You may have seen them scurrying around the region: a trio of white vans emblazoned with the snappy logo, “Field Goods.” There’s even a growing chance that you know someone who’s been receiving the Greene County-based start-up company’s weekly bags of vegetables, culled from dozens of local farms; or have signed up for Field Goods on your own.
Field Goods is a business that contracts with farmers for produce, collects them and packages them for its individual customers, and it’s getting talked about by farmers who welcome a steady new revenue source to make up for the growing monopoly of industrial farming product from outside the region. And consumers — eaters — enjoy having a year-long supply of their weekly vegetables for $20, $25, or $30 a week — with an extra $5 for bread — even though they get no choice over what’ll be in their bags.
That’s because Field Goods works with dozens of farmers each week, finding a quality mix of fruits and vegetables that’s the best of the local crop. They even commission farmers to grow certain items…because they have the market force of several thousand customers to make it profitable for everyone.
You can order from them on the internet, and a lot of the delivery takes place at big office parks and companies, and local businesses where there are more than single customers. And those local businesses, small and large, can win rate cuts from their insurance providers by offering new ways to enhance wellness among their employees by offering the company’s weekly veggie bags.
“This all came out of me trying to find work for myself here,” said the company’s founder and top employee, Donna Williams, on a busy morning in the company’s warehouse headquarters outside Athens. “I had been working for a Seattle-based food company after years in investment banking and publishing, hired to be thinking what I like to call ‘Big Thoughts,’ and got laid off. I was hired by Greene County to do a study tied to their plans for an incubator farm…sort of like a business incubator. This all came out of that…”
Williams’ laptop, on which she jiggers and checks the various spreadsheets that Field Goods runs on, from coordinating what farms are harvesting to what each order needs, is running a bit haywire this morning. She and her intern-age assistant are handing out gas cards to the Field Goods vans’ drivers, checking incoming bins and outgoing bags, and making sure everything’s being refrigerated at the proper temperatures as they move product from farm to table in a day.
Their home office, where Field Good’s “back end” transpires as Williams puts it, is in a paneled room at the back of a former pools and spa business. Outside, one can smell apples in the foggy morning air; inside it’s the freshness of newly-picked veggies and the clean dirt that adorns them.
Williams is moving everywhere, followed by two small dogs she calls her human resource assistants, showing off the refrigerated van she uses for storage, the new inside refrigerator room her husband has put together based on an Ulster County farmers’ discovery that you can “supercharge” normal air conditioners to extra chill a space.
Who knew that tomatoes have to be stored at different levels of chill than tomatillos, squash or lettuce? Or that the problems with food cleanliness start when you add water to their storage…but customers have been trained to turn away things that arrive with dirt on them. Unless they’ve started getting retrained by Field Goods.
Local food is here to stay
Herein lies Williams “big thought” behind her business…which she sits down to explain in her office during a short break.
“I have experience creating business plans, and not just studies, so what I was doing for Greene County was an executionable study…something they could start right in on,” Williams explained. “I met everyone in the field while doing it and came away realizing that interest in local food, especially here in the Hudson Valley, is here to stay…it’s a really big thing.”
The problem, Williams said she found, was food distribution…the money it costs farmers to get their product to market. She discussed what’s there — from CSAs and farmers’ markets to the few independent stores and restaurants buying product directly from farmers — and found none of them to be efficient uses of a farmers’ time. Furthermore, she realized early on that “the guys working in some business park” are not going to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or go to a farmer’s market regularly.