Midtown Raleigh News

Produce-delivery services make it easy to eat fresh and local

If you haven’t joined the local food movement, you are probably the last person on your block eating only grocery store produce shipped in from across the continent.

We’ve had farmers markets and farm stands forever, of course, but each year farmers and entrepreneurs are finding ways to make it more convenient to purchase locally grown produce.

First, farmers began selling shares of their harvest using a model called Consumer Supported Agriculture.

We have plenty of CSA opportunities here in Raleigh. According to Fred Miller of Hilltop Farms of Willow Springs, his CSA offers 25 weeks of certified organic produce for $500 (or $435 if you agree to work on the farm for 10 hours.)

In exchange for paying what amounts to $20 per week, subscribers get at least $20 to $25 worth of organic produce. Additional perks include invitations to spring and fall social events on the farm and the opportunity to buy add-ons such as farm fresh honey and eggs and all-natural beef from Wilkerson Farms.

Miller said his prices are comparable or even a little cheaper than grocery store prices, but saving money is not the point.

“A CSA is not about getting the produce cheaper by cutting out the grocery store or middle man,” Miller said. “It’s more about getting it fresher, within hours of being picked and about supporting a local farm/business in your community.”

Part of the fun of a CSA is going to the farm to pick up the weekly haul, although farmers realize that is not always convenient, so they typically offer various drop-off points. Hilltop Farms offers three pickup locations in Raleigh.

But not everyone is willing to dish out $500 in advance for produce or able to commit to being at the pickup location at the allotted time each week, so entrepreneurs such as Rob Meyer saw an opportunity. Four years ago, the Raleigh resident started Papa Spud’s to “fill the void between just shopping in a grocery store and participating in a full-on CSA.”

Meyers bills Papa Spud’s as an online farmers market. After paying $5 to subscribe, each week you receive a box of fresh produce delivered to your home. Customers select a box size (small for $18.44, regular for $23.69 or family for $45.09) and fill out a profile indicating which produce they like or don’t like. Each week, a computer program puts together a customized box for each customer.

Customers can choose to skip the week or customize their box further by switching out what the computer chose for them with options available that week.

Several other produce delivery services are available in Raleigh. Papa Spud’s and Carolina Grown both operate 12 months a year, while The Produce Box and Door Step Produce operate only spring through fall. Each service charges a setup fee of $5 to $18; base prices for small boxes range from $18.44 to $25.

Most of these services have expanded beyond fruits, vegetables and herbs. The Produce Box offers items such as jams, pickles and breads. Papa Spud’s and Carolina Grown have expanded to include those items plus a wide variety of other local products such as eggs, milk, meats, fresh pasta, cheese and baked goods.

Carolina Grown also offers local flour, butter and ice cream, and this year they have even added North Carolina beer and wine.

Their menu includes “everything you’d need to buy at the grocery store except paper products,” co-owner Vicky Allen said.

Everything is delivered in a cooler and packaged with enough ice packs and dry ice to keep even the ice cream frozen for up to 24 hours.

These services keep your credit card on file and bill you weekly or monthly.

They also offer recipes and tips on storing and preserving produce. Some even offer outings to their supplying farms and businesses.

And in general, prices are pretty comparable to grocery store or farmers market prices. So if you haven’t jumped on the local food bandwagon yet, this really is one easy way to keep up with the Joneses.