I’m not much for New Year's Resolutions, but I do know that by making small changes, we can impact our health, the planet and the way we raise our kids. Something as small as where you buy your food can be one of those changes, so I was eager to check out Graze, a local farm-to-fridge online grocery delivery service “on a mission to bring fresh, wholesome and sustainably produced foods directly from small local family farms in Vermont to your front door.” Graze sells pasture-raised beef, just-picked local organic produce in season, award-winning artisanal cheeses and even home-cooked meals.
After a long weekend, capped off by a nasty blizzard, my supplies of fresh milk, eggs, fresh cider, meat and other staples have dwindled down to nil, and our fridge is pitifully bare. Normally, at this juncture, I’m faced with the quandary: Do I bundle up, shovel out and brave the unplowed back roads so that I can then fight the crowds at Whole Foods or Stew’s? Not anymore, thanks to Graze (grazedelivered.com).
Now that I’m a die-hard Grazer, I no longer worry about running out of milk. Every Monday, Alex, an earnest young Graze driver, appears at my doorstep and deposits a large container on my kitchen counter. When not ferrying groceries from Vermont, Alex is tending a flock of Alpine goats and making fresh chevre. He asks after the kids, we exchange a few pleasantries, and he bids me a good day.
I giddily unpack my bin filled with fresh milk, cage-free eggs, Grass-Fed Angus, Misty Knoll Farm chicken and other staples, as well as a tower of pre-made dinners in stackable and reusable containers — enough food for at least three nights. This week, there are chicken-stuffed shells and beef enchiladas for the kids, apple-cider glazed pork and home-style meatloaf for my husband and me, scalloped potatoes, broccoli with lemon aoli, and even a southwestern chicken and corn soup for today’s lunch.
The founders of Graze, also the owners of Vermont’s Barnum Hill Farm, live in Bristol, Vermont and hatched Graze as a means to provide a viable market for some of Vermont’s best family farmers. After deciding that Fairfield County was a good place to start, they called good friend Christy Colasurdo, a Westport resident, and asked her to spearhead the efforts in Connecticut.
Colasurdo, a CTbites contributor and magazine writer, jumped in with both feet. “Sometimes, in life, all your interests converge, and this was one of those times,” she says. “My son, Charlie, had been interested in the farming life for a while, and he put the local green foods scene on my radar years ago. As a foodie and a writer, I had been covering stories about the farm-to-table craze, so I saw Graze as my chance to support small family farmers in a meaningful way.”
A regular at the local farmers’ markets, a longtime customer at Sport Hill Farm in Easton and an advocate of the local green-foods movement, she says, “The climate for Graze couldn’t be better. People want to know where their foods come from, and we’re proud to be able to say that we really know each of our family farmers and producers, some of whom are third-generation. Our foods recall a simpler time, when animals grazed on the land and parents didn’t worry about hormones, pesticides or antibiotics in the foods they put on the table.”
This past September, the Graze team quietly rolled out its website (grazedelivered.com) and began testing their concept with a group of roughly 40 “beta” families, intrepid Westporters who were intrigued by the idea of receiving weekly deliveries of the foods normally available at a local farmers’ market, plus delicious Vermont-made artisan cheeses and a range of chef-prepared meals — all produced sustainably.
“I don’t remember what we did before Graze,” quips Lourdes Slater, a litigator and mother of two who lives in Saugatuck Shores. Slater said she used to dread the idea of planning, shopping and cooking weekly meals, given her long hours and frequent travel schedule. “Now, I can walk in the door and know that there’s a gourmet dinner for me and something like meatballs or stuffed shells that the kids really love to eat. Everything is healthy and organic, so no matter what we order, I feel good about it.”
“Graze customers are food-savvy but time-crunched,” Colasurdo notes. “They know farm freshness and quality, and they seek it out at local farmers’ markets, specialty stores and farm-to-table restaurants. For us, the game-changer is convenience. We can bring customers incredibly fresh foods from small family farms and deliver it right to their door every week. For a busy parent or working person, it’s priceless.”
Well, it’s not exactly priceless, but delivery is free, and the cost of most meals is less than Chinese takeout or pizza. By eliminating the middlemen, they keep prices competitive with stores like Whole Foods. In fact, all their farms actually produce their products where they are raised, rather than traveling to far-flung processing plants, co-ops and warehouses. This cuts the time from farm to table and makes a huge difference in freshness, quality and taste. One sip of their Monument Farms milk, which is milked from cows lovingly raised on a diet of natural grains and fresh air (no hormones or antibiotics ever!), then low-heat pasteurized to retain the healthy digestive probiotics, and you’ll be hooked. Plus, it means that the food is 100-percent traceable — good news with the recent uptick in food safety scares.
I love that I can set up a standing order to receive rotating meals when I’m pressed for time, or make a la carte selections to satisfy my most finicky eaters. I can also turn the service off if I’m going out of town with the click of my mouse.
Some recent menu standouts include Cabot Cheddar Au Gratin Potatoes, Wheatberry & Edamame Salad, Peanut Ginger Noodles, Chicken & Corn Chili, Zucchini Cheddar Soup, Papas Carne (Grass-fed Angus, potatoes, tomatoes, onions & spices) and decadent Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars. Kids faves include mini-meatballs, enchiladas and homemade mac & cheese, as well as fruit-filled mini muffins and home-baked treats.
“What started out as a simple farm-to-front-door delivery service of meats, dairy and artisanal cheeses has now morphed into a company that’s bringing busy families back to the dinner table,” Colasurdo says. “I love to cook, but Graze has allowed me to spend more time sitting down with my family, rather than hustling to whip up a decent dinner after a long day.”
Though Graze has rolled out quietly to neighboring towns, from Greenwich through Fairfield (and started making Friday night deliveries to Stratton VT for ski families), the company intends to stay small and nimble enough to retain its grassroots vibe and feel-good personal touches, like making vegetarian or gluten-free entrees for customers with dietary restrictions, delivering surprise treats for the whole family (including Fido) and partnering with local CSAs for centralized delivery drops.
Above all, Graze is committed to sustainable growth and truly personalized service. Who else would brave a massive blizzard to make sure my food delivery arrives on my doorstep without a hiccup?
If you’re thinking of making one small life change in the New Year, word on the street is that Graze is opening another 40 slots through January 30. By feeding your family fresh, organic foods, you’ll also be helping keep small family farmers thriving — all without getting out of your p.js.