Can’t get to the farmers market? SLO Veg will bring the market to you.
The subscription-based service is based on the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs operated by some farms. By joining a CSA, customers sign up for regular delivery of shares — boxes of fresh fruits, vegetables and other farm goods.
What’s different about SLO Veg is that the company doesn’t grow its own produce. It gets fresh ingredients for its share boxes from local farms that may not be big enough or have enough crop variety to offer their own CSAs.
“We source from about 20 different farmers around the area, most of which attend weekly farmers markets here in San Luis Obispo and Five Cities,” said Rachael Hill, SLO Veg proprietor. “We’re trying to help sustain the farmers.”
Hill and her then-business partner thought of the San Luis Obispo-based company almost a decade ago, when topics such as sustainability and traceability began to crop up.
“Originally, we were going to do all organics,” Hill recalled. However, a feasibility study done as a Cal Poly senior project revealed that San Luis Obispo County residents were more concerned about whether food was pesticide-free and local.
SLO Veg produce meets those standards. Plus, Hill said, “As we started marketing to farmers and getting to know their practices, we discovered that a lot of them were growing organically anyway, even if they weren’t certified.”
SLO Veg started delivery in June 2009. At first, “We picked up produce in our own vehicles, but now most farmers deliver to us,” Hill said. Some bring products in every weekday; depending on the perishability of the crop, most of the fruits and vegetables have been picked that morning.
“Our subscribers have expectations that their produce is going to be fresh,” Hill said. “And you just can’t beat the taste of fresh.”
Depending on the subscriber level, a weekly or bi-weekly SLO Veg box typically contains 10 to 14 items. Occasional add-on options include local honey and olive oil; fresh, locally-caught fish can be delivered via an arrangement with Central Coast Catch.
Customers are emailed a specific list of all the items and where they were sourced from – as well as suggested recipes -- at the beginning of each week.
Assembly of the weekly shares is done at SLO Veg’s facility on Tank Farm Road. It contains a small walk-in cooler, the bare minimum of office desk space and a lot of tables with open share boxes ready to be filled with farm-fresh produce.
“We’re trying to keep our overhead as low as possible, so we work in waves all day,” Hill explained. “We build the boxes (for specific delivery routes), they go out and we start over – sometimes three times a day.”
Currently, SLO Veg delivers to individual homes and offices in San Luis Obispo and all of South County, plus Los Osos, Morro Bay and Cayucos. Cal Poly deliveries are made to a couple of centralized drop points, as are boxes for subscribers in the recently added North County region.
The company also drops share boxes off at Pacheco and Bishops Peak elementary schools in San Luis Obispo “so that moms can pick them when they get their kids,” Hill said, adding that SLO Veg donates a portion of those subscriptions back to the schools’ PTAs.
Other school-oriented partnerships include supplying some of the fresh produce for lunches at Laguna Middle School in San Luis Obispo; working with One Cool Earth, a local non-profit supporting school gardens, and participating in the Growing Edible Education Symposium, Oct. 6 and 7 at Rancho El Chorro Outdoor School in San Luis Obispo.
“Going forward, we want to get even more involved in local schools and education,” Hill said. “Getting kids really geared up and learning about plant-to-plate.”