During a visit to Wickham’s Fruit Farm in early October, Tom Wickham handed me a perfectly ugly, lumpy heirloom tomato. “Isn’t it great?” he asked, “We just started selling these through FreshDirect.”
Without thinking, I inappropriately blurted, “wait, really!?” Tom chuckled at my disbelief. FreshDirect, the delivery service that I can’t leave my apartment without seeing, was selling fresh, local, seasonal produce from a family farmer that had just won my heart with an apple cider donut. My naiveté had blinded me from seeing that, despite their massive customer base, FreshDirect is making significant moves for local agriculture.
Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to learn more about FreshDirect when our photographer Randee Daddona spent the day with FreshDirect cofounder David McInerney, his North Fork team members and his one-year-old son, Jackson. Together, the group picked pumpkins and did business with some of their farmers, including Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm, Wells Homestead Acres, Deer Run Farms and Satur Farms. Below, find our conversation with David about FreshDirect and their relationship with Long Island farmers.
And this wasn’t the first time that we’ve spent time with McInerney; we actually went harpoon fishing for swordfish with him in our most recent travel issue.
Edible Manhattan: How did you get started meeting farmers?
David McInerney: At first, the farmers didn’t want to have anything to do with us. Supermarkets usually burn local farmers, so many of them didn’t understand the retail relationship. Paulette Satur of Satur Farms was the first person we did business with; she trusted me and understood the quality I was looking for. Paulette introduced us to other farmers, and through a chain reaction, we now work with eight farmers on the East End. The farmers know what we are all about, and we have great relationships with each of them.
EM: Will you be adding more Long Island farmers to your group?
DM: Probably not. By working with only a few farmers, we get to know the farmer and their family, and they get to know us. I’m able to spend a lot of time with each of them to discuss exactly what we’re looking for: size, shape, color; everything is handpicked to what we need. I also don’t want to add too many farmers to my list because each has a specialty and we’d like to keep it that way. We like one farm for their tomatoes, another for their asparagus and so on.
EM: How do you bridge the connection between the farmer and the consumer?
DM: Since we ship the product to the customer in a box, it’s hard for them to see the connection to the farmer. But we want them to know exactly where it’s coming from, so we tell them. When the customer buys Fox Hollow Farm tomatoes, the farm’s name is right on the box.
EM: What local foods are you selling this time of year?
DM: The consumer has this mindset that the season is over, but it’s really the best time of the year right now. Long Island in October is not just for pumpkins; there’s cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and tomatoes, all grown right here.
To order local food from FreshDirect, click here.