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  • FARM FRESH: Prepared Meal Delivery

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    Americans love pre-packaged, ready to eat, and fast food. Yet, the tradition of farming is helping Americans learn about eating and appreciating local food again. Farmers markets and farm to table restaurants have increased in popularity over the last decade. The natural next step is now taking hold - farm to home. People are rediscovering the nutritional benefits of eating in-season and as fresh as possible.

    Texas is leading the way with local companies combining the convenience of pre-packaged food with the nutrition of home cooking. Texas is a natural nucleus for the trend to emerge as it has the tech-driven city of Austin, the commerce-driven city of Dallas, and the country’s second most farmland. The state is also experiencing the nationwide trend of losing prime farmland to vast development.

    The modern world is constantly being redefined through the disruption of industries by tech companies who can organize and streamline a system. Airbnb has no hotels. Uber has no taxis. Blue Apron has no restaurants. Placing focus back on where your food comes from leads to the stories of local families and traditions.

    Home Delivery Meal-Kits

    Blue Apron is the most recognizable meal-kit delivery company whose service includes a weekly delivery to your door with the precise fresh ingredients customers need to make meals at home. Included in each delivery are pre-measured ingredients like fresh meat, vegetables, fruit, and spices, along with an enclosed recipe.

    A Consumer Reports survey found, “practically every person on our user panel said they liked being able to explore different flavors.” The majority of the people also said that they go to the same restaurants and make the same meals at home.

    The thrill of continuously receiving new ideas for home cooked meals clearly has a large market, which is solidified by the evidence of each company’s growth and the rapid growth of competitors. “Some consumers, especially Gen Xers and baby boomers, are driven to use the kits to escape a cuisine comfort zone,” according to Michael Joseph, founder and chief executive of Green Chef.

    Food is kept fresh by regionalizing deliveries. Blue Apron has three distribution facilities in Jersey City, San Francisco, and Dallas. Jane Westfield, a working mom, said, “I went for the discount on Blue Apron and the first try was great. This could be the answer to less food waste, clueless grocery shopping, and eating junk.” Blue Apron purchases crops from small and medium-sized farms, which according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture make up 96% of American farms. The company works directly with the farmers before the season, so they will know exactly what will be available for the recipes. Like a CSA, farmers are able to focus on their company as their product is pre-sold and no marketing or selling at Farmers Markets is needed. The arrangement does put the farmers under intense pressure to deliver. “They want more consistency [than other partners]. They want produce to look good and they want things at a certain time,” Fina Johnson, the farm manager and chief planter at Garden Harvests, a small family farm in South Texas told Forbes.

    A friend of Westfield’s argued a subscription to Blue Apron was much more wasteful than shopping at the grocery store. But, to Westfield, her lack of knowledge and recipes for a variety of spices and ingredients means she usually ends up throwing it away. No matter how hard she tries to use them, “I’m a working mom. At the end of the day, I want my son to eat healthy and I want to turn my brain off. Blue Apron gives me variety, the ability to not have to plan a menu and the confidence my son had a balanced meal.”

    Each company is working towards reducing the packaging waste each kit creates to match their food waste elimination goals. Some people are capable of long game meal planning by making scrambled eggs with the creme fraiche they bought for that meal last week. Yet, many of us are not as inventive or at home for enough meals.

    Farmhouse Delivery

    When I began researching how CSAs are developing their own delivery models for this article, I discovered Urban Acres Farmstead in Dallas. I found that their website forwarded to Farmhouse Delivery.

    Farmhouse Delivery, acquired Urban Acres Farmstead in Dallas, Texas and Austin-based Greenling Organic Delivery, in February 2016. Farmhouse Delivery serves customers in the Austin, Dallas, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and Houston areas. “To our knowledge, it’s the first and only 100% locally sourced meal kit delivery service in the country,” Amanda Cowan, Vice President of Marketing for Farmhouse Delivery.

    Farmhouse Delivery provides a platform for people to discover local farmers and easily sign-up for weekly deliveries and one-time bushel deliveries. The company differs from the larger meal-kit companies by also offering meat bushels by local ranchers and prepared meals made from the season’s ingredients directly from farmers.

    Making fresh and healthy meals affordable and convenient is a work in progress for us all. Farmhouse Delivery is continuously building their archive of recipes to give constant inspiration to their customers. Currently, there are 1,000’s available on their website.

    CSA is Community Supported Agriculture. It means that the farmers spend the off-season marketing their planned harvest before working sixteen hour days in the fields. Pre-ordering from local farmers’ harvests allow the farmers to have a cash flow during production and serve their customers.

    The customers of CSA receive their food directly from the farm, the point when the food is fresh, flavorful, and vitamin packed. The variety of foods also introduces new recipe ideas, visits to the farms, and educating children on the benefits of choosing fresh foods versus overly-processed fast foods.

