CSA subscriptions from these Detroit farms are like mystery boxes of locally grown produce

The risks and rewards of community-shared agriculture

click to enlarge Danielle Daguio of Keep Growing Detroit, one of the organizations sharing the fruits of their labor with Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions. - Keep Growing Detroit
Keep Growing Detroit
Danielle Daguio of Keep Growing Detroit, one of the organizations sharing the fruits of their labor with Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions.

I’ve been waiting six months for the box that’s sitting in my apartment’s vestibule to arrive, and I almost forgot I ordered it. No, it’s not another pair of leggings or a random Amazon purchase I probably don’t need — the box is full of vegetables from Deeply Rooted Produce, a Black woman-owned farm on Detroit’s Eastside.

Back in my apartment, I peel open the cardboard flaps with wide-eyed excitement at the Swiss chard, carrots, triumphantly purple eggplants, and peppers that I probably won’t eat. Deeply Rooted Produce is one of several Detroit farms that offer community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscriptions. These subscription boxes are filled with locally-grown produce and distributed weekly or bi-weekly to members who sign up for a membership.

Community-supported agriculture is not for people with commitment issues. Depending on the farm, signups can begin in January or February, with members getting their produce during the growing season from roughly June to November.

CSAs aren’t for picky eaters either, as you never know exactly what you’re going to get. Every week is like one of those “unboxing a $35 Amazon mystery box” videos on YouTube but with fruit and vegetables. There’s also no guarantee that the farmer will be able to actually provide the produce that they’ve promised. Farmers can’t predict the weather, or whether savage caterpillars will decimate their kale crops before they can harvest them.

The zucchini at your local Meijer store traveled thousands of miles and sometimes across international borders to get on the shelf, but the veggies from organizations like Keep Growing Detroit, City Commons, and Deeply Rooted Produce come from organic farms (mostly) within the city.

“It’s almost like a ‘set it and forget it’ because you usually sign up so early,” says Danielle Daguio, development and engagement coordinator for Keep Growing Detroit. “But it’s a beautiful sharing of risk and reward throughout the growing season between farmers and the members.”

Despite the unique challenges that come with getting a CSA subscription, their value lies in the opportunities they provide to connect with local farmers, keep money within the community, and build a deeper appreciation for food since you know exactly where it’s coming from. The produce also tastes better.

click to enlarge Keep Growing Detroit requires all farms that contribute to its CSA to use organic and sustainable practices and pass a soil test. - Keep Growing Detroit
Keep Growing Detroit
Keep Growing Detroit requires all farms that contribute to its CSA to use organic and sustainable practices and pass a soil test.

A 10-week CSA subscription at KGD costs $325, or $32.50 for each box, which supplies two weeks’ worth of food. Of course, most people will still end up buying a few other items from the grocery store to complete their weekly meals, but it often ends up being cheaper than buying produce every week.

Dazmonique Carr, CEO and farmer at Deeply Rooted Produce, runs what she calls “Detroit’s first zero waste mobile grocery store” where she delivers produce in and around the city. Though she’s been growing her own food since 2017, Carr started her CSA service in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Back then, the produce wasn’t grown on her farm, and she was sourcing the vegetables from places like Eastern Market.

“We were doing something we’ve never done before, but we knew we could do it,” she says.

Carr still offers a grocery delivery service with outside produce, but Deeply Rooted also has a “hyperlocal” CSA with 90% of the vegetables coming from its Eastside farm.

Carr works with other majority Black-owned farms to fill the boxes when Deeply Rooted doesn’t produce enough, or when customers want additional products she doesn’t grow.

“We’ve established relationships with farmers in Arizona, farmers in Florida, Atlanta, Ohio, and places where, although it may not be local, it still has that organic quality,” she says. “We get produce from people who care … because sometimes it really doesn’t matter whether or not the food is local, it matters whether or not you know what they put in their soil or how they harvested their produce.”

When Carr first started growing her own food in her apartment while she was attending Wayne State University, she wasn’t thinking about running a full-scale farm.

