Let me tell you about my farmers.
Tragically, no, I don’t control my own fiefdom. The farmers in question are producers for, and partners of, Farmers to You, a farm-to-table direct grocer experiment in which we participate.
I call it an experiment because they are still tweaking their business model. I’m bringing it up today because our farmers are asking for our help.
We’ve been buying what we can from Farmers To You for several years. Essentially, I see it as an online version of the farmers’ market. Unlike a CSA, which we tried before but found too prescriptive, Farmers to You doesn’t dictate what we buy. Instead, each member family makes an agreement to spend a certain amount of money every week. This relatively constant level of spending is insurance for 83 partner farmers that there will be a market for their produce.
Most of my friends who participate in CSAs are health-conscious eaters or foodies. Without a doubt, buying local food means buying fresher food; buying heirloom varietals means eating better tasting fruits and vegetables. I’m pleased about these qualities in my food, but I’m also buying from the regional New England foodshed because I care about food security.
New England currently has 4 million acres of farmland; feeding New England’s population would require 16 million acres. Preserving farmland in every region of America serves as a buffer against catastrophic events elsewhere disrupting our food supply. It protects jobs and a traditional way of life that benefits local families and generates tourism. Farms also preserve green spaces and—especially in the case of farms managed with organic or integrated pest management methods—provide habitat for native species driven out of crowded urban and suburban areas.
Being a partner family with Farmers to You is easy. You can sign up online. There’s no fee. You only pay for the food you choose.
Update your order online over the weekend. If you don’t log on and make changes, you’ll get available products you ordered the week before. Orders are delivered to set locations—schools, churches, and other community spaces—on either Wednesday or Thursday at a set time. (The site you choose determines your day and time of pick up.) You go to your chosen site during the assigned hours and pick up a shopping bag already filled with the food you selected online. Unless you care to socialize, you can be in and out in just a few minutes. You might want to linger, though. The site hosts tend to be friendly and interesting people.
Oh yeah, and they have home and office delivery available in most close-in areas around Boston. You can be busy and still eat fresh, local food. It will be delivered by human-powered bicycle/truck in partnership with Metro Pedal Power.
Yes, sometimes in the dead of winter, I find it less enticing to fill my cart. We eat apples, but not as many of the storage vegetables like potatoes. That’s when I add a bag of dried beans, a bottle of 100% pure cranberry juice, or some real maple syrup to meet my minimum. I’ve never found it hard to find something my family would eat with this system. We used to throw away some of the mandatory vegetables when we were members of a CSA; we got stuff we just wouldn’t eat, and occasionally didn’t get around to giving it away before it wilted.
As I said, precisely what you put in your online shopping cart is up to you. Farmers to You offers the obvious fruits and vegetables, but also locally sourced meats, dairy, eggs, baked goods, and pantry items. They’ve added some not-quite-local extras like coffee (regionally roasted) and nuts (regionally packaged) to meet the desires of member families. Farmers to You doesn’t replace my regular grocery run, but it does prevent needing a mid-week trip to stock up on fresh vegetables and bread.
And speaking of bread… Having a loaf of Red Hen Baking Co. Whole Wheat bread arrive in our kitchen on Wednesday evening is our favorite treat. This is the slow-risen, naturally leavened staff of life Michael Pollan was talking about in Cooked. I’m not likely to make a bakery run on a school night, but an infusion of fresh food mid-week is well-timed and much appreciated.
In order to keep this model sustainable, Farmers to You is looking to expand the number of enrolled families, increase the size of the average order, and raise additional capital from investors. They’re asking all of us—the member families—to spread the word.
If you’d like to learn more about our experience with Farmers to You, let me know in the comments. Do you shop your local farmers’ market? Are you a member of a CSA? How and why do you buy locally produced food?