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With restaurants closed, local farms team up to bring their extra produce to your front door

Uploaded: Apr 27, 2020
The rhubarb is just starting to come in at Happy Quail Farms in East Palo Alto, and cucumbers and peppers are around the corner.

But the customers that would normally be buying up the majority of the farm's produce — restaurants — have dropped off significantly during the coronavirus, with dining rooms shuttered or operating in a limited capacity throughout the Bay Area.

Andreas Winsberg, who grew up helping his father David run Happy Quail Farms and is now the cofounder of 409 + Co, a digital design and branding agency, stepped in with an idea: a cooperative box that would get produce from small, local farms struggling to sustain sales directly to customers who need fresh food.

"I recognized that the average farmer either lacks the time or the money to set up a comprehensive online platform to ameliorate the loss of sales that COVID created," said Andreas. "We got to work, hoping to build something that could connect farmers to their customers."


A selection of fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms in a recent Farm Co-Op Box. Photo courtesy Andreas Winsberg.

They partnered with several local farms to launch the Farm Co-Op Box earlier this month -- including Brokaw Ranch, Swanton's Berry Farm, McGinnis Ranch, Farwest Fungi and Marshall's Honey -- and used his agency's website to build out online ordering and customization options. Customers can pick the boxes up at local farmers markets or opt for home delivery, provided by Andreas and his partner for a $20 fee (a time- and labor-intensive effort that made him realize why it would be virtually impossible for most small farmers to offer it on their own).

They also added a donation option for customers to support San Francisco Food Runners, which picks up excess food from businesses to feed people in need.

Three weeks in, the boxes have generated about $5,000 in business for the farms, which is "starting to replicate the normal demand from restaurants," and fed about 250 people through donations to Food Runners, Andreas said.

The curated boxes come in two sizes, small ($35, for one to two people) and large ($55), and include fresh fruit and vegetables that change weekly depending on what's in season and available (this week's box includes snap peas, strawberries, chard and artichokes). Customers can now add on specialty and seasonal items such as Happy Quail Farms smoky cayenne sauce, wild strawberries, eggs, Wise Goat Organics kimchi and fresh ravioli from The Pasta Shop in Oakland.

They later added the option of ordering a box of goods from La Cocina, a San Francisco nonprofit that supports food entrepreneurs of color. The boxes change weekly to highlight items from different La Cocina businesses.

They priced the produce boxes thoughtfully to make participating sustainable for small farms, Andreas said.

"Similar cooperative farm boxes have been established in the past, such as Good
Eggs, but they ask farmers to sell their goods at up to 30% off of the market price in order to keep profits high," he said. "While this system works for larger farms that can cope with slimmer margins, smaller farms that need to charge higher prices to stay afloat are unable to participate.

"Our box is not the cheapest one out there, but we do business with smaller farms, and we pay the farmers exactly what they'd like to get for their produce when they sell it directly at a farmer's market," he added.

The co-op box started as a "side gig" to help Happy Quail Farms. But it's meeting needs that aren't likely to go away soon for both farms and consumers impacted by the Bay Area's stay-at-home order.

"It may have legs to become something much bigger," Andreas said.

Weekly orders for the boxes must be placed by Wednesday at midnight. For more information, go to farmbox.409.co.
We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?

Comments

 +   5 people like this
Posted by Marc, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 27, 2020 at 9:06 am

I took a quick look and many of the items have no size (weight or volume) so you have no idea what $18 for maple bacon will get you. Or $12.00 for blueberries, is that a pint, quart?

marc


 +   6 people like this
Posted by 409 + Co | Farm Box, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Apr 28, 2020 at 9:43 am

Hi Mark,

Thanks for pointing that out. We've been rolling out the project slowly and have been adding the weights as quickly as we can. We've gone ahead and updated the volume of the products in the titles of each item. Feel free to check out the site again!


 +   3 people like this
Posted by esk, a resident of Community Center,
on Apr 28, 2020 at 1:01 pm

esk is a registered user.

We loved our box last week and look forward to the one this week. Last week the berries that were add ons were $12 for a 3 pack like you get at the farmers market. Highly recommend the box for the freshness of the products.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Karin, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 29, 2020 at 6:59 pm

The box is packed with care and love: that much is evident. While you order what you want -- the add ons are a great idea--, when it arrives at your door, delivered by cheery people, it's like getting a present! It also feels great to support local farmers and the Food Runners in San Francisco. For those who want to know, the Food Runners is a program that has been operating for at least 20 years. Part of how they feed folks who cannot provide for themselves is that they would collect the left overs from banquets and office lunches in the city. Those are gone so the FR were delighted to see their food supplies increase with donations from 409.Co' boxes. Keep up the good work and thank you!


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