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Farm to Table

On the fine Thursday morning of October 24, at 9:12, FedEx delivered our first box of produce from Misfits Market. Three hours later, I canceled our subscription to the service. 

I felt bad about it. 

Misfits Market’s appeal hit me right where I live: “Always Fresh, Sometimes Normal.” Who could resist “a subscription box of misfit fruits and vegetables” looking to find a good home?  

I have been an occasional contributor to Feeding America since it was known as America’s Second Harvest, so I was also enticed by Misfit’s promise, “We are dedicated to breaking the cycle of food waste.” Such waste, they report (but cite no source), “generates 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually, making it one of the single biggest contributors to planet-harming emissions.”  

Misfits’ business model is simplicity itself, stating they source fresh, organic produce farms and stores can’t sell. They let customers choose their own box size and delivery frequency, too. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to open our own Misfits box when it arrived at our door.

Cool! 

When my fabulous bride, DebbieMiller, saw the Misfits box, her response was immediate: “COOL!” Her artist and pop-culture scholar aesthetics were pleasingly stirred by the slightly misshapen, bulgy typeface, the bright yellow and green fruit-vegetable representations and the polka-dots splashed upon the cubic brown box. 

As I grabbed the cool box to take it into the kitchen, I thought, “This feels a little light.” The small box promised 10-13 pounds of fruits and vegetables, yet it didn’t feel quite that heavy. On the other hand, we had been heaving boxes of books and LPs around for the last several months, so maybe my sense of what a box should weigh had been skewed. 

The Unboxing

Upon opening, I saw live and in person one of Misfits’ big selling points — insistently, aggressively, eco-friendly packaging. Their insulation is “100% curbside recyclable.” It’s basically a fluffy, brown-paper pulp, sandwiched between two thin sheets of recyclable plastic. 

Our shipment also included some green, rubbery-feeling bags. Not plastic, though — it’s a  plant-based resin compound. It’s reusable, of course, and fully compostable. I tossed it in our compost bin to see how quickly it returns to nature. 

Our shipment also had a couple of “drain friendly” ice packs along for the ride, made with a mix of water and sucrose. My cursory research indicates this is not an especially exotic technology, but I suppose our drains need all the friends they can get. 

The big news, environmentally, is that Misfits Market has entirely eliminated the use of polystyrene foam, more commonly known as Styrofoam™. As recipients of medicines and Omaha Steaks know, these practically indestructible units have been a fixture of refrigerated delivery for decades, and they probably will remain a popular choice for years to come, despite the best efforts of conscientious public citizens like the Misfits gang. 

To the Food

Making the eco-conscious sojourn with the refrigerant and the packaging were four apples, three round, apple-sized pears, a bunch of celery, a baseball-sized head of purple leaf lettuce, a softball-sized head of cabbage, two green bell peppers, two medium-sized squash, three red onions, about two cups of mild green chilis, a quart or so of new potatoes, four limes, and a smallish but handsome eggplant. 

Is that a lot of food for 22 bucks plus $4.50 shipping? It’s hard for me to say. What’s the relative cost per lime out of 12 pounds of produce? Still, Misfits Market assures their produce is up to 40% cheaper than grocery store prices. There must be a way to confirm or deny that, but it’s far beyond my feeble mathematical skills. 

Proof of the Pudding

“Presentation is everything” is a watchword among foodies, so any business selling odd or blemished veggies is at an unavoidable disadvantage. I can say, though, the quality of the food was excellent. 

The celery had plenty of snap even after a few days in the hydrator, along with a deep, warm flavor more reminiscent of celery seed than a standard stalk. The leaf lettuce made a nice lunch and didn’t need any dressing to taste flavorful. The limes were some of the best I’ve ever had — a perfect blend of sweet and sour, with very little bitterness. The real standout items were the three round pears, which were astonishingly flavorful and juicy, with satisfyingly thick skins to chomp through. 

The celery, bell peppers, squash, red onions, chilis and eggplant came together to make a splendidly rustic accompaniment to some roasted chicken thighs and baked russet potatoes.

But is it all worth the money and effort? Hence my decision to cancel. What’s a fair price for a lime, anyway? 

Local Options

Misfits Market operates out of Philadelphia and has only recently begun delivering to the Huntsville area. There are plenty of similar local options, they just aren’t quite so cleverly packaged and marketed. 

The Greene Street Market at Nativity is one of Huntsville’s best-known outdoor markets, located at the corner of Greene Street and Eustis Avenue, downtown. They are open on Thursdays — rain or shine — from the first Thursday in May through the last Thursday in October, with holiday markets before Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Huntsville Hospital’s Healthworks offers a farmers market on their downtown campus from April through October.

Ayers Farm Farmers Market is located at 1022 Cook Avenue, neighboring Krispy Kreme doughnuts and a venerable 24-hour Krystal. They feature local honey, pumpkins and produce grown on Amish farms in Ethridge, Tennessee, 70 miles northwest of Huntsville. Unlike many farmers markets, they keep regular hours — 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. 

A number of Huntsville restaurants adhere to the  Farm-to-Table philosophy. Five Points’ 1892 East is probably the best-known venue. Cyn Shea’s Café is also a leader in the field, and her non-profit Serving Hope is working with farmers, suppliers, and the Farm Food Collaborative to feed 1,000 kids a day through the Boys and Girls Clubs of North Alabama

North Alabama is doing its part to make fresh foods more directly accessible from the farm. It’s early going in a worthy aim that stands to benefit lots of different people in lots of different ways, locally and globally. 

All of which got me pondering: Is Misfits Market really too expensive? What’s a box of organic mixed vegetables worth, anyway? What are we really paying for when we buy our food? Is anything I’m doing really helping to promote responsible, sustainable agriculture?

Research is ongoing, but given a little more deliberation, I may reverse my decision on canceling our subscription to Misfits Market. There’s a lot to be said for businesses with their hearts in the right place. It’s probably worth a little extra time, effort and money to support them. And I’m with DebbieMiller — those green-and-yellow boxes are pretty darned splashy. 

About the author

Brad Hall

Brad Hall

Brad Hall is a pastor and the author of "Lousy Roger and Other Tales: A collection of Lectionary-based Sermons," available on Amazon.com. In 2014, after 27 years of courtship, he married pop culture scholar Deborah Ann Miller. They share a place with two dogs, Scotty and Demitasse, and two cats, Quirkie and Brucie.

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