A CSA That’s A Cut Above

Baia Nicchia's unusual varieties of fall/winter squash.

If your New Year’s resolution includes eating more healthful, you just might want to make good on that by joining a CSA.

For a community supported agriculture program that’s a cut above the rest, look no further than Baia Nicchia’s. Fred Hempel, a geneticist turned farmer who owns the 9 1/2-acre Baia Nicchia Farm in Sunol, provides a weekly box of his fresh fruit, veggies and herbs to you. You pay $30 a week, but end up getting $35 or more worth of produce.

Recently, I had a chance to sample a couple of boxes and what a culinary treasure trove they were. Included was a brilliant rainbow of winter squash — from the deep orange-hued French Potimarron to the dusty peach-colored Kikuza (an heirloom Japanese variety) to the large pale creamsicle Terremoto to the haunting pale blue Australian Triamble that can be stored up to two years. Additionally, there was a bunch of my fave lacinato kale, as well as sweet Scotch Blue kale, peppery Dutch arugula, spigarello (a broccoli rabe relative), baby turnips, sprigs of pungent orange balsam thyme and fragrant yuzu.

Baia Nicchia supplies to top Bay Area restaurants (including Marché in Menlo Park), so Hempel will often include some fun, unusual items in his CSA boxes that he grows primarily for chefs, such as edible chrysanthemum and amazing finger limes. Because he operates a nursery, he sometimes includes seedlings as well, such as mustard greens that you can pot in your backyard and snip all winter long to enhance salads and stir-fry dishes.

Japanese yuzu.

To make his produce boxes more well rounded, Hempel even includes citrus and other fruit from fellow growers such as Twin Girls Farm, Kashiwase Farms and Lu-Mien Village Farms. He’s also starting to dry herbs to make his own tea blends, so a tin of his latest might be tucked inside the CSA box, as well.

Sweet beet greens.

“Our target is people who care about food and like to experiment,” Hempel says of his CSA program. “We offer some standard things every week, but also some chef-like things to expand people’s horizons.”

Baia Nicchia offers customers some flexibility in what goes in their boxes, too. For instance, in the summer, when the farm grows more than 30 different types of tomatoes, as well as a variety of melons and peppers, you can request mostly tomatoes if you so choose. Or in the winter, when the farm produces specialty greens, root vegetables and distinctive squashes, you can ask for particular varieties to be included.

Spigarello to saute with olive oil and garlic.

Chrysanthemum to toss into salads or garnish soups.

In winter and summer, pick up your weekly box on Sundays at Baia Nicchia’s stand at the Menlo Park farmers market. Or on Wednesdays year-round in front of the Jazz Cafe in Sunol.

Then, get ready to cross one resolution off of your list.

More: How Baia Nicchia Creates a New Tomato for Marché Restaurant

More: A Convenient Way To Get Fresh Produce Delivered to Your Front Door

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  • What splendid produces!

    Happy New Year!



  • Wish I lived in the area, that CSA does sound fantastic! I’m still looking for a decent one around here…wish me luck! 🙂

  • I don’t know if I’d be amazed or scared if I saw that blue squash at my doorsteps. 😉 I love the idea of a fresh farm box, but I just can’t figure out how to eat everything in it by myself. I still just trot out to the farmers market.

  • Nice photos! I grew Musquee de Provence pumpkin last year and was delighted with the results…great for pumpkin soup.

    Here in Kentucky, Cushaw is also a traditional winter squash which is on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste. My search for cushaw seed was an event that spawned my own blog. Here’s the cushaw link http://www.friendsdriftinn.com/gardening/cushaws-rock.html

  • I have been toying with the idea of joining a CSA for some time…..hmmm…but I may miss my grocery shopping to pick my own stuff! :O

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  • what gorgeous squash. wish i lived closer to this farm!

  • I love that this CSA carries more unsual items. That was my only beef when I had a vegetable/fruit CSA – the items were very pedestrian. Besides wanting to support local agriculture, trying new things was another one of my goals and it didn’t really happen.

  • Beautiful, fresh produce like these make me want to head to the kitchen and prepare a spectacular and healthy meal.

  • Sounds and looks like a wonderful CSA! I used to live in Menlo Park, but it’s a bit far now…

  • The photo of the squash is gorgeous!! However I don’t think the pale peach one is kikuza. I am DYING to know what it is, however!! It is beautiful. And your blog is great 🙂

  • Hi Marianne,

    You’re right. The peach one is not Kikuza, it is Terremoto (an original from our farm)

    There is a post on our blog about it (Dec 9).

    A Kikuza is barely visible in the lower right of Food Gal’s photo.

  • Fred Hempel is making me feel like a farm groupie 🙂

    With no offense to your photographer, Fred, I wouldn’t have guessed that they were the same! Thank goodness for bees. It almost seems like they know what they’re doing. I had a strange green “pumpkin” crop up in my garden this year and let it go (much like I did everything else) and I carved one up for Halloween and it happened to be too thick-fleshed to carve without hurting myself, so I threw it in the oven and it was spectacular. Much better than any of its parents that I’d grown the year before, even! Maybe it was just the weather or the llama manure, but it seemed like a small miracle to me 😀

  • Actually, I meant the Kikuza as the pale peach orb in the corner, but I obviously need to know my color descriptions better. LOL
    By the way, I roasted one of the Kikuza over the weekend, basted with melted butter and maple syrup. It was incredible. The skin got super tender, too, just like you said, Fred, so it was entirely edible.

  • I love supporting local farms; it’s a win-win situation. They get support, you get fresh produce (that blue squash is cute too!).

  • My mom belongs to a CSA in the Bay Area and it’s so much fun when I come to visit and she is cooking up some new adventure. It’s because of the CSA that she now knows how to cook kale and exotic squash and purple broccoli. She’s constantly looking online for directions on how to prepare these new-to-her vegetables.

    One day I’ll join a CSA, too. For now, it’s too many veggies for me to use up before the next batch arrives. But I totally take advantage of my mom’s membership!

  • I wish there was something like that closer to me in San Jose!

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