By: Jaime Vining
COVID-19 has disrupted grocery supply chains and impacted the way consumers shop for food and related supplies. One thing that has “sprouted” from the global pandemic, however, is a rise in sales of fresh produce boxes directly to consumers from farms across South Florida.
Bedner’s Farm Fresh Market
Popular produce hotspot Bedner’s Farm Fresh Market in Boynton Beach, for example, offers a daily box based on current inventory for $29.99. Past boxes have included a selection of apples, grapes, limes, blackberries, strawberries, peppers, onions, potatoes, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
“We have also been offering the curbside pickup service Tuesdays through Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.,” said Marie Bedner. “South Floridians want homegrown and local grown veggies with the safety of purchasing from their car. They can also purchase fresh chicken, meats, eggs, bread, and orange juice at the curbside pickup.”
Parkland resident Lori Lerman visited Bedner’s last week to purchase produce boxes for her family and neighbors.
“I wanted to support a local business and still be able to provide healthy, fresh produce for my family,” she shared. “Being able to drive up and pick up the box, rather than going to a store and having to spend time gathering all the fruits and vegetables, seems like a ‘safer’ option.”
East Coast Farms and Vegetables
Further north, East Coast Farms and Vegetables of Lake Worth – “home of the original $10 family box” – is promoting economical assortments of peppers, zucchini, corn, apples, oranges, limes, avocados, jalapenos, mangos and more for $10 a box.
“When we started this venture, we wanted to supply something that we felt a typical family would desire on any given day. We thought about what we would buy when we went shopping for our families,” said manager Randy Kay.
“We try not to have too many offerings on any given day, just to keep the lines moving at a decent pace. And, yes, there are lines…but, hopefully, people feel that it is worth the wait.”
East Coast is open for business daily at 9:30 AM, but the early bird gets the produce, as the boxes typically sell out by 2:30 PM.
Thomas Produce Company
In Boca Raton, Thomas Produce Company has bundled its colorful bell peppers, jalapenos, cucumbers, green squash, yellow squash, tomatoes, frying peppers, and green beans in $10 boxes. The farm, through Mobile Green Markets, sells about 500 of these vegetable boxes regularly from 9 AM to 5 PM on Tuesday through Sunday.
Shoppers love bypassing the shopping cart. Customers drive up and can either pay the gloved and masked attendants directly or, for a true “no-touch” visit, leave payment in the car trunk, and the box of produce is placed there as well.
“There is a large demand for fresh, high quality produce in our community,” explained COO Thomas LaSalle Jr. “With a ‘no-touch’ policy, people are able to avoid the crowds we have seen in the grocery stores. I also think part of the community has seen the news stories about the fight of our lives Florida farmers are in right now, and they want to help in any way they can.”
The fresh produce industry has taken a significant hit from the health crisis, and there is no question that farming is an essential part of the public health infrastructure. “COVID -19 has had a huge impact on our business. Around fifty percent of our vegetables go-to foodservice outlets, like restaurants and cruise ships, so we had a ton of excess inventory. A lot of it was donated to our foodbank partner, Feeding Florida, but even they were getting overwhelmed with the volume of product that was coming into their distribution centers,” LaSalle Jr. said.
“The lack of demand from foodservice providers has made us walk away from some fields without ever picking a box from it. It was cheaper to leave it in the field, then pick, clean it and box it up. That is a heartbreaking position to be in as a farmer.”
The FDA website advises that “currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. For that reason, it is critical to follow the four key steps of food safety — clean, separate, cook, and chill.” Be safe and do not use chemicals like bleach or chlorine on fruit and vegetables, as these substances are not safe for human consumption.
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