As people become more aware of the dangers and health risks associated with pesticide use and genetically modified foods, the demand for organic produce and naturally raised meats continues to increase.
The problem is, these foods are hard to find. And they're expensive. So of course, we'd all love to eat the healthiest foods, but who has time to maneuver the deceptive packaging and marketing strategies, let alone the money to buy them on a regular basis?
If healthy eating is the proverbial angel on one shoulder, the convenience and affordability of drive-thus and readymade food is the devil on the other.
With their new organic produce delivery business,White Picket Produce, local sisters Sharyn Vross and Michelle Bennett hope to provide Sarasota with another option.
We sat down with the health-conscious entrepreneurs to talk about the business and the role they hope to play in Sarasota.
How did White Picket Produce come about?
Vross: I had just moved back to Sarasota from Charlotte, N.C., and I was kind of surprised there wasn't already organic produce delivery here. I'd used a service like that in Charlotte, and I really fell in love with it. I was looking for a business idea, and my sister and I have always wanted to work together, so we decided to take the opportunity to bring that kind of service to Sarasota.
Bennett: There are other options, like co-ops, but we wanted to provide something even more convenient. Everything is moving toward home delivery, so why not produce, too? We buy our produce at wholesale, so a lot of times you can get things for pretty cheap. We've shopped our prices with some organic food stores, and we've been a few dollars less.
What kind of demand did you see for this in Sarasota?
Vross: People are becoming more aware of the dangers of pesticides and GMOs, but a lot of people just don't have time to either go to the farmer's market or shop around for certified organic products. People have such crazy lives, so we saw a big demand for something like this. And it's not only about convenience; diet has such a big impact on overall health. I first started eating organic to help with my fibromyalgia, and that was kind of the catalyst for me.
Why was the name important to you?
Bennett: We loved the concept, and we wanted a name really represented what we were all about. We went through a lot of different ideas, but this is what we kept coming back to. It has a wholesome, family feel to it, and there's that imagery of a white picket fence surrounding your home and protecting your family. It was just a good fit.
Where does the food come from?
Vross: Our goal is to source our produce from local farms, but in the summer months, a lot of the produce that people want isn't grown in Florida. So in the off-season, we use a local distributor, Global Organics. We do have a big focus on local, though. Last week's box was probably 70% local products. And everything we use is USDA certified organic.
Bennett: There's a really good variety of fruits and vegetables in the box each week. It's exciting to get the box and see what's inside. A lot of times, it's produce I don't have a lot of experience with. It's fun — it makes me want to cook with it and plan a meal around it.
How does the service work?
Vross: Customers set their preferences ahead of time on our website, and they can make substitutions if they don't want a particular item. Our menu is posted online each Friday, and we make our deliveries on Wednesdays.
A standard box, which includes four or five fruits and five or six vegetables, is $35. The large box, which includes more of each item and a few additional items, is $55. As we grow, we'd love to expand to have a storefront and include organic poultry, meat, eggs and juices.
What do you hope to accomplish with White Picket Produce?
Bennett: We'd love to help expand the organic market in Sarasota, and we want to be one of those companies that helps Sarasota stay local. We have so many resources here, and if people make even a small effort to purchase more local products, it can have a huge impact on our economy.
What would you say to people who are unfamiliar with the concept of organic food?
Vross: A lot of people are quick to dismiss organic foods. They'll say things like, "Oh, well we didn't need organic foods when I was growing up." The thing is, that's exactly what they had; it just wasn't called that.
GMOs and pesticides were introduced to agriculture with the intention of growing more, heartier produce, but there were unintended consequences, and we're just starting to learn the longterm effects of these methods.
Organic farming is simply the way we used to grow things. If the health issues alone don't scare you, the food just tastes better. It tastes like it used to — like it's supposed to.
Photos courtesy of White Picket Produce