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Local Feature

"EAT YOUR VEGETABLES" NEVER SOUNDED SO GOOD


words by Jolene Polyack
I
mages by Frankie Leal

We live in the ‘fruit basket of the world’ so why can’t we get the best fruits and vegetables for ourselves?” This is a sentiment often expressed by Valley residents. Local organic farmer Vernon Peterson heard it said enough times to start thinking, “Why can’t our own residents get the best produce?” And that was the beginning of the farmer-turned-entrepreneur Peterson’s recently launched business Abundant Harvest Organics.

According to Peterson, “Neither the farmer nor the consumer are being served as efficiently or effectively as possible with the current system. I thought that if we could devise a system where produce, meat and dairy could go straight to the family without brick and mortar then the farmer could get a fair price for his product; the consumer could pay a fair price and eat the most wonderful stuff they could ever experience. When people order from us, we don’t want them to even think. They know for certain that it’s organic.”

Today, California produce is distributed through a complicated distribution system that adds days to the journey toward the consumer’s home. Even produce grown in Reedley and Kingsburg will travel to distribution centers north and south of here before traveling back to your supermarket. Peterson has cut out the middlemen and developed a delivery system that just includes the grower and the consumer. The benefit is fresher produce at a reasonable, if not lower price – all picked about 24 hours prior to making it to the consumer’s home. And all of it is certified organic.

Without any publicity at all, Abundant Harvest Organics is serving quite a few families with several stops including Fresno, Clovis, Kingsburg, Reedley, Bakersfield and Tehachapi. A consumer places their order at www.adundantharvestorganics.com before Monday morning and that Friday, they can pick up their box of just-picked produce at a specified location (in the Covenant Church parking lot in Kingsburg or at Shinn’s Photography in Reedley).

What’s interesting about the deliveries is that the customers seem excited – since the produce was picked the day before, they only find out what’s in the box at pick up. A list distributed with the food one day over the summer showed that the produce had been picked from Kingsburg, San Juan Bautista, Bakersfield, Salinas and Caruthers. The boxes included grapes, green bell peppers, Gala apples, red leaf, green leaf and romaine lettuces, spinach, russet potatoes, red onion, artichokes, cauliflower, tomatoes, rosemary, sage and za’atar. Another week might have boxes packed with totally different items. Each box has a list of the items included and suggestions on how to prepare and serve the produce. Peterson recently added the ability for customers to order their organic meat and dairy items also. His goal is to provide distribution centers all over California and then expand east. To his knowledge, no one is currently running a business like Abundant Harvest Organics on the commercialized scale that he is operating.

When talking to various customers, it became apparent that the reasons to utilize Abundant Harvest Organics are varied:

One customer, Andrew Shinn, explained that he and his wife have lost weight as a result of utilizing this service. He said that they look forward to seeing what’s in their box and strive to utilize everything. According to Shinn, “We end up with a richer diet because of it – it forces us to eat not only healthier but with more adventure. There’s more adventure because you’re eating a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t have eaten otherwise, we would have walked past it in the store.”

For Dennis Rosales, he started out just to help his friend, Vernon, by signing up for a subscription, but then, according to Rosales, “We received our fist box and I just thought it was fantastic. It was fresh and flavorful. My wife priced it compared to the store and found it was actually less expensive. The fact that it was organic was just a plus for us, we weren’t organic minded at the time but it’s growing on us now. And it has helped us replace our sugary snacks with good natural vegetable snacks. One benefit we didn’t foresee was that it draws the kids back to the house. Every week they’re coming home and picking what they want out of the box. We’re even considering ordering a bigger box now.”

Another customer who is sold on Abundant Harvest Organics is Rich Brassfield. He says, “They pick it one day and send it off to you the next. Our fresh food shopping is taken care of. We can now do a monthly Costco shopping trip, get our weekly delivery from Abundant Harvest and have everything we need.”
Bonnie Tuell started ordering her produce from the company because it was organic. She was impressed with the wide variety of food and thought she could share whatever she doesn’t finish with her friends and neighbors.

With a family of seven, Sarah Jackson knew organic produce would be a hit at home. She says “As a result of being part of the program we have totally changed our eating habits. We’re eating a lot of salads and vegetables. We’re at the point where we crave raw fruits and veggies. Because it’s so fresh it lasts longer than store-bought produce. We look forward to Fridays to find out what is in our box this week. I think it’s been good for our children to try new things. I’ve been forced to try new recipes and to be more adventurous in my cooking. They always send recipes and that’s been really fun too. I feel like we’re just healthier as a family.”

Who knew that words like “adventurous” would be synonymous with fruits and vegetables? And who knew that it would be considered “exciting” to obtain home-grown produce in our own Valley? Apparently, Vernon Peterson knew all along.

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