On a 23 acre farm in the Black Dirt region of Upper New York State, farmer Rogelio Bautista is hitting home runs, not with a baseball bat but with a tiny purple eggplant.
Bautista started growing this little beauty, early this spring and over the course of the season grew thousands of pounds of Fairy Tale Eggplants for meal-in-a-kit company Blue Apron. Having Fairy Tale Eggplants as the main character here is appropriate since this is a little bit of a Cinderella story. More on that later.
It’s not what you’d call a predictable living, that of a farmer, and that’s part of what makes farmers both heroes and nervous wrecks. Too much rain and it’s a wash out, not enough rain and crops dry up and die. Or maybe it rains which is great for the crops, but it also rains on farmer’s market day and no one shows up to buy any of the vegetables. You can see how a farmer could get a bit twitchy.
Just having my own little patches of garden I know what an insane amount of work it is to grow something as rudimentary as a bunch of swiss chard. It’s not just a matter of sticking your finger in the soil and throwing in a seed. You have to figure out what you can eek out of the earth in your climate, prep the soil, maintain it, weed it, get rid of pests and on and on and on until you value that Swiss Chard you grew to such a degree you consider bronzing it instead of eating it.
You can recognize farmers or vegetable gardeners in the grocery stores because they’re the only ones staring at an apple saying “This only costs how much??? You’re shitting me, right?“.
So now let me tell you about the Cinderella portion of this story. It’s about how Blue Apron works. It’s about their business model.
When I first started writing about Blue Apron I understood the basics of the company and the fact that their produce is locally sourced. It’s part of what I liked about them. I figured locally sourced meant they fulfilled the vegetable orders for their meal kits from local warehouses. So if you live in Northern California, Blue Apron would have a contract with a Northern Californian produce warehouse to supply them with ingredients. Local. Yay!
Boy was I wrong.
Here’s how it actually works. In 2013 Blue Apron was founded by a dream team of 3, thirtysomething guys; Matt Wadiak, a chef, Ilia Papas, an engineer and consultant, and Matt Saltzberg a Harvard M.B.A. Right off the bat they started getting their ingredients from small local farms. But as the company grew, there just weren’t enough of the unusual ingredients they liked to use at the local farms. The Fairy Tale eggplant for instance.
They had a recipe made up by guest chef Michael Anthony from New York City’s Gramercy Tavern to include in their meal kits but they soon discovered they couldn’t get enough Fairy Tale eggplants from local sources to include it in the recipe. In the end they changed the recipe to include Zebra eggplants instead. The Blue Apron team was bummed.
So they got to work on changing how they ran their business. Blue Apron got right in the dirt. Literally. They started creating farm partnerships with small family farms across the country. Dr. Alison Grantham, Blue Apron’s agroecologist, slips on her rubber boots and goes out to the farms to talk with the families about what they have grown successfully, what they’d like to grow and what could be grown factoring in things like bio-diversity and the long term health of the soil.
Rogelio Bautista is one of those farmers. Together, he and Dr. Grantham decided his small farm would be ideal for growing the tiny Fairy Tale eggplants. And the all female owned Ironwood Farm is growing pea shoots; thousands and thousands of pea shoots. The list of farmers is in the hundreds and not only is Blue Apron getting the produce they want, the farmers are selling their acres and acres of crops before they’re even planted. So they’re getting a guaranteed income for the year which is almost unheard of for small family farms. It isn’t all positive though, the farmers are losing something as well. They no longer have their signature twitchiness.
Blue Apron is actually working directly with local farms, trudging up and down their dirt rows, taking their suggestions and working together to come up with the menus they create for the Blue Apron customers. Together. Like a team. Teamwork. Everyone getting their hands dirty. In big business. That’s so weird.
Why is this important? Who cares if Blue Apron is helping out some farmers?
Consider what Brenda Schoepp says.
Wanna be a part of it all? Get Blue Apron’s meal kits delivered to your door whenever you want? Maybe even experience the magic of the Fairy Tale Eggplant??!!
The first 50 readers will get three free meals on their first Blue Apron order. Yup.
Just click here: http://34.gs/4kdv
If you want to take a look at some of their recipes you can have a look at all of them and USE them for free here. Or you can take a look at my past Blue Apron posts where I made their Vegetarian Jamaican Chili and their Spicy Hoisin Turkey Meatballs.
Oh! And why the name Blue Apron? The company was originally called Part and Parsley. But when chef Matt Wadiak joined the group in the early days he refused to create recipes for a company called Part and Parsley. He wanted the meal-in-a-kit service to reference what French chefs in training traditionally wear. A blue apron.
this post was sponsored by Blue Apron.