01/23/12 — Homegrown delivery -- Produce makes housecalls

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Homegrown delivery -- Produce makes housecalls

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 23, 2012 1:53 PM

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Tony Jones of Jones Farming places a cabbage in a box to be delivered to a customer's home. The Jones family has started delivering boxes of fresh vegetables grown on their family farm to individual homes in the Wayne County area through their retail store, Smith Chapel Supply. Produce is delivered usually within 12 hours of being harvested.

MOUNT OLIVE -- The freshly cut vegetables Tony and Kristal Jones were packing into boxes Thursday afternoon were just hours away from local tables.

The only way to get fresher vegetables is to harvest them from your own garden, said the Joneses, who own Smith Chapel Supply. However, for people who don't have their own bit of earth, the Joneses offer their own locally grown produce.

"Last summer it just so happened that we had an overabundance in our garden," Mrs. Jones said. "Because I had been reading about these things, I put together a few boxes just to kind of experiment with it and give it to different people.

"The idea was you would have one box with several different items in it so that you could have something different to feed your family every night. It went over very well and people liked it a lot."

They liked it so much the Jones esdecided to try marketing what they were growing.

They offer two sizes of boxes, $15 or $25. Currently, offerings include broccoli, sweet potatoes, turnip greens and roots, kale, cabbage, collards and spinach. Prices are based on current market prices, Jones said. The cost includes delivery.

There is no guarantee what will be in the box when it arrives. Mrs. Jones sends out an e-mail to customers every week describing what the boxes likely will contain. But that depends on what is being harvested and how much they have of each item. Also included is information about what is currently growing, along with a recipe.

At present, boxes are delivered on Thursdays. Jones said they would like to expand.

"We would love to deliver two or three days a week," he said. "We would like to have a drop in Goldsboro. We don't mind making five stops in Goldsboro. We will do house-to-house delivery, but our real interest would be a delivery at the hospital, or a delivery at a factory where we could do bulk. Right now, we are able to harvest on Wednesdays and Thursdays and do all the deliveries. Once we get them packed, we immediately send them out."

The Joneses have two children, ages 14 and 11, and like other parents, they have become more mindful of what their family eats and where it comes from.

Mrs. Jones has diabetes and said she said she has learned a lot about nutrition because of having to deal with the disease. She said when she started to have to count carbohydrates she learned that because of the way that many people are eating they sometimes go days at a time without eating a true green vegetable. Her interest led to reading about what is commonly referred to as "community-supported agriculture," in which families pay a local grower to keep them in fresh vegetables.

"They are a little different from what we are doing, but that is where the idea came from," Mrs. Jones said. "CSAs normally run during just certain times of the year. The clients put up an initial investment, usually a larger investment. They give you the money and you go out and grow the items for them and you do delivery."

The Joneses require no up front fee to sign up for their deliveries.

"We hope people understand that we need the business every week in order to provide the business each week. If we have a big spike one week and no one the next three weeks then we have got a problem. But if somebody doesn't need it this week, we don't expect them. They are not going to buy groceries they are not going to eat," Jones said.

Customers usually pay with a credit or debit card.

Vegetable box deliveries were a main topic of discussion at the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association meeting the Joneses attended in Myrtle Beach, S.C. in December.

"That was all they were talking about -- that people wanted healthy, they wanted fresh, they wanted local, but they either didn't want to or were unable to grow it themselves," Mrs. Jones said.

Also, she added, most people don't want to buy in bulk. They would rather be able to buy what they are going to cook that week or that night and have it on hand.

When the Joneses returned home from the conference, they decided to test the market. They sent out e-mails, put their wares on Facebook and people "jumped right on it," she said.

"Folks get real excited in eastern North Carolina about vegetables in the summertime," Jones said, but they should to be aware that fresh vegetables can be available year-round.

For more information, contact the Joneses at 919-658-7975, e-mail Smithchapelsup@bellsouth.net or visit their Facebook page. People may also go by Smith Chapel Supply at 2216 N.C. 55 West.