About Berkshire Organics
Berkshires Organics works with local, organic farms to bring you the freshest seasonal produce available. During the colder months, we continue to work with several local farms that offer root crops or have greenhouses. We also receive certified organic produce from many small family farms in the Southeast U.S. Our goal is to obtain produce as close as possible reducing the distance from farm to table. Any tropical produce from outside the country (bananas, mango, etc) are Fair Trade certified.
Produce baskets are the core of the Berkshire Organics service. The baskets help to provide stability and support for local farmers so we can project and plan ahead with the local farms. We offer baskets in several sizes to suit singles, couples, families, and businesses. The content of each basket is updated weekly. The produce available depends on what the organic farmers are harvesting that particular week, so you can count on the freshest variety of produce in season. Customers can make up to three substitutions to their basket.
If a produce basket is not for you, customers can also shop a la carte from our website by creating their own basket by selecting produce from the Fruit & Veggie categories. There is a $35 minimum order for delivery but customers can add grocery items to meet that minimum. There is no minimum for store-pick-up orders.
Berkshire Organics offers over 3,000 local & organic grocery items such as bread, meat, fish, cheese, eggs, yogurt, granola & maple syrup to name a few. All items in the store are available through the website. Customers can place orders online or by phone (413-442-0888). Orders must be placed by noon Wednesday for delivery or store pick-up on Thursday or Friday. Changes to your order must also be made by noon Wednesday. When you sign up, please specify any preferences or dietary needs in the message box. If customers do not order a produce basket, there is a $10 service fee to pack the order. There are no additional delivery charges. There is no contract to sign and you are free to cancel service anytime. Berkshire Organics delivers to your home or business on a weekly, every other week, or once a month schedule. You can try our service first and then decide on a frequency.
Please visit our FAQ's page for more information.
In 2007, while working full-time, Aleisha Gibbons started to create a business out of her home with only $1,000 in start-up funds. That winter she decided on a name, logo, created a website and hung flyers throughout Berkshire County. Taking a leap of faith, Aleisha left her job to focus on Berkshire Organics in May 2008 which began with 35 delivery customers throughout Berkshire County. Aleisha contacted as many farms as she could trying to find out who had what and finally found someone who had enough asparagus (a hard to find commodity in the Berkshires in Spring). She drove out to the Pioneer Valley, down to Sheffield, MA, and over to Hinsdale, NY to collect the produce. Many farmers were excited some confused by what she was doing. She sorted the baskets in her dining room and made all the deliveries from Sheffield up to North Adams. She realized fast she was going to need some help and more space.
By the end of that first summer, the customer count grew to over 100, and she moved the business into an old flower shop on Main St. in Dalton, MA. Ten months later, on the one year anniversary, the business was moved to the Burgner's Farm location for more space and a larger cooler. The original Berkshire Organics Market at Burgner's Farm was only 10 ft by 20 ft located in the back of the building (they didn't even have a window). By the end of that summer 2009, they expanded the store space to 10 ft by 50 ft. The store was basically a long hallway but their customer base stayed loyal and true with their support.
After the first year, Aleisha's husband, Brian left his business to help manage the produce, local meats, deliveries and logistics for Berkshire Organics. Brian spent over 20 years in the horticulture field and has a passion and knowledge for produce.
In February of 2011, Berkshire Organics expanded again to take more than half of the Burgner's building space. The store now occupies over 1,500 square feet with room to grow. Currently Berkshire Organics has over 300 customers who receive a basket weekly or every other week, three full-time employees, and ten part-time employees. They work with over 50 small local farms and have generated over $1,000,000 in sales for these small farms and local businesses. As a green business, they are focused on zero waste and have donated well over 10,000 lbs of organic produce to local food pantries in Berkshire County.
From Aleisha & Brian Gibbons May 2011: As we celebrate our three year anniversary this week, words cannot express how grateful we are for our customer support. You, the customer, have turned the dream of Berkshire Organics into reality. Thank you for supporting local food, organic farming, and a new green business that is focused on quality and freshness.
Excerpt from Aleisha Gibbons' talk at the Berkshire Business and Professional Women's Group at Cranwell Resort, Lenox, MA (March 2011):
I started this service because I saw a need. There had to be a better way to connect us to local food and farms. Some of you may be thinking well, what about the farmer's market, farm shares called community supported agriculture (CSAs), or even my local grocery store? While I support both farmer's markets and CSA's fully, they do not cater to everyone and here are some reasons why:
Farmer's Markets: Provide a great sense of community and are a great way to buy directly from a farmer instead of having to go directly to the farm.
- If you don't get there early, you're out of luck. The best stuff sells out first.
- Only certain days and timeframes. Tough for people who work fulltime to get to them. Town market may only be one day a week and that may not be a good time for you to get there.
- Not enough variety- they are getting bigger and better now but sometimes you can't get a real variety- dairy, meat, eggs.
- Not year-round- while there have been a couple winter markets organized, the markets generally last from May-Nov. That leaves 5 months of the year with no other option. In the last three years we have been in business we have seen some things shifting. Root Cellars are coming back. More farms are able to store their root crops. More greenhouses are popping up allowing for more greens but then there is the dilemma of how eco-friendly are green houses really?
CSAs: Provide great support for farms and are a great way to see how the farm operates, provide a sense of community and you can see firsthand where the food is grown.
- Pay up front- tough for folks on a limited income or for those who live week to week or month to month. They do offer a work exchange program but then it can be a time factor.
