or maybe me!) or whoever else a solid weekly gig that is a fun, reliable job, so if you want kits delivered to your neighborhood, gather up your neighbors, and get in touch!

The Value of Our Food

The value we are putting into the meal kits has been increasing, and accordingly, we are raising prices to a meager $21 (effective March 8, 2020), up from $19.50: that’s $10.50/serving. How are we still competitive with the big box institutions? We keep small! Our goal remains to bring the Boston area all the beautiful food grown in our region, and to stay connected to our farmers in a meaningful way. This means doing our job efficiently, and focusing on our community; we’re not planning on taking over the world. We hope to continue to cheer on other communities, businesses, farmers, and individuals who are doing similar outside of Boston, who can lead the local food movement with their specific community top of mind.

And Some Things Haven’t Changed

We remain a community-inspired, independent (from outside financial investment) company, having still taken no investment: yes, 100% bootstrapped! We continue to believe in proving that farming and local food is not a fable in Eastern Mass, and that it can be a way of life here! This is thanks to you for your unwavering support over the past six years; our farmers who are fans of building meaningful relationships; and to our crew who are committed to getting beautiful food (most of which they participate in growing!) into the world and to building community around local food. As things change in the ‘outside’ world, like Amazon taking over Whole Foods, and the food system continuing to become culture-less and uniform in the face of globalization, our mission is only strengthened.

We’re so grateful that you’re joining us in this mission, and for giving us the opportunity to make you an active part of our vibrant local food community!

Very Sincerely, Laurel