Mike Geller likes that he can tell his customers stories about how the food he delivers is grown and about the farmers who grow it. Conversely, he states, “There are no stories to tell with big agricultural suppliers. No one wants to know about thousands of chickens crowded in a small space with no room to move and no access to the outdoors.”
Mike started Mike’s Organic Delivery in June 2010 with a mission to reconnect people in Fairfield and Westchester Counties to where, how, and when their food is grown. After careful research, he selected 12 farms from the Hudson River Valley, Westchester County and Western Connecticut to become the suppliers for his nascent farm to home delivery service. The farms all use practices many of us look for when supermarket label gazing: organic, sustainable, free range, pesticide-free, no added hormones, no steroids, and no antibiotics. While we may find some of these methods on supermarket labels, Mike guarantees that his produce is picked no more than 36 and usually less than 24 hours before it reaches your door. That is not likely the case with the produce we cart home from the grocery store.
As Mike heads toward his third summer season, the business has grown from 50 to 200 customers, in 16 towns within a 60-mile radius of Greenwich. He has hired his first employee, Chis Kimball, and says, “It’s been exciting to watch the business grow and see the local food movement grow. I love what I do everyday I wake up.”
What Mike does is deliver, educate, and advocate all in support of locally grown and raised food. Recounting the benefits, he jumps from apples to tomatoes to make his point. “We grow 200 varieties of apples in the US, but when you go to the grocery store, you see the same 5 varieties.” “Did you know that local farmers have over 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes?” he inquires. I did not. From Mike’s perspective, we are forfeiting diversity in our food supply, along with fresher, healthier and tastier food by routinely purchasing meat and produce at our local supermarkets rather than our local farms.
Mike makes a compelling case, supported by the inspiring photos and brief introductions on his website to the local farmers he calls “partners”. Customers can order items from these farmers a la carte, select the weekly mixed fruit and vegetable basket, or enroll in one of four Winter CSA plans. Weekly orders must be placed on the website by Friday at noon, and confirmation for the following week’s delivery is emailed on Sunday. Once your delivery day and time is set, it will never change, and Mike is proud to note that he has never missed a delivery since beginning his service.
Mike’s Organic Delivery CSA Plan differs from traditional CSAs in that he sources from more than one farm to provide variety and usable quantities. Mike selects items based on what is available and will allow you to feed a family of four, average eaters for one week. Last week’s fruit and vegetable basket, for example, included Portobello mushrooms, apples, sweet potatoes, arugula, red cabbage, Asian stir fry mix, rosemary, black beans, turnips, rutabagas and carrots.
The meats also vary each week, so last week’s Omnivore Basket contained bacon, ground beef and sausage, this week’s will include pork chops and blade steaks, and next week’s, chicken. According to Karen, a customer who started using Mike’s delivery service last July and has continued through this winter, “You don’t get too few or too much of any one item to make complete meals. Mike emails 6-8 recipes each week; they help make it interesting and make use of all the ingredients. I am easily feeding my family of five with the CSA plus the weekly mixed fruit and vegetable crate.”
In addition to convenience and everything tasting “So – Much – Better!”, Karen named three more virtues of Mike’s weekly deliveries: the unique items he occasionally includes that have brought new foods and tastes to her family, and the cost and time savings. “We’ve had freshly picked black beans, Jerusalem artichokes, tomatillos, and varieties of apples I didn’t know existed. In fact, my kids are more willing to try anything that ‘Organic Mike’ brings to the house.” Karen’s husband tracked their grocery spending before and after starting with the service and found they are saving approximately $100 a week. Karen attributes the savings to the food’s superior quality, “It stays fresher longer and nothing needs to be thrown away.” “We use Mike exclusively; I go to the grocery store less than once a week and when I do, it’s only to pick up staples like oatmeal, milk and bread.”
“Convenience for our customers can’t be overstated,” says Mike. Having learned over the past two years what his customers want, he worked with farmers last June to develop a planting list for the winter months. Knowing there would be demand, the farmers were able to plant cold crops in hoop houses, 20’ x 100’ long tunnels covered in plastic. Consequently, Mike’s current customers will be enjoying fresh kale and spinach, months before the rest of us.
The premise of Mike’s business is simple and direct, but its impact is far reaching. There are approximately 258 organic farms in CT and 1151 in New York, according to localharvest.org. Thanks to consumer awareness and increased demand, the number of small farms has been on the rise since 2007, after a steady decline since 1980. Services like Mike’s Organic Delivery connect us to these small producers, and to the health, taste and environmental benefits we derive from eating fresh food and supporting local farms. It seems we are also encouraging future farmers, which will only increase the variety and improve the quality of the fresh, local food available to us.
Mike’s Organic Delivery: Sign up @ www.mikesorganicdelivery.com