People who like to keep their pantries stocked with seasonal fruits and vegetables should consider themselves blessed if they live in the Bay Area: There are farmers' markets just about every day of the week. There are community-supported agriculture (CSA) boxes you can pick up or have delivered to your home. Even many supermarkets — including Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market — have produce sections impressive enough to make out-of-staters fly into a jealous rage.
So it wasn't as a response to a shortage of options that Corey Tufts and Wayne Pierson tossed their hat into the ring. The two Coast Guard veterans founded Golden Gate Organics, an Alameda-based organic produce delivery service, about one year ago.
Their idea is fairly straightforward: Customers log on to a website and sign up for a weekly box of organic fruits and vegetables. You enter your personal preferences, so if you indicate that you hate spinach, it won't show up in your box. Week by week, you have a chance to customize the box further — up to three substitutions. On Tuesdays, the box is delivered to your door.
Of course, Golden Gate Organics is hardly the first produce company to offer home delivery — many CSAs offer a similar service. Tufts concedes that one of the toughest parts about launching their business in the Bay Area is that "the market here is super-saturated."
Nevertheless, he argued that there are a number of things that make Golden Gate Organics an attractive option. One is its affordability: Tufts says the $22 that they charge for a small box is the lowest price that he's aware of for similarly sized, home-delivered produce.
Furthermore, in most cases the CSA model is tied to a single farm, or to a small group of farms, which has obvious advantages. But Tufts and Pierson decided they wanted to cast a wider net. In any given week, a box from Golden Gate Organics might include produce from as many as fourteen different organic farms.
As Tufts put it, "We're not farmers. ... We are delivery people of organic food."
So while Golden Gate Organics honors the seasonality of produce — they won't put tomatoes in your box in December — their business model also allows them to bring things in from out of state, or even from abroad, to satisfy customer demand.
Tufts acknowledged that this means the boxes they're trucking out from their Alameda warehouse on Tuesday mornings might not be as "local" as what you'd buy at your neighborhood farmers' market, but he stressed that their policy is complete transparency: The individual farms are all listed on the website. If you don't want bananas from Peru or cherries from Washington, you can swap them out.
For instance, when I signed up for a sample box a few weeks ago, I didn't want early-season tomatoes (from Mexico), and I wasn't particularly excited about getting apples — I'd eaten enough of those in the fall and winter months. No problem: I just subbed those two items out, replacing them with some sweet bi-color corn and a couple of Zee Fire nectarines. The substitutions ended up being my favorite items in the box.
One of the main things that Tufts argues sets his company apart is the user-friendly interface that Pierson custom-designed specifically for the purpose of selling produce, as opposed to adapting an existing e-commerce interface. I'll vouch for the fact that the website is clean-looking and easy to navigate.
Ultimately, however, Tufts said the "mission" aspect of his business trumps its entrepreneurial aspect — all he hopes is that people pay more attention to what they're eating and where their food is coming from.
"I'm trying to move this movement forward," Tufts explained. "If someone's saying, 'Hey, I'd rather go down to the farmers' market that's a block away to get my produce,' that's perfectly awesome."
Remedy Coffee Is Closed
Sad news out of Temescal, as Remedy Coffee's last day of business was this past Friday, and it still isn't clear what happened (calls and emails to owner Todd Spitzer went unanswered). Less than one week prior, someone at Remedy was still posting updates to the cafe's Facebook page and Twitter feed. Then, suddenly, there was a video of baristas toasting the coffee shop good-bye ("Das it!") and — just like that — the windows were papered over and the website was dead.
I'd featured Remedy in a story on East Bay coffee shops that I wrote a couple of years ago (see "Surfing Coffee's 'Third Wave,'" 12/16/09), just as the so-called "third wave" coffee trend was really taking hold in the Bay Area. At that point, Spitzer was selling Ritual Roasters drip coffee and espresso drinks from a sidewalk cart while he completed the build-out of the cafe.
Once the coffee shop opened, it quickly became one of the area's more popular spots to hang out and get a solid cup of coffee, with or without laptop in tow. I always found the cappuccinos to be reliably great, and the place usually seemed packed — so news of the sudden closure came as a big surprise.