    The CSA business model connects customers directly with farmers to pre-purchase crops to guarantee fresh, in-season food for the customer as well as sales and revenue for the farmer.

    Farmhouse Delivery does not require its customers to pay upfront like a CSA and operates somewhere between a CSA and a meal-kit delivery company. The basic membership, the Bushel, delivers fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers. They also offer add-on options for delivery like dairy, pasture-raised meats, all-natural pantry supplies, and a curated selection of hand-crafted, prepared foods.

    Elizabeth Wilson owned her own restaurant for years and loved creating recipes for locally grown foods. Elizabeth teamed up with Stephanie Scherzer, an urban farmer in Austin, to found Farmhouse. The company began to showcase all of the organic food that was available in their area. Three years into the venture, they expanded to Houston. Elizabeth and Stephanie took on the marketing component for the dozens of family-run farms that used their program. Stephanie continued her two-acre farm and Elizabeth began adding recipes to each delivery.

    "It's not the cooking that's daunting," explained Elizabeth. "It's the planning and the shopping and the inspiration." Each of Elizabeth’s recipes are designed to have the meal on the table within 30 minutes.

    Farmhouse Delivery also balances the pricing for each bushel. “The farmers set their own prices. So, we can balance pricey things from one farm -- like some really extraordinary snow peas -- with less expensive items," she added.

    Farmhouse Delivery hosts potlucks, cooking classes, and happy hours for eaters and farmers alike to mingle and get to know each other. Jan, a member, said, “I ate the little red tomato upon unloading my box, with just a sprinkle of sea salt and a smear of olive oil. I'd forgotten what tomatoes are supposed to taste like.”

    Eating Deep

    Eating locally and planning meals around what is available from our local farmers is difficult for the average person. If it wasn’t, meal-kit delivery services wouldn’t exist. We wouldn’t keep the fast food and casual dining restaurants in business either.

    Farmhouse Delivery makes buying local foods easy, and then they make it even easier by offering locally made prepared foods available for delivery. The prepared foods are produced by local companies that source locally. This local supply chain means that even the frozen pizza in the freezer could be made with ingredients from the area.

    Frozen Pizza the Hard Way

    Bola Pizza calls their pizzas, “Frozen Pizza the Hard Way.” Christian and Jamie Bowers were food bloggers who regularly hosted Tuesday night pizza parties. They had always dreamed of making a living from making pizza. One day they purchased a wood-fired oven from Italy, mounted it on a custom trailer and quit their jobs. Bola Pizza was born and named in honor of their dog who also serves as the official crust taste tester.

    Each pizza dough is made through a three-day, cold fermentation process that they say, “yields a crispy, yet chewy crust.” All of their pizzas are also made with organic crushed tomato sauce, hormone-free cheeses, and the highest quality mostly local ingredients.

    They offer five of their frozen pizzas through the Farmhouse Delivery service. The Truffle Daisy pizza looks amazing. It’s a twist on the classic Margherita pizza. Instead of basil, it is covered with black truffle oil.

    Local Mac & Cheese

    DellaCasa Pasta was founded by Luisa, a mother who wanted to serve the best foods to her family. She says, “more often than not, the best I could find at the supermarket was foods filled with ingredients I can not even pronounce. I do not want my kids putting them in their mouths.”

    She did research in order to find foods that she could cook for her children. She found that nearly everything was overly processed and packed with artificial ingredients, preservatives, chemicals, and hormones. At the end of her research, she believed that the root cause of our health problems are the food that we eat.

    Louisa started making fresh pasta and sharing it with her friends. She says that her pasta developed a following and a business started to develop. DellaCasa Pasta sells more than ten types of pasta through Farmhouse Delivery and several pasta sauces, too. I love a great mac and cheese because it’s a dish that can be enjoyed by more than children. DellaCasa’s Macaroni and Cheese uses traditional techniques and all natural ingredients to make fresh egg macaroni and extra ridges help the cheddar béchamel sauce stick to the noodles.

    Local May Not Be Easy… At First

    On September 22, 1960, United States Senator John F. Kennedy took the stage at the National Plowing Contest in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The future President aptly stated, “For the farmer is the only man in our economy who has to buy everything he buys at retail - sell everything he sells at wholesale - and pay the freight both ways.” If we want to protect our food supply, we need to invest in our supply chain. We need to help the farmers each season and balance the economy that John F. Kennedy spoke about; for our community and for our farmers.

    Develop a relationship with the farmers who grow your food and learn more about how food is grown. If you don’t have a local CSA, start a discussion with your neighbors and friends about offering to buy a share from a local farmer.

    You can only change the world through defiance. The greatest defiance is wholly sticking to who you are and holding the same expectations of others. Expectations will lead to tradition and ultimately change.

    At the end of the day, what you put in your mouth and your child’s mouth determines their health in the coming decades. Food is the cornerstone of life.