- Share burden- By paying up front you help the farmer purchase seeds, tools, equipment for the season but you also share the risk of the growing season. For example, there was a CSA that started a couple years ago in the Berkshires but with all the rain we had that season many people were upset they did not receive much produce at all.
- Lack of Variety- Several family members have told me one challenge they face with CSAS is getting a lot of certain items at once.
- Pick up during certain days/times
- Work exchange
Grocery Stores: Provide great variety but the variety is not based on seasonality so it has skewed our knowledge of what's in season and what is not.
- Not focused on local- very limited. There is more of a surge now to say you supply local produce but in reality that is usually not the case. You'll see this fall we did a price check at some of the local stores in our area. If you look at the chart there are basically three columns: Local Specialty Market, Local Supermarket and Berkshire Organics. Look down each column. Do you see a lot of L's which stand for local produce for Specialty Market or Supermarket? No- why? In early Oct there is still a lot of local produce. Look to the right to see all the local produce we had that week.
- One reason is because West coast/imported produce can be cheaper. Big Agribusiness controls a lot of decision making at these big stores.
- Fresh factor- how long in storage? How are things rotated?
High End Markets- Whole Foods/Trader Joe's:
- Organic Issue- Not all organics are the same. Where is stuff really from
- Kellogg's owned by Kashi. Clorox- Burt's Bees. Dean Foods- Horizon Organic & VT Organic Cow etc.
- Why are companies like Dean Foods looked down upon? For one, they are known for buying milk from dairies that are injecting their cows with Monsanto's controversial Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) as well as for driving down the price it pays to dairy farmers for their milk, a practice that has driven 30% of American family farm dairy farmers out of business over the past 10 years.
By creating Berkshire Organics, I hoped to fill in some of these missing links. Berkshire Organics is customer service centered. We try to remove any obstacles to eating locally for people. I guess one of our biggest obstacles is people will try the service but then say the smallest basket is too much for them. When really this is what American families should be eating in a week. We include easy recipes to try and help but its ultimately up to the person to make the change and start eating more produce.
At Berkshire Organics we work with as many area farms within a 50 mile radius as possible.
The first year of business, I met every farmer and visited every farm I ordered from. Many farmers I first met were skeptical but once I started showing up consistently week after week and paid them COD a partnership was created. They would often share their struggles about how difficult it can be to sell their produce to larger stores because they try to beat them down on price. Some were hesitant to offer a CSA because of the time requirements, marketing, and customer service when all they wanted to do was just grow the produce. Working directly with the farm also helped me keep costs down by eliminating a middle man or distributor.
Transparency is very important to our business. In our weekly newsletter, we always list where the produce is coming from. We don't stick our name or label on something unless we make it ourselves. We run our store differently. All the fresh produce comes in on Wed. It is delivered or people pick up their baskets at our store Thurs & Fridays. By Sunday we offer the produce on 20% and 30% off Mon & Tues. Whatever doesn't sell by Wed is donated to the local food pantries. No waste.
Berkshire Organic is a service that offers convenience especially for working folks, families, and elderly. We deliver to your home but you do not have to be there. We are the only food store in the Berkshires (as far as I know) where you can shop for all of your groceries online and have them delivered. Or you can pick-up your groceries at our store- we will have everything ready for you. While we specialize in produce we also sell local meat, dairy, seafood, grocery items.
Before I started BO, I lived a very traditional lifestyle. I shopped at the regular grocery stores and chain stores but I found myself very unhappy when I shopped at these places. I even had anxiety and guilt because I was trying to fill a void by just buying stuff. I find there are way too many choices to make, too many new and shiny products made with plastics. Too many food items containing flavor enhancers, artificial colors and ingredients and preservatives. I longed for something more simple, healthier, affordable and fresher!
You may be asking what is so affordable about organic food. We have done several price comparisons of our baskets versus shopping at the supermarket and our baskets come out less expensive or the same and they are being delivered to your house. We are able to keep our costs down because we work directly with many farms. When you look at the Price Check on the newsletter (handout), 6 of the 15 conventional items listed under Supermarket cost more than the local & organic items from Berkshire Organics. We do work with a distributor in New England for bananas and such and have been able to keep our costs down because of the volume of produce we order each week. I recently read that Only 18 cents of every dollar, when buying at a large supermarket, go to the grower. 82 cents go to various unnecessary middlemen for shipping, storing etc.
Many customers say our baskets help them stay on budget because the price stays the same and they aren't making any impulse buys like you would normally when shopping. Also, our store sale days provide an service by reducing the cost of produce much of it still wonderful and fresh. We constantly check prices, compare and try to stay as competitive as possible.
Eating local foods has helped me to simplify and really enjoy the foods I eat. There is nothing better than eating seasonally and truly appreciating the magnificent taste of produce that has just been picked. Produce that has been trucked thousands of miles and stored in numerous warehouses is just not the same.
I love supporting the local farms and the community. Since Berkshire Organics started there are more and more local food makers now making products. I always wondered why Vermont has so many more food products and now I know it's because many Vermont residents believe in their local communities and farms. They want to support and purchase real authentic food. We are starting to see more local food products being made by people from the Berkshires- pasta sauce, cookies, jams, ice cream, cheese, yogurt. The list can go on.
Being a Year Round Service offers farmers a year round outlet to sell their products. Many farms we work with have already extended their growing season because of this. