By Michael Jessen
It's a common notion that the only way to eat is first to buy food at the store. Neither Velvet Kavanagh nor her 90 customers share this opinion.
Kavanagh is the owner of a business called Endless Harvest which once a week delivers fresh, organic, and - whenever possible - locally-grown food to the doorsteps of residents in the Nelson, Trail and Rossland areas.
To many of Kavanagh's clientele, the weekly box of vegetables and fruit also contains a lot of food for thought.
Her weekly newsletter, which arrives in the produce box, may include a profile of the turnip, details on its nutritional value, how to eat it, and even a recipe. At other times she has written about the weather and how it affects growers, as well as the importance of organic food. The newsletter always includes a list of box items, where each was grown, the organic certifier, and comments about storage of each item. It's all part of Kavanagh's mission to help people feel more connected to their diet.
"I like being able to say to someone, here's a little bit of info," says the 30-year-old vegetarian entrepreneur who wants to help people make their own decisions. Future newsletters will attempt to educate customers who aren't aware of when produce is in season and when it isn't.
"I also like to put things in the box that people would never have bought in the grocery store," she adds. "My customers tell me they're eating more vegetables and learning to cook different things."
While her customers pay for her service for reasons of convenience and food quality, Kavanagh says many people didn't realize the big difference in quality and taste provided by locally grown organic produce.
"I believe that organic food, for anyone concerned about their health and the health of the Earth, is the wave of the future," she says, adding, "As important as organic food is, there is a great need for us to buy more locally-grown food."
Scientific evidence supports Kavanagh's thoughts. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, between 30 and 40 percent of all cancers worldwide are linked to food. Author and organic farmer Jack Kittredge says the primitive farming techniques which spawned the agricultural revolution required an input of one calorie of energy (mostly muscular) for every five calories of food produced.
"Now fertilizers, petrochemicals, mechanization of production, processing, and global transport and distribution have reversed that equation," writes Kittredge. "For one modern food calorie to reach your table, between eight and ten calories (mostly petroleum) must be spent."
A 10-year background in the health food industry convinced Kavanagh she had the experience to start her own business before she moved to Nelson in June of last year. Although she was the recipient of an organic produce box program in Vancouver, it wasn't until she discovered one had been started in Kelowna that she realized Nelson was ripe for such a business.
With minimal start-up costs, she had her produce delivery service up and running in a month. Her clientele peaked at 125 early this summer before some customers dropped out to eat the produce from their own backyard gardens. Kavanagh has hired an employee in anticipation of additional customers signing on in the fall.
Kavanagh offers more flexibility than most other organic produce delivery services. Three types of boxes are available - the basic with a balanced selection of vegetables and fruit, the garden with plenty of vegetables and a smaller selection of fruit, and the orchard with lots of fruit and less vegetables. Each box type comes in two sizes, the small which costs $25 and feeds one to three people and the large which costs $35 and feeds three to five. An extra vegetable or fruit package can be added for $8 each.
A typical small basic box in August contains 2 lbs. bananas, 1 lb. peaches, 1 lb. pears, 1 bunch carrots, 1 lb. apples, 2 lbs. potatoes, 1 cantaloupe, 1 lb. tomatoes, 1 bunch parsley, 1 lb. red bell peppers, 1/2 lb. yellow bell peppers, 1 lb. gold zucchini, 1 bunch rainbow chard, and 1/2 lb. turnips. Delivery days are Tuesday for Nelson and Wednesday for North Nelson and Trail-Rossland.
Endless Harvest can also provide cases or half-cases for any produce. As a result of a recent customer survey, Kavanagh also plans to offer a selection of dried bulk food like beans and grains delivered with the boxes.
Most of the local produce supplied by Endless Harvest is grown by people who are members of the Kootenay Organic Growers Society which has seen its membership balloon in the past year. Kavanagh sees great potential for more locally grown produce, especially that grown in greenhouses to combat the short growing season in the West Kootenay. If root crop storage can be arranged, there is excellent potential for more root vegetables to be grown here, says Kavanagh.
"I believe that we need to work towards creating sustainable and self-sufficient communities, and we need to support our friends and neighbours." To that end, Kavanagh donates any leftover produce to local organizations like the Advocacy Centre and the Salvation Army soup kitchen.
"I like to eat," says Kavanagh. "I like my food to taste good, to be as fresh as possible and to be locally grown." Endless Harvest customers confirm that Kavanagh delivers on her beliefs.
ONE SMALL STEP - The new National Standard of Canada for Organic Agriculture recently clarified the meaning of "organic" in organic agriculture. Among its provisions, the standard: prohibits use of ionizing radiation in the preservation of food; prohibits use of genetically engineered or modified organisms; encourages maximum rotation of crops and promotion of biodiversity. If home delivery is not for you, you may want to consider shopping at one of the many food cooperatives and health food stores in the West Kootenay that sell organic produce. If you can't grow your own food, buy locally grown as a first choice.
Endless Harvest can be reached at (250) 825-4636 or via Email at email@example.com. Details of the National Standard for Organic Agriculture can be found at the Canadian Organic Advisory Board website at www.coab.ca/. A list of BC organic food delivery services can be found on the Farm Folk/City Folk website at www.ffcf.bc.ca/orgdel.htm. Availability charts for BC fresh fruits and vegetables can be found at www.bcfarmfresh.com/charts.html. Useful tips for easy home pest control and organic gardening are available at the Ecological Agriculture Projects website at http://eap.mcgill.ca/. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Centre will open in mid-September in Winlaw in conjunction with The Feast of Fields event celebrating local food and agriculture. The centre can be reached at (250) 355-2228.
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