Downtown View:Fish,Flowers and Fresh Produce

By Karen Taylor

Last year for my birthday one of my daughters gave me flowers. These were not the usual birthday flowers. They were delivered to my door for several weeks from the one-eighth acre garden of Ferriss Buck Donham of Arlington.

The flowers Ferriss provided were different from those available from even the loveliest florist. In spring I got big bleeding hearts, lilies of the valley and tiny violets and primroses. In summer came cranesbills, cosmos and astilbe. In the fall Ferriss brought New England asters and several kinds of chrysanthemums I’d never seen before. Plus, these flowers didn’t have to be flown in from a faraway land.

Ferriss’s offering is a flower CSA—community-supported agriculture. In this arrangement clients pay ahead of time so the farmer has the cash to plant. When the crop is ready the farmer delivers or arranges a pick-up place and time. The steady stream of flowers reminded me of what summers are supposed to be, bountiful and beautiful.

Last year was only Ferriss’s third summer of offering a CSA. “I knew there were vegetable CSAs,” she said. “Why not do one for flowers?” But she has been designing, installing and maintaining gardens for clients for 15 years. She delivered to my house because she doesn’t have many clients yet. Her goal this year is 50, and if she has enough downtown Boston clients she will figure out where to deposit the flowers in central locations. The cost is $100 for five weeks of bouquets in one of three sessions—spring, summer or fall.

Rebecca and Joe Pimentel have a downtown location already. The two met while they were both living on Beacon Hill, but they soon moved to Scituate and started gardening and raising goats and chickens. They finally acquired 240 acres of central Vermont farmland as well as two children. Farming is a good life for a family since both parents, while working hard, are home.

A few years ago they started Sweet Georgia P’s, named after their daughter. They raise 50 dairy goats and 350 layer hens, employ 10 helpers as well as a delivery crew and rarely take a summer vacation. They now deliver produce, eggs, honey, goat cheese, dairy products and pasture-raised, hormone-free beef and pork as well as free-range turkey and chickens to about 100 CSA members on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3 to 7 p.m. at three downtown locations. They too would add more if the number of clients in an area warrant it. They also serve 10 restaurants and set up shop at farmers’ markets. Rebecca hopes to launch a line of natural skin care products soon.

The cost is $600 for 15 weekly deliveries in a standard size. Deliveries begin in June.

Another kind of CSA is really a CSF. Cape Ann Fresh Catch, the second oldest community-supported fishery in the U.S., delivers fish and prepared foods made of seafood products. Catching fish is not limited to the summer months, so Cape Ann sells shares all year long. They do not yet have a downtown Boston location but would search one out if enough customers signed up. The closest delivery locations to downtown now are in Harvard Square and the South End. Shareholders can sign up for a one or two-pound fillets or a whole fish.

Like all community-supported agriculture or fisheries, what you get is what is available. The week I interviewed Donna Marshall, Cape Ann’s executive director, the boats were bringing in pollack, dabs and flounder. “We never know,” she said, “but at 4 a.m. we get a fax letting us know what the catch is.”

Shareholders sign up for eight weeks of one-pound fillets at $120 or $220 for two-pound fillets. The catch, including scallops, is handled minimally, just rinsed, said Donna. (Some fishmongers plunge scallops in a preservative that makes them white and soggy, something Donna said they would never do.)

These community-supported food delivery services have much in common. They all have websites. Just type their names and they come up. Their products are all local and about as fresh as anything gets. You may not know what you’re getting but with the Internet it is easy to get a recipe for the combination you receive. All of the purveyors said they work with customers who need to tweak an order, whether they are on vacation or need more or less of some product.

Pundits complain that people never cook anymore, but with such products and services as these, it may be that the pundits are wrong.

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