Saturday, April 21, 2012

Horse and Buggy Produce

Megan and a gigantic tomato!
In an effort to get to know some of the folks working in our food system, I interviewed Megan Reynolds who works for Horse and Buggy Produce. She also plays in a superfun band and writes a foodie blog called she wears boots- all in all, a most lovely lady.

Tell us a little about Horse and Buggy.
Horse & Buggy Produce works with local farmers in the Shenandoah Valley and around Central Virginia to bring our subscribers the best, freshest, and tastiest local produce every week.  We started in 2006 by Brett Wilson, and from those humble beginnings, we now serve customers in Richmond, Charlottesville, Crozet, and Lynchburg.  We work primarily with a small, Old-Order Mennonite community in the Shenadoah Valley.  We provide weekly and bi-weekly produce subscriptions for local food lovers, in addition to products like pastured eggs, beef, poultry, pork, and trout; baked goods like granola and bread; and local artisanal cheeses, tofu, bread, pasta, spices, and other products.  We are really dedicated to local food, local farmers, and local artisans, and try to make our products as accessible as possible. We offer home delivery for just $2.90 per delivery; we'll bring it right to your door, and our shares start at around $25 a week.

What is your job description?
Heh, I always struggle with that one. How about: Social media guru / marketing / public speaking / personal chef /  delivery driver / saleslady.  I'd been a subscriber for several years when I moved to Richmond last August. I was talking to Brett Wilson, founder and owner, one day at the JCC pickup in Richmond, and commenting how wonderful it was that we could simply switch our pickup sites, and not have to find a new service. He mentioned that if I was ever interested in helping H&BP find new customers in Richmond, he could use the help. I said, "well, actually, I'm looking for a job".  He said "well, seriously, I'm looking for someone in Richmond to work for us." I said "well, SERIOUSLY, I'm looking for a job". Once we decided we were both serious, we got to talking, and I started working remotely for Horse & Buggy Produce here, in a range of capacities. So far, I've developed our communications with customers, revised our website, activated our facebook page, and started blogging.  Plus some public appearances, talking to groups, and helping to find delivery organizers. Oh and so much more, I can't write it all here. That's pretty much the way Horse & Buggy works.  The other women who work full time for us, Masha and Carly, would have similarly difficult times explaining their job titles.  The organization really does function like a family, and everyone does a whole lot of things.  There's truly no job too big or too small... One week, I'll be in a suit speaking to a large company about making Horse & Buggy Produce available at their location, and the next week, there are 40 watermelons in the trunk of my 1998 Mazda sedan. Seriously. 40. (I have pictures.) It's a wonder there are any shocks left in that thing.

What makes Horse and Buggy different than other subscription services?
#1: We're more convenient.  Because we work with a community of farmers, we're able to be more flexible with customers.  So, for instance, you can start or stop anytime you want. Sign up in the middle of the season, or the last 2 weeks. And in fact, we're moving to a year-round model this year, so the idea of a "season" will disappear.  You simply activate your account when you want, and deactivate it when you don't.

You can choose to miss deliveries.  If you're going on vacation to Bermuda (or Florida, or Wisconsin, whatever), just login to your online account, tell us what dates you'll be out of town, and you won't receive your shares that week, and you won't be charged.

We also allow folks to swap up to 1 item each week for something else. If you REALLY don't like beets, you just let the office know you'd like more of something else. No problem.

#2: We deliver. Yum. Yes. If you want to come to our pickup site at the JCC each thursday and pick out your produce, you can still do that.  But we will also deliver to your home for less than $3 each week. That's a box of produce on your doorstep. No driving or shopping. Right now, we offer delivery in The Fan/Museum District, Carytown, West End, Forest Hill/Woodland Heights, and Bon Air.  We hope to be able to expand to Church Hill and Ginter Park/Northside in the coming months.  If anyone out there is interested in helping us do deliveries in their neighborhood, we pay in groceries. It usually takes 1-2 hours per week, and most of our organizers make enough to offset at least half of their share cost.

#3: We're not a CSA.  CSA is a term that's thrown about a bit easily in the local food community, and we want to be clear. Horse & Buggy Produce is not a single farm.  We really do work with an entire community of farmers and it's one of our biggest assets.  Working with many farmers means that we can provide GREAT variety each week, and our customers don't bear the risk of farmers, as in a traditional CSA.

