By Reggie Ellis
IVANHOE-This Friday you may see some of your neighbors or coworkers getting special deliveries of fresh produce delivered right to their doorstep or office.
March 4 is the first day that Family Farm Fresh, based in Ivanhoe, will deliver half-bushel boxes of fruits and vegetables and herbs hand-picked less then 24 hours prior to delivery.
Family Farm Fresh President Bob McKeller said a group of 13 local growers, including his own citrus ranch in Ivanhoe, will choose at least 12 items each week to include in the boxes. "We won't know what we will include until we find out what's ripe that week. All fruits or vegetables included will be ripe and ready to eat."
For example, during the winter months, customers may receive oranges, apples, avocados, basil, broccoli, brussel-sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cilantro, lettuce, radishes, shallots, asparagus, onions, turnips, squash, tomatoes, lemons, grapefruit, mandarins, tangerines, kiwis, pears, persimmons, potatoes, spinach, greens, pistachios and olives. Wow! Quite a package!
To offer such a wide variety, McKeller has partnered with 12 other Central Valley growers including Visalia City Councilman Greg Kirkpatrick and Assemblyman Bill Maze. McKeller took over the family farm in Ivanhoe for his mother in 1977. McKeller Farms has been growing citrus in Ivanhoe since Hugh and Vernice McKeller started the farm in 1927.
All the fruit is picked on Thursday evening, packed at McKeller's farm on Friday morning and delivered throughout the day on Friday.
"Fruit at the grocery store, even locally grown fruit, travels an average of 1,500 miles," McKeller said. "They pick it here, pack it here, ship it to Los Angeles and then truck them back to be sold the grocery stores."
When their mother passed away two years ago at 102 years old, McKeller and his sister Noreen March, a retired educator in Reedley, decided they had to do something else to make the farm more profitable.
The two started with an informal survey mailed to about 100 random people last summer. Twenty-five of the 26 respondents were excited about the idea of having fresh produce delivered to them. He then purchased a booth at the Visalia Chamber of Commerce's business showcase, called Octoberfest, and within several hours had signed up 59 people who said they were interested in home or office delivery. "I was inspired by that number."
McKeller said it is ideal for people who are too busy to go to the grocery store each week or get fresh produce from farmers markets.
"I fully support farmers markets but some people just don't have the time to go," McKeller said. "It seems like people get busier every year."
In ag circles, farm to home delivery is referred to as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, CSA farms range from 3 to 300 acres and provide food for 10 to more than 200 households. CSA farms are highly diversified, usually growing more than 40 different vegetables, herbs, and fruits. Some farms also supply meat, eggs, honey, and other products. CSA is perhaps best known for how it fosters connections between urbanites and farmers.
"I think it is just as important to know who your local farmer is than to know your doctor or mechanic," McKeller said.
Customers pay $27 for a Light Box with produce for two people each week. You must sign up for at least four weeks. If you sign up for 13 weeks there is a 5% discount on the weekly price, 26 weeks a 10% discount and 52 weeks a 15% discount, or an annual fee of $1,404. There is also Family Box, enough for a family of four, and a Large Family Box, enough for six people. Family Box prices are about $36 per week or $1,872 a year. Large Family Box prices are $46 per week or $2,392 a year. McKeller cites in his membership form that every dollar you spend with Family Family Farm Fresh goes to the farmers. A farmer may only see 20 cents on the dollar from sales at a supermarket.
"It's a simple concept," McKeller said. "Taste is the biggest difference and you notice it as soon as you bit into it. Because it hasn't been off the tree for a few days it still keeps the vitamins, nutrients and fibers your body needs."
For more information on Family Farm Fresh call 798-0557 or visit the website at www.familyfarmfresh.com. For more information on Community Supported Agriculture go to http://www.cias.wisc.edu.