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Hannah Zwartz is a professional gardener, garden writer, designer and teacher living on the Kāpiti Coast. Since her first job as an office pot-plant waterer she has been a longtime garden columnist, Botanic Gardens herb specialist, urban farm manager, and educator in schools, community gardens and prisons across the region.
With so many vege boxes to choose from it’s difficult to know which is best. Hannah Zwartz has made it easy, putting eight Wellington based boxes to the test, and rating them on their contents, quality, value, convenience, and eco-friendliness. All details and pricing were correct at the time of publishing, but double-check before purchasing.
Why buy a vege box, rather than choose what you want at shops or markets? During lockdowns, the convenience factor was obvious – not having to leave the house, trudge the supermarket aisles, and carry home heavy bags. But these boxes also surprised me with their value for money. They offer the freshness found at farmers’ markets, for prices somewhere between markets and supermarkets, which makes sense when you consider the lower food miles, shorter supply chain, and reduced packaging.
Which one to try? Forget about comparing apples with oranges, it’s more like comparing lettuce with pumpkin – which is “better” depends whether you want salad or soup. The best vege box depends on your household priorities when it comes to convenience, freshness, sustainability and cost. To save you having to figure it all out, we ordered a selection of boxes, crunched the carrots, squeezed the radishes, tasted the tomatoes, and photographed everything along the way.
If freshness and flavour are your priority, the boxes from CSA farms stood out from the pack. If these veges were fish, they’d be still twitching. Vege nuts like me, to whom baby podded peas are more delicious than lollies, appreciate the difference between fresh-picked produce and stuff that’s been sitting on the shelves or warehouses for several days. If convenience is more important, most home-delivered box services allow you to skip a week, add extras like eggs, bread and preserves, or even switch out one or two items of produce.
Personally, I don’t mind having my vege range limited by what’s cheapest and seasonal. It’s like a Masterchef challenge – here’s your box, now figure out what to make. But if you want to eat tomato salad all winter rather than rocking the roast veg; if there are some veges you hate, which will slowly turn to rubbery slime in the back of the fridge; if you go away a lot, or you’re rarely cooking from scratch at home, boxes may not work for you.
What does CSA mean?
Community Supported Agriculture or subscription farming is a model where members sign up to buy a farm’s produce for a season. It puts money directly into the hands of farmers, giving them security to concentrate on growing rather than marketing, while subscribers know where their food is coming from and how it’s being produced. There are currently three CSA farms in the region – Ecofarm, Kaicycle and Vagabond Vege. These are not the cheapest options, but some consumers will choose to value sustainability, put their money where their mouth is and support these small growers.
This most urban of farms, tucked between Wellington Hospital and Government House, has built rich soil by composting food waste (collected by e-bike from around the inner city). They combine composting and teaching with producing limited-edition vege boxes (20 per week over summer, just 10 over winter) and a salad-only option. Currently at capacity, with a waiting list for the spring vege boxes.
The weekly $40 CSA box has super-fresh organically grown produce you can’t find elsewhere (unless you grow it yourself).
Just-picked freshness and flavour. Lots of salads, baby root veges, herbs and leafy greens, rather than filling staples. Everything was super-delicious and the big bag of salad mix, with microgreens, kept very well.
Subscription only – buyers commit to a 13-week season. Pick up directly post-harvest from the Newtown farm (no refrigeration), and bring your own bag.
Supporting super-local regenerative farmers, building soils, recycling food waste, and building skills.
See the website. Salad-only subscription, flower posies over summer, volunteering and training days.
This Greytown market garden, which broke ground less than a year ago, offers CSA vege boxes within Wairarapa (they also sell to restaurants). The four-farmer team, using regenerative practices, are in the process of getting Hua Parakore organic certification. Their winter subscription of 30 boxes is full, but they hope to double those numbers over spring/summer.
This is the $30 box – you’re paying for freshness and organic-ness.
Superb salad mix, with buttery and bitter greens and edible flowers and sprouts that had even my bacon-worshipping family asking for second helpings. Plus gorgeous, delicious baby vegetables, capsicums, and two types of kale.
Weekly delivery in Greytown, Carterton, Martinborough and Featherston, or pick up from the farm.
Levin-based Homegrown have been delivering boxes for 20 years, with huge growth in the last three years since covid changed our shopping patterns. Produce is sourced directly from farmers and businesses, as local as possible, and the boxes are plastic-free.
The ‘small’ $39 box had a good range, with fruit as well as veges.
Like the freshest supermarket produce, with prices closer to a farmers’ market.