“I started just because of my own food insecurity,” she says. “And so it was about money initially. I took a $2 pack of seeds of squashes and spinach and started growing food in my apartment … I grew a big tub of potatoes and two- to three- foot-long squashes … Then I learned along the way and from other farmers and organizations like Keep Going Detroit, how to be more strategic and systematic with growing.”

click to enlarge Farmers drop the produce they promised for the week at KGD on Wednesday for CSA members to pick up on Thursday. - Keep Growing Detroit
Keep Growing Detroit
Farmers drop the produce they promised for the week at KGD on Wednesday for CSA members to pick up on Thursday.

Staples that typically come in Deeply Rooted Produce’s CSA include salad greens, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, and collards. This year, Carr plans to add fruit grown indoors and outdoors on the farm to the CSA, provided the mature honeycrisp apple, peach, and orange trees she planted actually produce.

Keep Growing Detroit (KGD) has been offering CSAs since around 2014 when it allowed people to come to the farm and bag their own produce. After KGD moved to its current location near Eastern Market in 2017, in 2020 they began a more formal distribution. KGD’s CSA offers a bi-weekly produce box to 40 subscribers from July to November.

The organization works with farms located in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park through their Garden Resource Program and Grown in Detroit initiative. Most people who are growing their own food in their Detroit backyards are part of KGD’s Garden Resource Program, which provides seeds, transplants, and classes throughout the growing season. Members of Grown in Detroit take it a step further to market and sell their produce.

All the farms with produce included in KGD’s CSA have to complete a soil test and agree to sustainable and organic farming practices. They can also sell their fruit and veggies at KGD’s Eastern Market stand and keep 100% of the profit.

“The point of this is to be able to provide an economic avenue for growers to sell their produce and additionally to keep dollars circulating within the city,” Daguio says. “It’s truly mutually beneficial within the community. If I live in the city and can buy produce grown by someone else in the city, my dollars are staying within city limits and are going right to the local farmer.”

Last year, KGD says it had 60 CSA members with half of the subscriptions going to Detroit families experiencing food insecurity in partnership with Black Lives Matter Detroit. Black Lives Matter Detroit pays for the families’ CSA subscriptions, and the boxes are delivered to their homes by volunteers.

click to enlarge CSAs aren’t for picky eaters either, as you never know exactly what you’re going to get. - Keep Growing Detroit
Keep Growing Detroit
CSAs aren’t for picky eaters either, as you never know exactly what you’re going to get.

Produce Russian roulette

I stare inside this week’s CSA box with furrowed eyebrows, frustration and confusion glistening in the summer sweat on my forehead. It’s the third straight week the box has come with collard greens, of which I’m not a fan, and I refuse to eat anymore.

Last week’s box was supposed to include callaloo and oyster mushrooms — which excited me far more than collards — but due to an issue with the harvest, they never came. The strawberries the week before had begun to spoil by the time they reached my doorstep, and things aren’t growing quite as planned, so this week’s box is a bit light. The following week, however, will be overflowing with more squash and tomatoes than I can possibly eat.

Deeply Rooted’s neighborhood is notorious for flooding. One week the basement of one of their storage spaces flooded, affecting the refrigerators Carr uses to store produce.

“There was a lot of different ups and downs [and] fluctuating temperatures,” she says. “We may pack everything on Tuesday and then come Thursday, we have to recheck the things that need to go out on Thursday for quality control versus us going back to farmers or back to our farm and harvesting things.”

At KGD, farmers drop off their produce every Wednesday and CSA subscribers pick the boxes up on Thursday. But the farmers have to tell KGD what they will have available a week in advance based on what’s growing out in the field, and it isn’t always exact.

“That’s always a bit of a challenge just because of the weather,” Daguio says. “Things are completely different week to week. Some storm could come in, or an intense heat wave could come in and blow out all your crops that you said you were going to be able to deliver. Those things happen all the time.”

When that does happen, Daguio says KGD supplements with produce grown on its own farm in Eastern Market, noting, “we’re never going to give someone an empty box, but when we’re in total abundance, this box is overflowing. So sometimes you’re getting above and beyond the value of what you paid for.”

At City Commons, a co-op of farms offering a CSA, subscribers get a weekly email letting them know how things are going on the farm, even if it’s not what they’d hoped for.

