By Elena Kadvany
With restaurants closed, local farms team up to bring their extra produce to your front doorUploaded: 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.