In this Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012 photo, boxes of apples wait to be sorted at Farmers To You, in Berlin, Vt. The online distributor that delivers weekly bundles of Vermont-produced foods to more than 375 families in Boston is expanding to link even more Vermont farmers to consumers in the city far away. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
BERLIN, Vt. (AP) — Living in Boston, Julie Wormser can buy just about any piece of produce she wants for her small family. But the food she gets from Farmers to You — vegetables, cheeses, meats and milk trucked in weekly from largely Vermont farms — is fresher, she says, and arguably more convenient.
But she says she gets more out of it than that. It connects her to the farmers who grow the food, knowing that her purchases are supporting them, and links her, whether she likes it or not, to the seasons, having to give up lettuce and tomatoes for cabbage and other vegetables in winter.
She’d rather get apples from Vermont than organic apples from Chile.
What Farmers to You “are trying to do is create a saner food [auth] system and I totally buy into it,” she said.
Started two and a half years ago by Greg Georgaklis, a former Boston-area resident who moved to Vermont to farm, Farmers to You provides weekly deliveries from Vermont-area farmers, as well as producers in New Hampshire and Quebec, to Boston-area families at 11 sites.
The team hopes to expand even more.
A new $250,000 loan from the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund has allowed Farmers to You to move from Calais to a bigger site in Berlin where the food is gathered from farms and then divided among the orders and placed on trucks that make the weekly trips to Boston. A day after orders are made online, Farmers to You goes out to collect the food from farmers and producers or they deliver them themselves. The bread from Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex is baked the same day it arrives in Boston, kept in coolers so that it stays warm.
It’s been incredibly successful, said Georgaklis, who used to have a large retail and wholesale nursery and growing business.
What started with 22 Boston-area customers has grown to nearly 400 with plans to add more. Farmers to You also strives serve as a model for the distribution of local food and impetus to change the way consumers eat.
After Georgaklis moved to Vermont, the farm he and his wife wanted to buy in Calais sold so he did some consulting work with area farmers and research on the distribution of food for a Vermont study on local foods. He found that a big problem is that the large scale of grocery stores doesn’t match the scale of area farms.
He saw an opportunity to help, by providing a small-scale direct-to-consumer distribution system that he said would link the farmers to the families.
Unlike community supported agriculture, where people pay farmers up front for produce or meat throughout a season — getting what’s in season such as a glut of kale or kohlrabi — customers get to pick what they want online from a variety of producers.
But like the CSA model, they make a commitment to the farmers.
The families are asked to buy a consistent share of their food from the farms, with a minimum of $40 weekly to support farmers who must commit months ahead to provide food for them.
It’s “an understanding that the cows are milked every day, milk comes every day. So this notion that you can just buy what you want when you want it and forget about it when you don’t really doesn’t honor the work that the farmers do. So the goal is that we’ll start ordering more consistently every week to get into a rhythm, to start ordering the same types of food every week,” said Georgaklis.
One of the big hurdles for families is they have to cook. Farmers to You tries to help with blogs with tips and recipes.
Wormser and her husband, who both work, devote about four hours on Sunday to cook stews and other dishes that improve over time that they will eat throughout the week.
The prices are comparable to prices at food cooperatives.
Wormser figures she’s spending less on food, now that she’s not buying lunch out.
“You end up every day having really fresh food that’s prepared at home for lunch,” she said.