Like grocery stores, farmers’ markets are considered “essential services” under the statewide COVID-19 shelter-in-place order, so they will remain a source of fresh produce for all. But due to social distancing guidelines under the outbreak, many regular shoppers are increasingly reluctant to make their usual rounds and left wondering where to get sustainably grown produce from our region.
That’s led to a quick spike in business for Local Harvest Delivery, a produce distribution company that brings the farm to your doorstep every Saturday with a box full of recently harvested fruits and vegetables. Founded in 2009 by Santa Barbara residents Sarah Coffman and Julie Beaumont, the company and its five employees work directly with more than two dozen farmers every week.
“We basically deliver the farmers’ market to our customers’ homes,” said Coffman. “We create harvest boxes filled with local, organic, or chemical-free produce to choose from.” Customers choose between either a small ($35) or large ($45) box, whose components can be customized depending on what’s in season. You can also add nuts, pies, cookies, jams, and other farmers’ market items to the box, or, if particularly picky, just choose everything available à la carte.
“Once everything is at the packing location, we pack customer orders and put them in our delivery vehicles,” said Coffman. “Once the boxes are done, we go out and deliver on that same day. Customers receive their box on their doorstep Saturday afternoon.”
Since last month, their typical orders jumped from about 80 to more than 200, with an exponen- tial boom in customer sign-ups. They expect that number to grow, and they are prepared to handle up to 275 boxes with the current staff but will cap the sign-ups there. As restaurants temporarily close, farmers are also in need of Local Harvest Delivery’s services more than ever, so supplying even more customers should not be a problem.
The company is implementing extreme safety measures as well. Beaumont, who handles the shopping every Saturday morning, makes sure to change clothes and take a shower before starting to pack the boxes. Employees must be in freshly laundered clothes, practice social distancing, wash hands every 20 minutes or so, wear masks, and not eat while packing. No one is allowed nearby with any potential symptoms. Delivery drivers must stay six feet away from anyone and not touch doors.
They also have advice for handling produce safely at home during this time. “One person should handle the box, take the items out in the sink, and then put the box outside or somewhere it can be stored,” said Coffman. “Then wash hands and wash produce.”
The women have never taken a salary from their business, said Beaumont, instead paying themselves weekly in fresh food over the past decade. “It’s always been about food for us, and we will continue to maintain the same value,” said Beaumont. “Our pricing guideline is to make enough for us to be sustainable as a company.”
Neither of them ever predicted their grassroots business might become such a critical cog in Santa Barbara’s food pipeline.
“Honestly, I never really imagined a crisis playing out like this,” said Coffman. “I know how important access to local healthy food is, and I see us being a bigger part in delivering the message of supporting your local community.”
“We hope to deliver hope,” said Beaumont. “Because we all need it.”
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