A food system for the 21st century hearkens back to simpler past
At one point in time, if you didn’t grow your own food, whatever you ate came from farms a horse-drawn wagon ride away. Now, the vegetable or fruit you’re enjoying daily most likely was grown and trucked from the central California desert-turned-valley. Or, out of season, flown in from the southern hemisphere.
It was in reaction to such a carbon-intensive food distribution network that the “locavore” movement arose, aiming to lessen the distance from “farm to table.” It has emphasized familiar buzzwords: Fresh. Organic. Local.
But those labels come with a price—literally. Produce grown to organic standards, free-range chicken, animals raised for beef or milk without growth hormones—all cost more, not to mention are often hard to find.
Two lifelong friends decided to quit their promising professional careers to start a business that aims to resolve the drawbacks of a locally-sourced food model and in some ways hearkens back to a simpler agrarian past.
“Accessibility and affordability is what we want to solve,” said Scott Reich, a co-founder of Our Harvest, a Hicksville-based firm that offers staples an online farmers’ market.
It seeks to fill a demand spurred by locavores for the kind of produce that is sold at farmers’ markets or through community-supported agriculture (CSA). Though these alternatives to traditional supermarkets have their virtues, the two founders pointed out the advantages of their marketing method.
“We offer choice,” said Michael Winik. “With a CSA you pay upfront and you can’t control choice. We’re year-round and our product line is more extensive.”
Our Harvest customers order from on the website, and then pick up their packages at distribution sites in East Meadow, New Hyde Park, Roslyn, Port Washington, Valley Stream, Huntington, Garden City, and Flushing. In the Hicksville/Plainview area, the firm operates a pickup site at Our Lady of Mercy, 500 South Oyster Bay Rd., Hicksville, every Monday (4:30 to 6:30 p.m.), Tuesday (10 a.m. to noon) and Friday (4 to 6 p.m.)
“Farmers are struggling, they can barely feed their families,” said Winik. “And consumers can’t afford food when it is grown locally. From farm to market, we wanted to create a situation where the customer gets a better price and the farmer gets paid more.”
Reich added, “Our mission was to create a more sustainable food system.”
According to the website, “The company’s products range from fresh meats and seafood, to produce and dairy, to pantry items and desserts—over 300 products are available on the company’s growing menu.”
Change Of Direction
Reich and Winik have known each other since elementary school. They grew up in Roslyn and both attended Wheatley High School and the University of Pennsylvania. Reich was practicing law and Winik was an investment banker when they decided to change career direction.
“We wanted to do something with a lot more social impact,” said Reich, who tabbed Our Harvest, “a socially conscious for-profit.”
For every order of more than $25, the company will donate a meal to a local food pantry. In Hicksville, that would be the one run by Our Lady of Mercy. According to the website, thousands of meals have been given away.
Launching the business took years and a lot of preparation and planning. The lingering effects of the Great Recession did not help.
“It took us a long time to launch…and to get farmers to trust us,” Winik said. “Now, we have close to 100 farmers [supplying us] in season.”
Winik said that growers eventually found advantages in using the firm.
“We asked them, ‘What is difficult about your existence?’ They told us they wanted to stay on the farm and grow their food, but they didn’t want to deal with distributors or going to farmers’ markets. We told them, ‘We’ll pay you, and take the product when it’s ready.’ The farmers we deal with don’t have to worry about anything but growing. It took a while but it worked—they benefited and told their friends.”
“It’s not just produce,” Reich pointed out. “We offer fresh chicken, beef and fish…we [get supplies] from food artisans and bakers. We know it’s fresher, better quality than what you can get at specialty shops. It’s the highest quality but costs less—we don’t have the overhead, and we have lower costs [of doing business].”
The partners spoke with awe about one of their suppliers, the Wickhams’ farm in Cutchogue, on Suffolk’s North Fork. It has been in the same family since the late 17th century. Tenth-generation farmer Tom Wickham runs the 300-acre facility now.
“They’re growing for taste, as opposed to shelf life,” Winik said of the firm’s farming partners.
The partners’ operating philosophy was summed up by a slogan on the back of their tee-shirt: “Eat Better. Do Good.”
For more information, visit www.ourharvest.com.