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Thinking inside the box 

Farm Box programs have Savannah's local food movement packed up and ready to go.

If your New Year’s resolution is to eat healthier or reduce your carbon footprint, then a couple of local businesses might be able to help you achieve your goal.

The solution is organic farm boxes, and the new programs are shaping up to be the next phase in the local food movement that has been growing in popularity across the city thanks to a bumper crop of farmer’s markets and restaurants using local ingredients.

Polk’s Market started their box program in May, offering up a variety of fruits and veggies along with other items like coffee, granola and other organic treats.

“It really helps people if they buy them all in one package deal and then have their week’s worth of fruits and vegetables,” explains Diane Polk. “There’s no brain cells needed to figure out what’s for dinner tonight.”

Customers sign up for the program and then can pick up their freshly prepared boxes every Thursday at the market.

“If you don’t like something that comes automatically in your box, we’ll let you trade it out for something that’s on our shelves,” Polk says.

To help people figure out how to use everything they get, even if it’s something they might not be familiar with, Polk also includes recipe ideas straight from her own kitchen.

Matt Roher, the local–food force behind Cha Bella and Earth to Table Catering, has also just launched a farm box program that will deliver boxes to subscribers every week.

Included in their boxes, along with a bounty of organic produce and fresh bread from Cha Bella’s bakery, is a link to a Youtube video where Roher explains the contents of each box and offers up some quick recipe ideas so that the average cook won’t be afraid to try something new.

“We’re doing this quick little video recipe that goes out with every box,” says Roher. “I take some of these weird items — they’re not weird to me, but they might be weird to the common home cook — and I’ll just show them in a couple minutes.”

Although Savannah has seen a swell of support for farmer’s markets this year, Roher thinks the box programs will be even more popular, helping the consumers, the farmers and the environment all at the same time.

“We contract with [the farmers], they make one bulk delivery and then I make all the deliveries from there,” Roher explains. “You don’t have a thousand people all getting in cars and driving to the market...the carbon footprint is a drop in the bucket compared to what it takes for people to get that traditionally.”

From the supply side, the box programs make it easier for farmers as well. It allows them additional assurance that their produce will have buyers, rather than transporting vegetables to a market where they might not sell all of what they have.

“Being at the market is a wonderful thing, I love meeting the customers who are going to eat the food, but there is a tremendous amount of time, energy and money to present food in those types of venues,” says Relinda Walker, who runs Walker Organic Farms in Sylvania and is Georgia’s only certified organic grower of Vidalia onions.

For Walker, one of the biggest challenges in growing organic produce is the delay between planting and harvesting, which is why she stopped selling to as many individual restaurants in favor of box programs and organic wholesalers.

“You have at least three months, depending on the season, but typically you might be six months away from delivering something that somebody wants,” she explains. “It’s very difficult. Everybody wants beets, so you grow more beets the next year, but then they don’t want beets, they want rutabagas.”

The box programs are better because they are dealing with larger orders, and they aren’t as susceptible to quickly changing tastes.

“They have a six-month gamble, hoping that people will buy what they plant once it grows,” says Polk. “It’s a little bit of stability for them to know that people in the community are supporting them.”

And support does seem to be growing, both Polk and Roher reported that they’ve had a lot of interest in the box programs.

“This is not a new concept, to buy your food from the area,” Polk says. “We just became global so fast. Everybody needed to see what they could buy from the farthest away, but now everybody is turning back around and getting back to the basics.”

For more information on Cha Bella’s Farm Box program email farmbox@cha–bella.com; for more info on Polk’s Farm Box program call (912) 238–3032 or email dianejpolk@yahoo.com

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Connect Today 12.09.2016

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