In this post, we highlight two businesses that are working to increase Austin's local, sustainable, and affordable food supply - Good Apple and Lettuce Networks.
The pandemic is changing so much about daily life here in Austin.
A lot more time at home. Zoom happy hours. Neighborhood walks. Handmade face masks.
It’s also changing the way we eat. For many of us, we’re having to really think about where our next meal will come from, often for the first time. Will the grocery store have what I need? Is it even safe to go there? Do I have to cook dinner, again, tonight? Will I have the money tomorrow, next week, or next month to buy food for my family?
More and more, people are looking for cheaper, healthier, and local food options – delivered straight to their doorsteps.
In Austin, local food businesses and nonprofits are seeing the results of these changing habits. And for some, they see it as an opportunity, both to serve the community and to show consumers that yes, they should keep shopping local, even after the crisis subsides.
Take Good Apple, for example.
They’re a local startup that ships organic, local produce right to your door for a reasonable price. And, for every box of produce you buy, they donate one to a neighbor in need.
The company first launched last October with only 30 customers, as an experiment to start testing out the best ways to make local produce more accessible in our community. The idea came from founder Zack Timmons, a student in the UT Medical School’s entrepreneur in residence program, which looks for ways to intertwine business and medicine in a way that educates the public and keeps everyone healthy.
Earlier this year, the company got a big boost after being named as one of the winners in the Ford Mobility City:One Challenge, which came with a cash price ($75,000) and consulting/ mentorship from the Ford team.
The company has grown exponentially since then, but as Cory Wynn (an advisor with Good Apple) explained in a recent interview with the Austin Common, from the beginning, one of their biggest barriers has been consumer habits.
“When we go to the supermarket, we don’t think, oh, I need produce,” Cory said. “We think, I need an apple, or I need this type of green, or I need this type of herb… The reason why we shop like that is because we’ve learned to cook with those things, we’re comfortable cooking with those things. And one of the real challenges is trying to help people understand how they can cook with things that they’re not necessarily used to seeing. And I think that’s a big part of eating seasonally, eating locally…”
As Cory explained, that’s why Good Apple helps people not only gain access to healthy, local produce, but learn how to actually cook with them and incorporate them into their diets.
“And I think that, if you can get people thinking locally, thinking seasonally, and eating that way, a lot of those challenges that we have with a traditional super market, don’t need to be the way that they necessarily are,” Cory said. “They don’t need to ship things across from South America or from Asia in the same way, because people are more comfortable with what they have.”
For Good Apple, that’s one of the drivers behind creating the company in the first place.
“One of the main things you learn about in medical school is, food is ultimately the source of health for everyone,” Cory said, and yet, not enough is being done to ensure that everyone has access to healthy food.
In addition to its buy one, give one produce delivery model, Good Apple has also partnered with the City of Austin to deliver even more food to Austinites in need during this COVID-19 crisis. With some additional funding from the Transportation Department, Good Apple has launched a new Stay Home, Stay Healthy program to deliver produce and pantry staples to low-income seniors and immunocompromised people. Each delivery has enough food to feed one person for an entire week, with the goal of reducing or eliminating the need for trips to the grocery store.
Good Apple estimates the program will provide 62,400 pounds of food (from local vendors like Johnson’s Backyard Garden, Gundermann Acres, G&S Groves and Hope Food Pantry) to fill food relief packages to more than 2,000 people in the coming weeks.
Another company that’s been working to make Austin’s food supply more local and sustainable is Lettuce, a meal-kit service that delivers locally produced food in nearly zero waste packaging.
“So if you get a meal kit delivery from a Blue Apron or a Hello Fresh, it doesn’t take long to figure out that those ingredients were flown probably thousands of miles before they got to your doorstep,” said Yogesh Sharma (CEO of Lettuce Networks) in an interview with The Austin Common last week. “…Meanwhile, there’s at least in Texas, plenty of local ingredients growing all around.”
Lettuce works with local farmers (many of whom are too small to sell to big grocery store chains) to source its food and then packages it in reusable containers. Each week, customers are able to put last week’s containers on their doorstep to be picked up, cleaned, and used again. As Yogesh explained, it’s kind of like the old milk man delivery model, but for meal kits.
It’s a model that has become very attractive in light of COVID-19 – a consistent supply of healthy food, delivered straight to your doorstep, without the guilt or waste that comes along with ordering your food from Amazon.
“We’ve been deluged,” Yogesh said. “It’s as simple as that. It’s the only way to describe it. We’ve grown 4x in a week. And that has been incredibly exciting, at one level, obviously, to finally get the attention of people who normally would not even think about us or have known about us. And challenging as well because you plan infrastructure for a certain level of growth…”
Luckily, the company has already invested a lot of time and energy into improving its systems to accommodate for that growth.
“I think the operating model kind of started to creek about a year ago, when we grew to like 3x in 6 months,” Yogesh said. “…And we had to rework everything and make it more modular, more technology-driven, and more partly automated.”
It’s that technology that has helped Lettuce to grow, and is now allowing the company to help other local food businesses grow as well. Lettuce has opened up its online store and delivery management software (called Loconomy) to companies like Inner City Vegan and Suga’s Cakery. This helps them route their deliveries efficiently and send real-time updates to customers. Lettuce is also testing out delivery partnerships with some of these businesses, allowing Lettuce drivers to make deliveries on behalf of smaller, local food producers.
According to Yogesh, it’s technological advances and capital investment like these that will really increase Austin’s local food supply. (Right now, only about 1 percent of the food consumed in Travis County is produced locally.) Small-scale farmers markets and other niche ways of selling food, Yogesh said, simply won’t bring about big change.
“That’s all wishful thinking,” Yogesh said. “That’s not going to move the dial 1 percent to 10 percent. I’m sorry. It’s not going to do it… The dial will move significantly with bold vision, bold leadership, bold technology, infrastructure, capital…”
Ultimately, for Yogesh, he hopes that the current disruption in our food supply will drive more consumers to think local and encourage local producers to really step up and deliver a service that’s healthier, more affordable, and tastes better.
“That is an opportunity not just for us, but for so many other services,” Yogesh said. “…It is a moment for us all together to show customers and consumers that local is better. Like that carrot that you ate from us, that is a better carrot than that thing you get in a bag that looks like little bullets…”
There are lots of ways to get involved with Good Apple and Lettuce Networks. Here’s how:
If you’re in need of food assistance, you can apply to receive a deliver from Good Apple’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy program here.
If you want to donate to the Stay Home, Stay Healthy program, you can do so here.
If you want to volunteer for the Stay Home, Stay Healthy program and help box and bag food for neighbors in need, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want buy a produce box from Good Apple, you can do so here.
If you want to sign up for Lettuce’s meal-kit delivery service, you can do so here.
If you want to buy from other local vendors on Loconomy, you can do so here.