AHA Partner in the Spotlight: The Produce Box
For hundreds of families across Wake County, Wednesdays and Thursdays are some of the best days of the week. Those are the days The Produce Box delivers fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables from N.C. farmers to families’ doorsteps all over the Triangle, and even in Wilmington and Winston-Salem. Plus, The Produce Box delivers its boxes to customers weekly at WakeMed, SAS and other employers in Wake County—a convenient way this young company and AHA partner is increasing access to healthy, local produce.
The Produce Box delivers boxes like this one loaded with N.C. seasonal produce to hundreds of families in Wake County and beyond.
Founded in 2008 by Courtney Tellefsen, The Produce Box is a business built on a variation of the community supported agriculture (CSA) model where community members purchase a share from one local farmer and then typically pick up a box or bag of seasonal produce.
Through The Produce Box’s network of stay-at-home moms, members have access to a variety of locally grown foods from more than 40 small and medium-size farms across the state. Farmers deliver their food to The Produce Box hub in Raleigh, and the crew sorts the produce into boxes per customers’ order, and then neighborhood coordinators deliver the boxes to homes and businesses.
In addition to receiving farm-fresh produce, customers have an opportunity to learn about the farmers growing their food, through special events such as Farm to Table dinners, farm visits and the weekly newsletter that comes with the box of produce.
“It’s an easy way for families to eat in season, eat a more diversified diet and support our farm neighbors and local economy. And it tastes great too!” said Tellefsen.
In the Community
The Produce Box takes community involvement and support of its farmers as seriously as delivering local produce. That’s why The Produce Box offers tasting events for health fairs, wellness days and nutrition programs at schools, along with mini farmers’ markets to help schools and organizations get children and other excited about trying different kinds of produce.
“We want to provide lots of ways to encourage kids and families to eat their veggies. Our veggie creations, corn shucking and pea popping programs at Marbles Kids Museum and area schools give children a chance to play and have fun with food. That gives us a chance to start conversations about making healthy choices when it comes to meals and snacks,” Tellefsen said.
“And our new team SNACK PACK program for youth sports provides an easy way to get fresh fruit into the hands of our young athletes,” she added. Starting with Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) and eventually working with other sports organizations, The Produce Box website allows parents on teams to order pre-portioned, washed, and cut fruit for the team and have them delivered to the field on game day.
The Produce Box provided veggie sculpture fun for “Bring Your Child to Work Day” at Bayer CropScience earlier this year.
In addition, The Produce Box has partnered with University of North Carolina and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina to bring boxes to lower-income neighborhoods. More than 80 families received healthy produce boxes last fall, and plans are in the works to expand even further next season.
Growing the Business and Supporting Local Farmers
Through member support, The Produce Box has set aside more than $20,000 in farm grants for its farmer partners to help defray their costs and support them. For example, in April 2011, funding from Produce Box members helped some farmers make improvements after tornadoes affected their farms. This year funds have gone to help farmers build greenhouses and make needed repairs to farm equipment.
The Produce Box was just recently selected as a winner in a Facebook/American Express OPEN Small Business contest, out of over 12,000 entries nationally. The winners were decided by public vote. Prizes include a day of training with AMEX and FACEBOOK marketing experts as well as a cash prize of $25,000 to help grow the program.
“We’re excited about this opportunity to learn more about community marketing and social media, and the funding will help us begin teaching others about how to start programs like ours in their areas,” Tellefsen said.
What Do Customers Say?
The Produce Box has a loyal and growing following. “Our family really enjoys receiving The Produce Box. I love seeing ‘dirt’ on the veggies as it reminds me of growing up on a farm and is a great visual of how fresh the produce is. We enjoy trying new vegetables that we may never have otherwise tried,” said Andrea Petkau, a member in Cary. “The convenience of fresh produce delivered to our door is invaluable to us.”
Each box delivered to members includes a newsletter with information about farmers and ideas on how members are using their produce, as well as a variety of recipes for seasonal produce. A peak at the company’s Facebook page also shows a variety of recipes and a lot of member appreciation for the business and the North Carolina farmers growing food for our community.