Everything You Need to Know About Buying Produce Online

Quit using the coronavirus as an excuse to live entirely on Hot Pockets

When the pandemic appeared, you launched into doomsday mode, planting fruits and vegetables and pledging to grow your own food. Three months later, you have a single premature onion and an increasingly apparent black thumb. Alas, growing your own snacks was harder than expected. The good news: You can continue to avoid grocery stores and order fresh produce online, instead.

First, though, there are a few things to consider before you order produce online. As farmer Morgan Gold of Gold Shaw Farm in Peacham, Vermont, explains, “The closer you can get to your food, the better.” What he means is, if you buy directly from a farmer, your produce spends less time in transit and your money goes straight to them. When you order produce online, however, there are usually middlemen and extra distribution costs involved. All of which is to say, if you can manage, Gold suggests buying from farmers and local markets over buying online. “The online approach is probably the lowest on the food chain,” he says.

But hey, sometimes you have to order produce online — it happens — and there are companies out there that still source from local farmers. So, here are few suggestions…

For All You Penny Pinchers

Misfits Market and Perfectly Imperfect Produce both provide produce at costs that even supermarkets would have trouble matching — for only $22, Misfits Market will send you more than 10 pounds of produce (you can see their current offerings here). As an added bonus, for every subscription box purchased, Perfectly Imperfect Produce donates produce to food pantries.

Now, there is a catch: As the names suggest, these companies sell imperfect produce. “Misfit or ‘ugly’ produce can take many forms,” explains Abhi Ramesh, founder and CEO of Misfits Market. “A superficial blemish like scarring or discoloration can cause a piece of produce to be rejected outright from grocery stores. In fact, each type of produce that’s grown or imported to the U.S. has a grading guide (some in excess of 30 pages) that lists every possible scar, dimple or other surface flaw that might make it unsuitable for stores. Because supermarkets prize uniformity, anything that’s too big or too small for grocery displays, or a little misshapen, is also likely to get rejected.”

In addition to being cheaper, these companies claim that imperfect produce is highly sustainable. “It starts by supporting organic growers who, in the midst of a challenging climate economically and environmentally, wouldn’t have gotten revenue for their hard work, because the food would have been rejected by grocery stores,” Ramesh explains. “By choosing organic, Misfits Market customers help farmers better their soil and support the production of healthier food for generations to come.”

There are, however, critics of the whole imperfect produce movement. “For somebody who works in agriculture, the ‘ugly’ produce movement is a little bit enraging,” Gold says. Normally, he says, imperfect produce is used for making soups, salsas and sauces, so the idea that consumers are “saving” this produce from the trash is perhaps misleading. “What [these companies are] doing is actually competing in the same buying markets as somebody who’s producing salsa,” he explains, not necessarily solving a problem of waste.

You can do what you will with that suggestion, and buy accordingly.

For All You Seasonal and Organic Bros

If you can spend some extra money, Farmbox Direct guarantees all organic and natural produce, picked exclusively from local farmers. The produce they offer changes weekly, depending on what their farmers harvested over those seven days, so they provide fresh goods.

From the Farmer is another good option for anyone living near New England. They work with local, sustainable and organic farmers, and you can choose boxes based on how much produce you expect to go through, which is nice. From the Farmer is a good example of a smaller produce-delivery company that serves local farmers, rather than some huge conglomerate that sources and sells cheap produce.

Even better, you could try a company like Farm Fresh to You, which delivers organic produce straight from their family farm in California. They offer subscription boxes based on your produce needs, including an interesting-sounding No Cooking box, which “offers mostly fruit and only fast, easy-to-prepare vegetables.”

These are all pricier than the imperfect produce companies — some are even double the price — but you should expect fresher fruits and vegetables, and hopefully their farmers benefit as well.

For All You Fruit Lovers

If you care more about fruits than vegetables, the FruitGuys have you covered. You can choose between organic and conventional produce, all of which is locally sourced from small farms. They offer a variety of different boxes, starting at $30. And for every dollar you spend, they send two servings of fruit to hospitals and hunger-relief organizations affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

Hope that helps, and uh, good luck finding a use for that premature onion.