Last July, Brandi and Jack McRill committed to building a bridge between local farmers and the Cypress community with Cypress Family Farm to Kitchen. The co-op offers residents an opportunity to purchase fresh produce from farms no more than 35 miles from their homes.
Brandi McRill said she and her family have been longtime patrons of local farmers markets. A typical Saturday included bringing about $40 to an area market and purchasing vegetables and fruits for the week. Sometimes, however, weather and schedule conflicts got in the way.
“I trained myself to eat like this, and I thought there could be an easier way,” she said.
The co-op began with about 10 of her neighbors and has since grown to include 40 regular participants. Each week, subscribers to the co-op pay $30 for a bin of fresh produce—from snap peas to turnips. Occasionally, Brandi sells eggs for $6 a dozen from Whitehurst Heritage Farms, which raises pasture chickens that are free to roam on the farm’s 100 acres.
Six farmers contribute to the co-op’s offerings, and the weekly boxes usually feature about seven different fruits and vegetables. McRill said she aims to keep each week’s box looking different from the previous with the exception of various high-demand and in-season items.
The benefits of buying local are many, but one that customers appreciate the most is the shelf-life, McRill said. Vegetables from the grocery store may go bad within a few days, whereas fresh produce, when properly stored, can last for weeks, she said.
But at the heart of McRill’s operation is her desire to help local farmers who work long hours during the week and may spend much of their weekends at farmers markets selling their goods and missing out on time with family and loved ones, she said.
“This is a great way to help our local economy by supporting our local farmers,” she said. “We don’t pay ourselves. We make a little bit of a profit, but we take the money and give it to farmers as seed money. We are also in the process of starting scholarships for Cy-Fair ISD [Future Farmers of America] students.”
Geoff Thimons, one of the co-op’s suppliers and founder of McLeod’s Urban Farms in Tomball, helped McRill start the co-op because he had experience in similar ventures. Thimons grows microgreens and, along with featuring his produce in the co-op, sells to local restaurants, such as Black’s Market Table and Season’s Harvest Cafe.
“When you buy food from the co-op, you can verify where your food comes from,” he said. “[At grocery stores] you get stuff from where you get it, but this links local farmers to the community, and people can support their community.”
Both of the McRills work full time. Jack owns Sundown Shutters and Blinds, and Brandi is in medical sales. However, she said she hopes to one day make Cypress Family Farm to Kitchen a full-time venture and expand to feed more than 150 families a week by 2017.
McRill has also begun speaking about eating locally grown, pesticide-free foods at various engagements. She said another purpose of the co-op is education.
“For example, people think they are doing well by eating ‘cage-free’ eggs,” McRill said. “Cage-free only means the chickens live in a coup with windows, but the windows don’t have to be open. I want to educate people about what they are putting in their bodies.”
To learn more about how to get involved with the co-op, visit its Facebook page.