We never thought it'd be hard to find organic meat, but we never imagined we'd see shoppers fight over toilet paper, either.
If there's one thing we've learned from the last few months—aside from how to effectively place an online grocery order—it's that skipping the store to shop directly from the source is often the best bet. Fortunately, thousands of farms across the country deliver eggs, fresh milk, grass-fed meat and more, and it's a lesson that's happily learned thanks to a new database that makes it easy no matter your location.
Whether you're searching for raw milk, humanely raised beef, pesticide-free microgreens, free-range chickens, heritage-breed pork or jars of organic honey, there's a chance that at least one local farm—more likely at least a few dozen—can bring farm-fresh product to your door, and Farms That Are Delivering wants to connect you.
Borne out of a frustration with coronavirus food shortages, friends and tech pros David Pham and Jason Curescu began compiling a list of farms that ship nationally and deliver locally, building a site that can shop by location, type of meat, variety of seafood, kind of prepared food or pantry item, and whether an item is organic, grass-fed, grain-fed, humanely raised or pasture-raised, with even more search functions planned for Black- and women-owned farms.
"When things started to ramp up in terms of the lockdown, I just kind of went to autopilot," says Pham. "My typical go-to’s whenever there’s some kind of thing to prepare for is to get Chef Boyardee and instant ramen and stuff like that, so 12-year-old me would have loved that, but it became really apparent very early on that eating that every day, three meals a day, was not going to work."
Pham, whose parents are high-risk, couldn't justify making physical trips to the grocery store and couldn't land delivery time slots, while Curescu's hunt for the more elusive trim of beef suet was proving unsuccessful—until he found a farm that could sell directly to him. The pair tracked down a handful of existing farm-delivery websites but most require CSA membership, while other listings were outdated or not set up for basic online purchases.
For the nearly 1,400 farms now listed on their site, the pair estimate they've weeded through 10,000 to 15,000 farms in order to find those that deliver and offer easy-to-purchase goods. They still have thousands more to go, and wake up at 6am to tackle the project before turning their attention to full-time work.
"You should have seen some of our Slack calls and Zoom meetings where me and Jason would link up," laughs Pham. "Where we’re just kind of staring out into space for minutes on end because we’ve just been so loaded with information that we need to rest a little bit."
The hard work is paying off; their site launched in April and without any form of marketing or splashy graphics, the database has helped roughly 130,000 unique users find farms. They've received emails and letters from shoppers happy they've sourced hard-to-find cuts of meat—and especially to find kosher and halal farms.
"It’s never something I’d really thought about or seen in grocery stores," Pham says. "It just made me realize that some people have a really difficult time finding meat that they’re allowed to eat, that’s also high-quality."
It's also been enlightening as to our country's certification processes: What makes a chicken "free range," what exemptions can farms file and still be called organic, what feed needs to be used to meet certain FDA guidelines?
By shopping directly through farms and asking these questions of your farmer, it's easier to navigate these distinctions than, say, picking up the first pack of ground beef you see in your market's meat aisle. It's education and empowerment that Pham and Curescu want to encourage long after coronavirus.
"In general, [Americans] are pretty divorced from our source of food," Pham says. "Most of us, the closest we get to the actual source of food from the earth is probably the grocery store, and Jason and I talk about this quite often: The only way to really know what’s in your food is to know the farm behind your food. There’s no other way."
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