10 Innovative Sustainable Food Retailers

There is plenty of talk, especially online, about all the problems associated with our conventional, industrialized food system, me included.  And while there are significant challenges ahead in migrating toward more sustainable approaches to feeding people real food, I want to highlight a number of innovative retail solutions that are blazing trails for the rest to follow.

Here are 10 retail concepts I find intriguing (presented in alphabetical order).  In addition to a brief description, I am highlighting key strengths in supporting a more sustainable approach to food.

  1. Farm Fresh To You (Capay Valley, CA) – customer friendly, flexible and convenient certified organic CSA program serving 800 members from over 240 acres; home or office delivery options; no formal commitment required (cancel or suspend deliveries at any time); some customization of weekly delivery (eliminate items or add additional servings); mid-size farm CSA program with member numbers significantly greater than typical CSA farms
  2. FamilyFarmed.org (Oak Park, IL) – Mission is to expand production, marketing and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food and goods, in order to enhance the social, economic and environmental health of our communities; offers directory of CSA farms with delivery information; manages FamilyFarmed EXPO (three-day fall harvest festival and celebration of local foods and goods); developing product label program; large scale implementation of local, sustainable food
  3. FarmsReach (Bay Area, CA) – “the web hub for local grub” is building a web-based platform that offers a simple way for buyers to order food from local producers through delivery or local markets; pushing into new, easier to implement farmer-to-wholesale pathways
  4. Intervale Center (Burlington, VT) – manage 350 acres of farmland, nursery, compost production, trails, and wildlife corridors; developed Food Hub (connecting farmers to profitable market opportunities) and Food Basket (multi-farm CSA serving 125 members via 7 workplace drop off points); since 1980s, the Intervale has played a critical role in developing the Burlington community’s interest and support of local foods
  5. Know Your Farms (Davidson, NC) – multi-farm, year-round CSA program with limited customization of weekly box; introducing new “meal-in-a-box” pilot program that provides entire 4-person meal with local ingredients and cooking instructions; experimenting with new ways to deliver food that will be more valuable than random boxes
  6. Pete’s Greens (Craftsbury, VT) – year-round CSA program integrating farm and local products; utilizes wholesale delivery routes to drop off shares to 250 members; sales have been steadily migrating toward retail; reaching well beyond his farms location, Pete Johnson is pushing toward regional CSA programs (beyond local)
  7. Recipease (London, UK) – what list would be complete without a celebrity project, in this case “The Naked Chef” – Jamie Oliver; his first food and kitchen shop is designed to help anyone learn to cook and make great food; customers will be able to “assemble a brilliant meal in around 10 minutes”; bottom line: Mr. Oliver is helping get more people into their kitchens
  8. Sunflower Farmers Market (Boulder, CO) – “Serious Food…Silly Prices” is behind this growing chain of full-service grocery stores with emphasis on high quality natural and organic produce; founded and led by Wild Oats founder Mike Gilliland; also see Sprouts Farmers Market (AZ); both of these mini Whole Foods are part of trend toward smaller stores (10-20,000 square feet)
  9. The Organic Dish (Boulder, CO) – offering healthy, simple to make, and delicious ready-to-cook (frozen) organic meals and dinner kits utilizing local products; online or in-store order/deliver options; offers on-site do-it-yourself meal preparation parties for small groups (see Recipease)
  10. Three Stone Hearth (Berkeley, CA) – TSH is a worker-owned cooperative, offering nutrient dense foods to homes and families around the San Francisco Bay Area through what it calls a community supported kitchen (CSK); foods offered include soups, stews, cultured vegetables and coolers, sauces, prepared whole grain dishes; seems like a great model that could be customized to adapt to other regions

There are clearly a lot of really smart, energetic, and (in some cases) well-funded people attacking the challenges in our food system from multiple angles.  Over time, it is these efforts and those to follow that will make a real difference in getting more people to eat real food.

And if I missed companies or organizations that you feel should have made “the list”, please add them in the comments section so that we can raise our collective awareness even further.


Related Information and Links:

15 responses to “10 Innovative Sustainable Food Retailers

  1. Rob – great article and a wonderful list of resources. Thank you very much for including us in this list! As I think you’ve mentioned before, Farmers Markets are also a great way to support local farmers and producers (and to keep your money in the local economic ecosystem much longer).

    • Toby, I really like what The Organic Dish is doing…obviously.

      It would be great if you could share more with my blog’s readers about your company’s history and experience thus far. I know they are all hungry to hear about successful approaches to putting more sustainable and local food on people’s plates.