There’s a lot of choice among the boxes, and delivery from Feilding to Wellington and the Hutt. This was the most customisable box, with many online options to swap out produce and add extras such as potatoes, garlic, coriander, lemons, walnuts….
We liked the wooden crate, which is exchanged each week, and the plastic-free presentation (lettuces were wrapped in paper instead).
Breads (including GF), eggs, preserves, meat, salamis, nut butters, mushrooms, flours, honey, vinegar, coffee, olive oil – a huge range of products from local small food businesses.
This mum/daughter team from Otaki source 85% of their veges directly from local growers, topping up from local wholesale markets. Conscious of budget pressures for their customers, they focus on good value seasonal produce and provide smaller, discounted boxes for senior citizens in lifestyle villages.
The $30 box was one of the largest, including veg staples like kumara, tomatoes, onions, and leeks.
Good fresh fare, like high-end supermarket veges.
12 different boxes available including Juice, Workplace, and Weekend boxes. Home delivery is free from Levin to Kāpiti, $3 for the rest of Wellington and the Hutt.
More about affordability than organic/regenerative farming. But the boxes are shortening supply chains, and supporting local vege growers from Horowhenua and Ōtaki wherever possible, as well as local small food businesses.
Helpful recipes and lots of customised add-ons including eggs, local preserves, crackers, honey, cheeses, coffee, and spices.
The Ecofarm family team has been growing food for over 20 years on their organically certified Tauherenikau farm, filling around 100 fresh vege boxes per week. The CSA model has allowed them to create a permaculture paradise including orchards, chickens, sheep, and other animals.
It is a $49 fruit and veg box.
The only box to be fully certified organic produce, including the option of organic fruit sourced from other farms.
Subscribers commit to a 13-week season with the option of a family- or couple-sized box, with or without a large or small fruit share (there are some fortnightly options). Pick-up is from one of 19 locations across the region; home delivery is available at extra cost and one-off baskets, subject to availability, cost 20% more.
Ecofarm have been walking their talk for 20 years.
Meat and herbal products are also available through the website, as well as workshops, tours, and consultations.
The idea is genius – collecting and redistributing produce farmers can’t sell to supermarkets for whatever reason (too big, too small, too much, or too wonky-shaped). Owners Angus and Katie set up the business a year ago after experiencing firsthand, as seasonal workers, the frustrations facing growers in traditional supply chains. It’s a win-win, providing affordable alternatives for customers.
The $30 box included basil, lettuce, and fruit as well as staple root veges, broccoli, and cauli.
It was all super fresh, if you don’t mind your produce out of shape – lopsided mandarins and weeny (but still tasty) brussels sprouts.
Subscription only, but with options of weekly, fortnightly, or every 3 or 4 weeks, and the option to skip a week (handy for long weekends or holidays). Delivery across Wellington City, Porirua, and the Hutt Valley.
Reducing food waste at the farm level – much of this produce would otherwise be chucked.
Weekly posts advise what to expect so customers can pre-plan meals.
These $15 deals show that the vege box isn’t just a middle-class thing. A 2014 Cannons Creek pilot has grown to a region-wide, not-for-profit co-op that serves 1,400 households per week. Collective buying power, and members volunteering to pack, mean that great-value fruit and veg don’t have to be a luxury. Set-up costs have been supported by Regional Public Health, with admin by Wesley Community Action; co-op members’ weekly contributions cover the ongoing costs of the produce itself.
$15 box included potatoes, a whole pumpkin, carrots, broccoli, kiwifruit, pears, apples and bananas. As cheap as it gets.
Market-fresh, good-quality produce. Low on leafy greens but high on sturdy, long-lasting fruit and veg.
No delivery, but there are 35 pick-up points across the region. Members can choose one-off or recurring orders.
Minimal packaging, low waste, making fresh food available to all – plus the chance to volunteer and get involved in your local community.
One to watch, Mangaroa farms, a settlement just outside Upper Hutt, is a recent addition to the local regenerative farming scene. Vege farmer aka “growlord” Sam Gibbins is part of a wider farm operation which includes regenerative soil-building practices, sustainable animal-rearing, and reforestation projects.
The $35 bag was the only farm-box to include potatoes, and late-season tomatoes and cucumber from a large tunnel house, as well as leafy greens.
Top quality fresh produce, grown using regenerative practices. Feedback was that the tomatoes were “way better than from the supermarket.”
Currently only offering online sales of a premade bag, with pick-up from the farm in Whiteman’s Valley Rd.
Part of a regenerative farm including forest restoration, community education, and regenerative grazing.