A New Wave of Grocery Distribution Models Takes on FreshDirect

Clockwise, from top left: Narragansett Creamery feta; Orwasher’s Ultimate Whole Wheat; French breakfast radishes; Yolo Red walnuts; Award-winning local milk; Berkshire-pork chops from Pine Plains, New York; California kumquats. Photo: Victor Prado /New York Magazine

As New Yorkers grow ever more interested in where their food comes from, a new wave of distribution models has emerged to take on FreshDirect, community-supported agriculture, and the farmers’ market by combining elements of all of them. These alternatives use modern technology to connect consumer to producer, utilizing social media and appetizing web design to emphasize a food item’s backstory as much as its flavor. In a massive agricultural system like ours, says Vermont farmer Erik Andrus, “to be invisible is to be dead.” Here, an introduction to three fledgling start-ups aiming to liberate you from the supermarket aisle.

1. Quinciple (quinciple.com)
Founders: Erstwhile architect Markus Jacobi and former Spotted Pig forager Kate Galassi.
Motto: “We bring the farmers’ market to you.”
How it works: In an effort to combine convenience and quality, this subscription service curates and packs orders in its South Williamsburg warehouse, then delivers them by cargo tricycle to Manhattan homes for $49.90 a week. (In Brooklyn, smaller pickup boxes are $37.90.) Each contains about fifteen items meant to provide two dinners for two people, plus recipe cards. Quinciple casts a wider sourcing net than the competition, with like-minded farms ranging from Greenmarket stalwarts to California citrus groves.
Shopping list: This month’s menu includes, among other items, New York-raised pork, Rhode Island feta, local rutabaga and sage, and cookies from Bklyn Larder.

Clockwise, from top left: Pie Corps apple cobbler; Free Bread gluten-free rolls; Fishkill Farms apples; Consider Bardwell Farm cheese (to melt on Farmers Market Fix veggie burgers); Farm to Baby NYC puréed carrots and chicken, kale, and cauliflower.

2. Good Eggs (goodeggs.com)
Founders: San Francisco tech-world veterans Rob Spiro and Alon Salant, who’ve enlisted Hudson Valley farmer (and public-service scion) Josh Morgenthau to head up the nascent Brooklyn chapter.
Mission statement: “To grow and sustain local food systems worldwide.”
How it works: Purchase “farm-to-fridge groceries” from the Good Eggs-designed “webstands,” or virtual farm stands, of participating producers, who are currently responsible for their own order fulfillment, be it pickup or delivery. Centralized distribution should launch by summer.
Shopping list: Current options include the Splendid Spoon, a vegetable-soup delivery system (plans range from $55 to $218); Farm to Baby NYC’s seasonal baby food (delivery “bundles” from $35 to $80 per week); and produce from Morgenthau’s own Fishkill Farms (apples, $10 a half-peck). Items must be grown or made in the local foodshed by producers and farmers who “do the right thing,” environmentally and ethically, according to Morgenthau.

Clockwise, from left: Champlain Orchards cider syrup, apple butter, and dried apples; Jacob's Cattle beans; Pickled carrots; Boundbrook Farm rice.

3. The Vermont Sail Freight Project (vermontsailfreightproject.org)
Founder: Erik Andrus, a Vermont rice and grass-fed-beef farmer intent on reviving sail freight as an energy-efficient alternative. “A river will never get a pothole,” he says.
Motto: “Connecting the farms and forests of Lake Champlain with the lower Hudson Valley” (or, as Andrus puts it, “Nonperishables Direct”).
How it works: Aided by a volunteer crew and partly funded by Kickstarter, Andrus is building a sail-powered barge that holds twelve tons of shelf-stable cargo. The goal is for the Ceres to make its ten-day carbon-neutral maiden voyage this summer from Lake Champlain to Manhattan, dropping off preordered goods along the way.
Shopping list: Short-grain rice, Macintosh apples, cider syrup, dried beans, pickled beets and carrots, jams, apple butter, dulse (a seaweed), and dried herbs sourced from ten New York and Vermont farms.

*This article originally appeared in the April 29, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.