Innovation amid a crisis: Local farms, markets find new ways to distribute produce

Verdegreens Farms now offers $45 Farmboxes with produce from neighboring local farms including Lone Star Mushrooms and Atkinson Farms with pickup available at six Greater Houston area locations. (Courtesy Verdegreens Farms)
Verdegreens Farms now offers $45 Farmboxes with produce from neighboring local farms including Lone Star Mushrooms and Atkinson Farms with pickup available at six Greater Houston area locations. (Courtesy Verdegreens Farms)

Verdegreens Farms now offers $45 Farmboxes with produce from neighboring local farms including Lone Star Mushrooms and Atkinson Farms with pickup available at six Greater Houston area locations. (Courtesy Verdegreens Farms)

Due to decreases in demand for fresh produce as a result of temporary restaurant closures, many local farmers and market proprietors have found innovative ways to adapt to the times.

Verdegreens Farms owner Billy Trainor said his business took a hit after restaurants—the farm’s primary customer—closed their doors in late March due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“When the pandemic hit and [officials] issued the order to shut down all the restaurants, we were looking at a pretty grim situation with basically half to two-thirds of our business drying up,” Trainor said.

It was under this pressure that Trainor said he was inspired to tap into an entirely new pool of consumers through Farmbox. According to Trainor, Farmbox allows Verdegreens and partnering Greater Houston area farms to distribute pre-packaged cases of fresh produce directly to consumers.The $45 box can be picked up by customers at six Greater Houston-area locations.

“We realized we had to create the demand that previously existed through the restaurants, so we called up all the people that we knew from the farmers market, contacts that we had made in the local industry, ... and asked them, ‘How much do you have available? How much do you do? What price?’” he said.



According to Trainor, the boxes received an overwhelmingly positive response, with more than 1,000 boxes sold within the first few weeks of distribution. Now in their sixth week of distribution, Trainor said he has more than offset the initial losses his business felt from the outbreak.

Also participating in Farmbox is Michael Frederick, owner of Houston-based Lone Star Mushrooms. Frederick, too, said his business has become very successful through the new program despite its loss in restaurant clientele.

“People love the fact that it's kind of a guessing game of what's in the box, [although] they have general idea,” he said. "It gives them something to do—to try new recipes [and] try out new dishes with items they may have never even cooked with before. They love the venture of it as well.”

Although Lone Star Mushrooms still expects to return to a restaurant-focused business model post-pandemic, Frederick said he expects the return to normalcy to be gradual. In the meantime, Frederick said the farm will continue to offer mushroom-related products such as supplements, jerky and at-home growing kits, in addition to continued participation in the Farmbox.

“I don't know what the new normal is,” Frederick said. “[But] I get a lot of people that ask if we're going to continue the Farmboxes when this is over, and because of that we probably will.”

Likewise, Mike Atkinson, owner of Atkinson Farms in Spring, said he began selling boxes of produce to restaurants at the onset of the pandemic.

“[When] the restaurants that we sell to [began] buying these produce boxes of pre-made, uncooked, raw vegetables that we had and they were selling them—they kind of bailed us out as a local farm,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson, whose produce is also available via Farmbox, said he will also continue to supply the farm’s produce for as long as customer demand is there.

“If they want to buy it, we’ll sell them, as long as there’s a market for it," he said.

Like local farms, market proprietors such as the weekly Tomball Farmers Market have also come up with new ways to connect vendors with patrons. According to TFM Executive Director Michelle Bundy, the market’s brief shutdown from mid-March to early April inspired her to take the organization online.

“When we first shut down, we started our TFM online Facebook group and essentially that way we could connect patrons with all of our vendors in one spot," she said.

Bundy said the online forum allows customers to preorder items for pick-up from vendors, potentially reducing the amount of time spent in-person. Since reopening on April 11, the market has implemented additional social distancing measures by increasing the walking space for customers to 21 feet, adding hand washing stations and providing hand sanitizer.

