Ithaca's own home delivery service for local food, Garden Gate Delivery, just celebrated its 3-year anniversary. Ithaca’s Food Web asked Garden Gate owner Marlo a few questions.
Q: Congrats! Are you surprised you're still in business after 3 years?
A: I'm really excited to have gotten to three years and not at all surprised we're still around. I'm probably like a lot of other entrepreneurs who believe so strongly in their vision they can't see any storyline but fruition. I feel like a steward for this amazing idea that just appeared in my head one day and I think it's my job to take as good care of it as I can. It never occurred to me it wouldn't work, though the recession that began in 2008 was pretty scary. Each obstacle we've encountered has kept us on our toes and made us more resilient. If nothing else, we've become good at adapting!
Q: What's the most challenging part of the business?
A: The big thing we're thinking about these days is how to grow. We don't have quite enough customers to support hiring another person, but we have more than enough work for another full time person and lots of potential for growth. Home delivery services have at least a ten-year history of failure so I'm trying to be smart about how we grow and not sabotage the natural pathways that seem to be presenting themselves.
Q: What's the most surprising thing you've learned about local food since starting a local food delivery business?
A: I'm kind of embarrassed to say it, but I didn't realize how hard our farmers worked. I've never asked a farmer this specifically, but I think it must be like when I went to school to become a teacher. I knew I wouldn't make much money, but teaching felt right and I wanted to do my part in keeping the light shining in my part of the world. I imagine farmers feel like that, too, but I wouldn't have guessed that when I started the business. Even with all my idealism I wasn't prepared to sacrifice as much as our farmers do: long hours, hard work, lots of debt with profits subject to good weather! I feel immense gratitude for the work of our farmers.
Q: Most eaters (like me) never think about local food distribution -- what do you think we should know about it?
A: The most important thing I can think of sounds alarmist, but I'm seeing more signs of it every month: if each region of the United States does not develop systems for growing and distributing food, we are leaving ourselves open to a food crisis. Farmers, especially small ones, are giving up their farms because they can't afford them any more. Farmland is purchased and developed for other uses which makes it difficult to reclaim. For this reason and more, food production becomes centralized and distanced from eaters like you and I. If that system were to be compromised because of limited access to oil (which would affect both agriculture and distribution) or by food contamination, what infrastructure do we have to fall back on? We need many farms of all kinds to keep our food supply strong. America is a one-trick pony right now with big farms, big tractors, big trucks and big stores. Regional food production and distribution makes for a safer, more diversified food system that is accountable to consumers. Plus, it tastes better than food that's been on the highway for 48 hours!
Q: Any concluding thoughts?
A: I wanted to add that this community has been amazingly supportive of our little business. Other businesses reach out to collaborate or just introduce themselves all of the time. Our customers cheer us on when we're doing it right and step up to redirect us when we're doing it wrong. I'm a mom with three children and I'm learning to be a business woman as I go. My dream of local food home delivery would have ended a long time ago if it weren't for this community's generously-shared resources, knowledge and time.