  2. Loads of great links here, will keep me busy for days. It’s heartening to see how many people and companies are trying to get out ahead of the curve and make a real difference. Thanks for another great post.

  3. Great links – but the Sunflower Farmers Market and Sprouts Farmers Market are kind of thorns in my side: calling themselves farmers markets when they don’t represent farmers is a misnomer and I think it misleads the public.

    • Jenny,

      Thanks for the comment regarding Sunflower and Sprouts “Farmers Markets”. It’s a great point. I had been assuming based on limited information and having never been in either store that they worked with farmers, either in the region or as part of their distribution infrastructure.

      Can you please expand on what you know about their relationship with farmers? Depending on your (and other) response, I may need to replace them on this list!


      Rob Smart

  4. I’m obviously a huge fan of recipease (dang, great name) as i believe we don’t focus nearly enough on encouraging people to find comfort in the kitchen.

    I’ve taken a stab and talking about my recipe-less inspiration here http://recipeplay.com/?p=582

    As always, great post, Rob.

    • For anyone wanting to read about what I consider a very unique and compelling inspiration to cook, please read the link above that wbsullivan provided. It’s wonderful!

  5. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for submitting this post to today’s Fight Back Fridays carnival. I’m always encouraged when I see new ways that people are evolving to meet consumer demand, particularly like the folks you linked to above. That’s the kind of ingenuity we need more of!

    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  6. Thanks for including FarmsReach in this great post, and including many of our friends in the industry!

    • Melanie: Glad to list FarmsReach and look forward to learning more about your efforts. Perhaps we could spend some time together soon and I could do a “profile” post to help spread the word. Let me know if you are interested (robert.b.smart@gmail.com).

  7. After almost 40 years of advocating for a veg/wholefoods/sustainable diet it is truly wonderful to see these initiatives. We wish folks today knew how things have changed as we do, because it is truly remarkable to see the changes from the days when “vegetarian” and “organic” were the laughingstock.
    Healthy trails,
    David & Nikki Goldbeck

  8. Happy Girl Kitchen (Watsonville, CA) – Todd & Jordan Champagne, who cut their teeth at Fully Belly Farms, realized their farmer neighbors needed an outlet for what they were producing. (The most common complaint among farmers with whom I work: inadequate & insufficient retail outlets/wholesalers for their yields. The solution: the revival of the dying art of food preservation. But HGK has taken its efforts further by initiating a series of entertaining workshops to teach people how to pickle, can, and ferment. They are using their existing channels (farmers’ markets) to promote the workshops and empowering people to engage with their food.

  9. Lynn Huddleston

    Hi Everyone,
    A great article and comments.
    I have worked in the British food industry sector for over 21 years and am so disillusioned with it all.
    I have seen smaller producers & retailers being edged out by the big boys / big retailers and UK & EEC over-regulation left right & centre. Neither of these things have helped the small artisan food producer to set up, keep going and find enough outlets for their handmade quality foods. Having said that, the wheel is turning and I feel that things will continue to improve for farms and small artisan producers … especially now with the explosion of internet business and the rapidly rising awareness of farmers markets.
    Fortunately all the UK Regional Development Authorities are making excellant grants and funding options available for Innovation – the development & launch of new food products. This includes small scale food production.
    It is a great way for small farms and local food businesses to progress to producing great local food ranges to rival any of those in the big food retailers.
    I live in 10 miles north of Liverpool in an area of the flat Lancashire plain which has amazing rich black soil and many farms, hothouses & market gardens. The summer vegetables are unbelievable here. Cherry tomatoes so warm & fragrant that when you catch of their heady scent it makes your senses reel …
    I am currently trying to build Opportunities so that I can work with Small Farmers to develop and produce great quality local food products.
    Hats off to all those championing the cause !
    Lynn Huddleston.

    • Lynn: Thanks so much for your thoughts on what is happening on the other side of the pond. It must be very exciting for someone who as been in the food industry for 21 years to see things changing. My hope is that small, innovative companies and farms are apply to ride the wave up, especially before bigger companies jump in to exploit opportunities. That seems to be happening right now with Disney Garden, a fast growing line of produce with the Disney brand wrapped around it. To be clear, Disney does not have a “garden” where the fruits and vegetables are grown. They are simply adding their brand (and associated muscle) to the products, just like they did with McDonald’s Happy Meals.

  10. Hi,

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself, as I would like to develop a sustainable distribution system for local food. I really like what Greenling are doing in Austin. Couldn’t this be a successful model? http://www.greenling.com

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