Ten years ago, Jeff Barry rediscovered beets.
He was living in San Francisco, and was getting vegetables delivered to his door through a service called Planet Organics.
“I started to cook with food I didn’t know how to use, and I revisited vegetables I didn’t think I liked,” he said.
It left so much of an impression that when he moved from California back to Boston, he decided to start a similar service here in the city.
He found a small network of suppliers, bought a van, created a modest website, threw together a few speadsheets, pasted fliers around neighborhoods – and voila. Boston Organics was born.
“I did my first delivery around June or July of 2002,” Barry said.
His wife took the day off from work, and they delivered organic produce to the doors of about a dozen customers. Now, Boston Organics makes more than 2,000 deliveries a week across the Boston region, with local drop offs on Tuesdays in Jamaica Plain, the Back Bay and South End; Wednesdays on Beacon Hill; Thursdays in West Roxbury; and Fridays in Charlestown.
Last weekend the organic food delivery service celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a farm-themed party fit for kids in the 10,000 square foot warehouse in Charlestown. Vegetable bins were pushed aside for haystacks and a live band, but those curious enough to peek into one of the large coolers would see stacks of lettuce and kale, spinach and chard. Another cooler contained bananas and peaches, flour and chocolate. And there’s plenty of room for goodies like coffee, eggs and cheeses that can be added onto an order.
“We to try to source as much as we can as close as possible as possible,” Barry said. “But there’s certain times of the year when we have to source outside.”
Asparagus from New York, for instance. Or apples from South America.
Unlike a community supported agriculture share (CSA) - where people pay for the whole season upfront and pick up their produce directly from a farm kiosk – Boston Organics operates more like a year-round shareholder and partners with a wide range of farms and vendors.
Customers can pay by the week – with prices starting at $24 for a box – and by specifying items they’d like to add on or not receive, they have a little bit more say in what conveniently shows up right at their doorstop.
Given people’s busy schedules, the service has become incredibly popular in dense urban areas like many of Boston’s neighborhoods – and the organic food craze hasn’t hurt.
“It’s ideal for people who aren’t willing to make that commitment to a CSA, but still want to support local growers in a meaningful way,” Barry said.
He’s gotten comments like "this is so much cheaper than going to Whole Foods," but also acknowledged that there’s a dip in the summer when the school year ends and people go on vacation, or prefer to get their produce directly from farmers markets or CSA’s.
But overall, in the last three or four years business has really taken off, he said. From Al Gore’s "An Inconvenient Truth" to Michele Obama’s White House garden – from E. coli breakouts to battling a national obesity problem - more and more people are paying attention to what they put into their bodies, Barry said.
“People are beginning to realize our food system is somewhat broken,” he said.
During the next decade, the focus for Boston Organics will be on education. Barry said he hopes to expand his delivery service to offices around the city, which is now only 5 percent of his business, and work with health insurance agencies to try to lower rates for participating employers. He'd also like to beef up his website, and do more grassroots outreach and marketing.
His hope, he said, is that more people throughout the city will see the benefit of organic food, and transform their eating habits.
“We’ll get you part of the way there,” he said. But you have to open the box.”
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