Pictured from left: Kate Donald (Stout Oak Farm), Greg Balog (Heron Pond Farm), Andre Cantelmo (Heron Pond Farm), and Josh Jennings (Meadow's Mirth Farm).
Since 2014, Three Rivers Farm Alliance has connected wholesalers and producers, providing locally-sourced food to restaurants in the Seacoast region. When the pandemic closed down restaurants, Three Rivers’ customer base disappeared overnight, forcing the owners to make a quick pivot to delivering directly to consumers.
Although the pandemic hit just as winter was lifting in New Hampshire, the roughly 40 farmers and producers in the alliance already had seeds started and growing plans in place, said Kate Donald, owner of Stout Oak Farm in Brentwood and co-owner of Three River Farmers Alliance. In “a matter of days,” the owners decided to launch Veggie-Go, a local food delivery service. Within the first week, they made 500 deliveries.
“With farmers markets cancelled, we thought, how else can we reach people who are going to be looking to get food for us?” Donald said. “We helped them solve the problem of ‘I want local food but don’t want to venture out.’”
Three Rivers Farm Alliance was able to get Veggie-Go up and running so quickly because they already had the infrastructure for food delivery in place. They used the same refrigerated trucks and ordering software, but delivered directly to consumers, rather than to wholesalers and restaurants.
Initially, Veggie-Go was available on the Seacoast, including areas of Maine and Massachusetts. Then, the service expanded into Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts, where many of the Three Rivers Farm Alliance members typically attend farmers markets. Because they had an existing relationship with those customers, the farmers were keen to keep connected. More recently, the service has expanded into Manchester and Concord.
Last week, Veggie-Go delivered to 600 homes and 40 restaurants. Although restaurant demand is picking back up, Three Rivers Farm Alliance plans to keep direct-to-consumer delivery as a permanent, year-round option.
“It’s here to stay,” Donald said. “We’ve found another way to stay connected to customers. Our goal is to help the network of farmers we’re working with find ways to be able to sell their products and stay connected with the consumer.”
Unlike a CSA program, where customers have little control over the food they receive, Veggie-Go allows customers to order by item, so they can shape exactly what they want, from the types of fruits and vegetables to meat, breads and dairy.
Three Rivers Farm Alliance let customers make a cash donation during the ordering process to bring local food to people in need. Although donations have always been an important part of the organization, Donald was floored when the alliance received more than $40,000 in cash donations from customers. The funds were used to pay farmers for items that were donated to local food pantries. Donald said that customers who value local food are eager to pay it forward.
“They’re getting access to good food and they want their whole community to have access to that food,” she said.
Many farmers went into the pandemic facing uncertainties about their business, but Donald said that working together to launch Veggie-Go and problem solve on the fly has brought the local agriculture community even closer together.
“This has been really good team-building experience,” she said. “That feels really good -- like we’re building resiliency for the future as well.”
This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops, to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.