I mentioned the Mennonite community we work with.  All of these farmers are small plot farmers, growing a variety of crops, and before 2006, many of them didn't have a way to get their produce to buyers.  (Remember: some of these folks still use horse and buggies to get around!) Without a way to distribute their produce, in 2006, the community came together and created a "community auction", where farmers come together several times a week in a big outdoor pavilion, wholesale buyers from nearby gather, and they auction their produce.  We see these farmers every week, visit their farms, and have created long term, lasting relationships with them.  We see their kids at the auction.  We drink coffee and have lunch with them.  Most importantly, the entire community has dedicated itself to the auction. Farmers won't make outside deals with buyers. They'll insist on sending it through the auction block, and that means that farmers get the best price for their crops, and no single farmer gets all the business. The entire community benefits from this arrangement.  The entire community and local economy rise together. It's inspiring.

What do you love about Horse and Buggy?
Oh gosh, so many things. The food is fantastic, beautiful, freakin' delicious, and local.  I love that we really try to stay true to the "homegrown" experience. We really do have personal relationships with all the farmers we work with.  When I went to the auction last fall, I was amazed by the success of what I saw: a cooperative economy.  All the wholesale buyers know one another, they see each other every week. They tease one another on who got best price on corn last week, or who's gonna grab that killer flat of heirloom tomatoes.  And the farmers and buyers mix freely; they know one another personally. It was just astounding to see how powerfully thinking as a community can benefit so many people at once. I really think it is cooperative capitalism at it's best.

Also, have I mentioned the food.  Cabbages the size of basketballs, lima beans as long as your hand (I'm a lima bean convert), bibb lettuce that looks like it's been groomed by a food photographer. And the eggs? Oy. Don't get me started. Ultimately, it comes down to this: the flexibility is great, delivery is convenient, the prices are really, really reasonable, and I feel all warm and fuzzy about those Mennonites that I'm supporting.  But what keeps me coming every year: the taste.

What does the future of local food in Richmond look like?
It's an interesting question. It's certainly a bright future; lots of providers, lots of farmers, lots of community activists. I'm particularly excited for the city's work of local food in schools, and looking at access to fresh and local foods for all city residents.  I think the fact that we have half a dozen markets in the the city limits during the growing season is testament to the city's excitement about local food.  Here's the thing: Richmond is a big city.  Local food is affordable.  As the number of CSAs, food clubs, and farmer's markets grow, I really continue to be convinced: there's room for everyone. There's enough for everyone to have a piece of the economic pie.  Because everyone, EVERYONE in Richmond, should be able to have high quality, fresh food, available to them.  That's the ultimate goal.


  1. Fantastic... Okay I'm ready to sign up!

  2. I am proud to be a subscriber of H&BP and Megan did a great job of summing up what H&BP is.

  3. Great post and thanks for sharing what H&BP was all about!

  4. Thanks, all. We love being a part of the local food scene here in Richmond.

  5. Love hearing your story Megan, and loving H&BP! Well done!

  6. We had a subscription to H&B a few years ago and sometimes recieved food from New Jersey and Ohio. I was approached by one of their employees as recently as last summer asking what could they do to win me back as a customer. When I replied "ensure the food you sell me is local" I was told I needed to 'rethink what's considered local.'
    H&B does a great marketing job, not always a great local sourcing job.

  7. Becky,

    I'm sorry to hear that you had this experience with us! All of our produce is grown in Central Virginia, with one major exception that I know of: blueberries. In order to meet our subscriber's requests for blueberries, we do work with a farm in New Jersey so that we can have an adequate supply for all our customers. I am not aware of any other exceptions to this, certainly since I have been with Horse & Buggy.

    On the other hand, I'm very sorry to hear that the explanation you were given was "rethink what's considered local". That's uncharacteristic of us, and frankly, not a very good explanation. We strive to be as transparent as possible in how our food is grown and where it comes from. For customers who would prefer not to purchase blueberries from further away, we do provide the ability to swap those items for more of something else in a share. We do work to both fulfill customer's requests, and stay true to being a local food company. Again, I'm very sorry you had this experience with us.

    1. I did check on any other past needs from other states. In 2007, a frost killed the cherries in Central Virginia. We asked subscribers if they would like cherries from a farm in Ohio, as one of our local farmers was going to pick some up from a relative's farm. Subscribers said "Yes!" to the Ohio cherries, and our farmer brought us back some.

      Other than that, and our regular blueberry purchase, we get all of our produce from within 100 miles of Charlottesville.