Chelsea Gubbins stood in her kitchen in East Lyme, Conn., overlooking a box of freshly picked spinach, radishes, dumpling squash, and other fall vegetables, wowed that just 24 hours before, most of them had still been in the ground.
“Oh, it’s awesome,” she said, lifting from the box a head of broccoli and “the cutest little container” of cherry tomatoes, all of which were delivered to her door that day by the US Postal Service. “Whenever you don’t have to go to the grocery store, it’s a plus.”
The vegetables—fresh from White Gate Farm, also in East Lyme—came to Gubbins’ door as part of a WWF program called Farmers Post, which is being piloted by the local platform Healthy PlanEat, whose founder, Rosemary Ostfeld, secured grants from the USDA and the Entrepreneurship Foundation to fund the project. The pilot provides same-day or next-day delivery of orders of fresh-picked vegetables.
The concept of a fresh box of locally grown produce is not new; farms have been participating in Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs for years, where consumers subscribe to a monthly or seasonal service. But CSA programs usually include consumers going to the farm to pick up their box. Other farm-to-table services sometimes deliver, either by the farm itself or through a logistics service.
But Farmers Post makes use of a delivery that is made to nearly every address in the country every day, by the US Postal Service, which ships Farmers Post deliveries through its USPS Connect Local program. Though that program generally delivers to a single zip code, Farmers Post is also exploring options for expanded shipping areas.
“We’ve had some customers ask if we do a CSA,” said Dan Wood, the farm manager at White Gate, which also operates its own onsite farmstand and sells to wholesale accounts like schools. “But I don’t think anyone could fathom that we could come directly to their door.”
Relying on local sources of food cuts down on the additional heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions caused by cross-country shipping of farm products grown elsewhere. “We’re trying to feed ourselves here, where we are,” said Susan Mitchell, owner of Cloverleigh Farms, a UDSA-certified organic farm in Columbia, Conn., that has participated in the Farmers Post pilot. “And I need to sell more product, so we’re always looking for new channels to sell through.”
In addition to adding convenience for consumers, Farmers Post can help to eliminate food loss. Each year, an estimated 10 million tons of specialty crops—a third of what’s grown in the US—never get harvested or make it off the farm, accounting for about 16% of total US food loss and waste.
Though nascent, the program is already attracting other nearby growers, like Muddy Roots Farm in Wallingford, Conn. Kirsten Marra, who owns and tends the eight-acre farm with her husband, Chris Wellington, plans on starting to ship vegetables through Farmers Post next year.
“As a farmer, I want the best possible product arriving at the consumer’s door,” Marra said. “To do that, it has to get there as fast as possible.”
After packing a set of boxes with the day’s orders, Wood drops them off at the local post office. If he gets them there early, by about 7 a.m., they will be delivered within that zip code the same day. Otherwise, the package is delivered the following day.
“Farming is kind of like cooking for a big group—there’s always a little bit of overshooting,” Wood said. “This is helping us to get right on the money, using almost 100% of what we grow and harvest. Not a lot of farms can say that.”
Farmers Post makes use of the US Postal Service to make same-day or next-day delivery of orders of fresh-picked vegetables. The program can help eliminate food waste and cut down on heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.