Bostonians have been buying local farm food ever since horse-drawn wagons set up shop at Haymarket in the 1830s. Now, in a more modern approach, some businesses are delivering produce and meats from New England orchards and farms directly to the homes of city dwellers.
The concept behind these farm-to-family services, which include Graze, Farmers to You, and South Shore Organics, is simple: customers order online, and trucks or vans bring the food once a week. Staples like milk, cheeses, eggs, and meats can be ordered year-round, depending on availability. Winter produce is limited to what’s available in greenhouses and cold storage, but spring will bring herbs, asparagus, and hardy greens.
Those involved in this relatively new business model - these companies started in the past two years - say the deliveries benefit everyone. Prices tend to be a dollar or two higher per item than at a farmers’ market or natural foods store, though delivery is free. For example, a pound of organic ground beef goes for $8 at Graze (grass-fed ground beef at a local Whole Foods Market was $7.29 per pound last week) and a half-gallon of organic whole milk is $5 from Farmers to You ($3.79 at Whole Foods). South Shore Organics sells baskets of produce that range in price from $35 to $50.
“It’s been a lifesaver,’’ says Judy Harris, a Weston resident who orders weekly deliveries from Graze’s Vermont-based suppliers. “It’s cut down tremendously on my trips to the grocery store. Now I just go once a week or so.’’
The model benefits small food producers, too.
“Farming is one of the most difficult professions because you work with that lovely partner, Mother Nature, who is always throwing you a curveball,’’ says Calais, Vt.-based Greg Georgaklis, founder of Farmers to You, which delivers from about 25 farms in his region. “We’re trying to assist farmers who have really high-quality food and want to expand their market, but can’t do it by themselves. We connect them directly to families who want what they offer.’’
Pam Denholm started South Shore Organics in part because she knew many people who worked in Boston and didn’t have time to shop at farmers’ markets or pick up Community Supported Agriculture farm shares. All South Shore Organics orders start with a basket of assorted seasonal produce, but customers can specify by size and type the fruits or vegetables they want.
South Shore Organics also works with about 20 to 25 local growers, many in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
“We let each one play to its strengths. One may be a phenomenal greens grower, or another just makes milk, cheese, and yogurt. That way we can offer a wide spectrum of goodies,’’ says Denholm.
All three businesses provide recipes on their websites to help customers navigate unfamiliar produce or ingredients, or just offer ways to make food taste good. But there is also a huge demand for prepared foods, breads, and baked goods using farm ingredients. Apple pies, made right at the orchard and still warm when someone slides them onto the delivery trucks, seem to be a favorite at Farmers to You. South Shore Organics plans to add baked goods, bread, and meat this spring.
Marcy Pomerance, Boston area market director for Graze, says the company originally expected to sell mostly meats, milk, and cheeses. Yet customers kept asking for prepared foods. Now, the company offers meal kits such as “Salad for Dinner,’’ which in early spring might include roasted beets, an apple, grilled Vermont-raised chicken breast, and balsamic vinaigrette, along with freshly picked mixed greens. Chili comes in a microwave-safe container with shredded Vermont cheddar on the side. Graze’s groceries also include New England specialty foods such as maple popcorn, chocolate-mint cookies, and granola.
Denholm says the clientele at South Shore Organics represents a wide range.
“We have young people who are coming out of college, young, married couples, moms with families who are concerned about their children’s health, and the older generations who grew up with farms,’’ she says. “I’m encouraged by the shape that the local food movement is taking.’’
Farmers to Youdelivers to specific locations in Greater Boston, including Jamaica Plain, Cambridge, and Beverly. Parents at the Waldorf School of Lexington arranged for a drop-off in the school’s parking lot once a week. The company will add more stops if enough customers get together and make a request. www.farmerstoyou.com, 802-225-6383.
Grazedelivers to Boston’s western suburbs. www.grazedelivered.com, 888-934-7293.
South Shore Organics’territory extends from Quincy to Plymouth. www.southshoreorganics.com, 781-536-8861.