COVID-19 News, Health/Nutrition/Food Safety, North America, Smart Farming, Trade/Markets/Prices, Trends

Organic farmers pivot from selling to restaurants to homes amid coronavirus

New York’s farmers who can no longer sell crops to Big Apple restaurants are turning to a new business model: Boxing up produce for the growing hordes of home cooks, Jennifer Gould Keil reports in New York Post.

Zaid Kurdieh, an organic farmer in Norwich, NY, used to rely on sales to top chefs and restaurateurs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Thomas Keller and Danny Meyer for 60 percent of his revenues. But with Gotham’s dining scene shuttered, Kurdieh has pivoted from packing up “hundreds of pounds” of produce for restaurateurs to curating 12- to 24-pound food boxes for home chefs.

It’s the same arugula he sells to Vongerichten and Keller — just in smaller bundles.

“The boxes to New York City are now our main business,” Kurdieh said. “It basically saved our neck. We can’t keep up with the volume at the moment. It is a good problem but a bad problem,” he said. “I don’t even have time to figure out if we are breaking even. But at least money is coming in and I can pay my employees.”

Kurdieh, who has run Norwich Meadows Farm with his wife Haifa since 1998, has long sold six-pound produce boxes for $25 at Big Apple farmer markets like the Union Square Greenmarket. But in the face of COVID-19 he keenly launched a new delivery service, selling 12-pound boxes filled with seasonal items, which currently include kale, onions, carrots, green onions, leeks, green garlic, winter radishes, various greens, radishes, spinach and scallions. The box costs $50 and consumers can add a dozen organic eggs for $6.

For $100, home chefs get that — and a product mix of apples, bread, cheese, yogurt, flour, milk, butter, maple syrup, pretzels, honey, potato chips made by a local farmer — and Egyptian spices imported by some of Kurdieh’s workers.

“You don’t get all of these things, but it’s a well-rounded box that allows people to cook,” he said.

On Friday Kurdieh plans to launch a $26 “optional add-on” to any of his boxes for people who want soup, pesto, salad vinaigrette and beet salad prepared by three Gramercy Tavern alumni chefs whose plans to launch their own restaurant have been put on hold.

The boxes are delivered by truck to peoples’ doorsteps in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Currently, he is delivering 800 boxes a week to folks who have signed up at the Norwich Meadows Farm Web site and via the farm’s Instagram account. Demand has been so great he has had to turn down requests, he said.

“We have way more orders than we can handle but we are ramping up capacity and hope to do 1,200 to 1,500 next week and 3,000 to 4,000 boxes a week by May. Eventually we hope the one-month subscriptions become six and 12 months so we have a steady stream of people instead of one box and never seeing them again.”

Kurdieh sees the home delivery business lasting beyond the crisis because the quarantine introduced so many people to cooking. “It seems like there is a movement in that direction — that people will actually, after it is all said and done, stick to cooking at home,” he said, citing a restaurant general manager who told him “he never cooked and now he is learning how to cook and loving it.”

To be sure, like many restaurant lovers, he’s worried the industry may not bounce back when the economy reopens. “Many restaurants won’t be able to survive. They are still paying for rent and their crews are looking for work elsewhere.”

Kurdieh also provides organic goods for boxes provided by the likes of longtime gourmet dining fave Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, NY.

Blue Hill chef Dan Barber and his brother David have also turned to boxing up produce as a way to keep area farms in business. The Barbers shut the doors of their restaurant in mid-March.

“Most farmers are in a pickle,” David Barber said. “They aren’t set up to start a box program. So we’ve started. The idea is to use it as a platform for figuring out how to get broader distribution and give farmers a sign that the market will come back, but I don’t know where farming will be a year from now.”

Source: New York Post

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