“Sometimes it’s like, ‘Hey the strawberries got eaten by birds, we’re really sorry, but the carrots are coming up great, so stay tuned for those,’” says Alice Bagley, one of City Commons founders. “Sometimes it’s even the week of and I’m doing my inventory and I thought I was gonna have 30 bunches of chard but a rabbit came through and ate it. Then I have to see who else is growing chard, can I call them and have them pick some right now, because we have to pack these boxes in two hours.”

Five farms, all located in Detroit, are in the City Commons co-op and share the responsibility of growing the food, harvesting, bookkeeping, and packaging the produce boxes.

Detroit farms that offer CSAs

Signing up for a CSA can be tricky since subscriptions open at the beginning of the year when most people aren’t thinking about summer veggies. Registration closes once the farm reaches the amount of subscriptions they can accommodate. New this year, KGD will host a farm stand on Thursdays from July to October for people who don’t have CSA subscriptions but still want to buy produce. At the farm stand, non-CSA members can also pick up a one-off “farmers’ choice” produce box for the week instead of committing to a full season.

Beside Keep Growing Detroit, Deeply Rooted Produce, and City Commons, here are a few other places to get a CSA subscription in Detroit. (Note that some of them may already be full.)

Jim and Peter’s Farms
Weekly vegetable and flower CSA subscriptions are available from this queer-owned Detroit farm.

Beaverland Farms
This Brightmoor farm’s CSA starts in April but you can purchase its flower or produce subscription for the late summer-fall season. It also has a “chicken CSA.”

Fisheye Farms
Fisheye Farms’ CSA runs for 20 weeks from June to October. Located primarily in Core City, Fisheye Farms also partners with Coriander Kitchen and Farm for additional herb or flower add-ons.

Eastern Market
Eastern Market has both a full-season CSA subscription that starts in June and a $25 weekly box. You can preorder both online and pick them up at the Saturday or Tuesday market.

Beyond dry spells or animals eating the crops, sometimes members get vegetables in their CSA they have no idea how to cook.

After getting feedback from CSA members who didn’t know what items like tulsi basil were, Keep Growing Detroit began including a photo with descriptions of everything in the box, along with information on the farmer who grew it and recipe ideas.

The veggies may also look different than they do in the grocery store, as naturally grown produce often does.

“I think that’s also a cool part about CSAs, though, is that you see the produce in its entire state,” Daguio says. “When we’re giving you carrots, you’re getting the whole thing out the ground — the greens and the root — so now you have to figure out how to use the greens too.”

City Commons offers members the option to customize their box, for an extra fee, in case there are certain veggies they don’t eat. Deeply Rooted Produce is also experimenting with a customizable model this year, so I’ll be spared of the dreaded collard greens.

Bagley says the quality of locally grown food is far superior to produce from the grocery store.

“Everything’s harvested within like 48 hours of when you’re eating it,” she says. “I’ve driven across the country and certainly didn’t look great at the end of that drive, so your produce isn’t going to look that great either when it’s traveled far. But also, these farmers are caring for land that would otherwise just be overgrown grass that only gets mowed a few times a year. So you’re supporting the creative reuse of vacant lots, which we have a lot of.”

Daguio echoes those thoughts, adding that CSA members are getting their produce at the height of the growing season.

“You get the best tomatoes in August and you can taste the difference between tomatoes that are grown in the city at the time of its peak versus tomatoes that you’re eating in January,” she says. “And so it’s also a relationship to food sovereignty — being able to have access, choice, and a connection to your food.”

She continues, “It’s a necessity to be able to say, ‘I have autonomy over where I can get my produce. I have a choice to buy this produce that was grown for me and my family in sustainable practices, and I know exactly what went into that kale.’”

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About The Author

Randiah Camille Green

After living in Japan and traveling across Asia, Randiah Camille Green realized Detroit will always be home. And when she says Detroit, she's talking about the hood, not the suburbs. She has bylines in Planet Detroit News , Bridge Detroit , BLAC magazine, and Model D .Her favorite pastimes are meditating on...
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