The Tomball Farmers Market is open Saturdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and space has been made to safely accommodate 17 additional vendors, starting May 9. The market now expects to hold around 45 vendors.

“We’re excited to add that many spaces because that's roughly all of our vendors that want to attend right now," Bundy said.

By


MOST RECENT

The text of General Order No. 3, which Gordon Granger issued from Galveston in June 1865 to explicitly liberate enslaved Black Texans, runs across the bottom of the mural. (Colleen Ferguson/Community Impact Newspaper)
‘I am filled’: Houston-Galveston area celebrates first Juneteenth as federal holiday

See how local policymakers, historians, artists and philanthropists honored the Juneteenth holiday at its birthplace with the dedication of a 5,000-square-foot mural.

The convenience store chain is known for its Slurpees and self-serve soda fountains. (Courtesy 7-Eleven)
7-Eleven, Laredo Taco Company now open at Hwy. 249, Spring Cypress

The new location features a fueling station, car wash and beer cave.

The Texas Central rail connection from Dallas to Houston will feature a bullet train similar to this one. (Courtesy Texas Central Partners/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas Supreme Court declines to review high-speed rail case, freeing company up to use eminent domain

Texas Central, the company looking to build a 236-mile high-speed rail line connecting Houston and Dallas, has been given a big win in an ongoing legal battle over whether the company is legally recognized as a "railroad company" under state law.

A new 3-mile trail in Spring Creek Greenway will run from Rothwood Park to Springwood Village’s 150-acre nature preserve. (Courtesy of Springwood Village)
Harris County Precinct 4, Springwoods Village to host ribbon-cutting, expo for new Spring Creek Greenway trail

Harris County Precinct 4 Parks Director Dennis Johnston said the grand opening event will feature an expo with several booths highlighting the area’s trails and parks programs, as well as constable-guided bike tours showcasing the new trail.

There will be various events across the Houston area celebrating the Fourth of July, including League City's Fireworks Extravaganza. (Courtesy of League City)
12 Fourth of July weekend events, celebrations to attend in the Greater Houston area

Here are 12 Fourth of July weekend events throughout the Houston region.

Harris County Precinct 4 hosts a summer movie night event at Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve June 28. (Courtesy Harris County Precinct 4)
'The Office' trivia, Father's Day fishing: 15 events, things to do in Spring and Klein in June, July

Here are a few events and things to do in the Spring and Klein community throughout June and July.

This area is flood-prone due to the flat and slow draining topography and clay soils that do not readily soak up excess rainfall. (Courtesy Harris County Flood Control District)
Flood Control District presents three versions of TC Jester Stormwater Detention Basin, seeking public input

The recommended basin would hold about 300 million gallons of stormwater.

ribbon cutting
Nearly $400M project to boost Houston-area water supply by up to 500M gallons a day

The project has been in development for over 50 years and broke ground in 2017.

Lone Star College has been approved for additional baccalaureate programs following House Bill 3348 being signed June 16. (Andrew Christman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Lone Star College approved for additional baccalaureate programs

Lone Star College can now have up to five bachelor programs, up from its current three.

Following Hurricane Harvey, debris lined the streets in many parts of Harris County. (Danica Lloyd/Community Impact Newspaper)
After Department of Housing and Urban Development denies request, Texas General Land Office drafting plan to subaward Harris County $750M for flood mitigation

The Texas General Land Office now plans to subaward Harris County flood mitigation funding after the county was left out of recent Hurricane Harvey relief funds.

Spring ISD announced June 16 that the district would no longer be offering its virtual academy for the 2021-22 school year. (Courtesy Canva)
Spring ISD nixes virtual academy for the 2021-22 school year

Many school districts throughout the state have had to alter or cancel their plans to provide distance learning in the coming school year after House Bill 1468, which would have ensured funding for districts for each student enrolled in online-only classes, failed to pass in the 2021 legislative session.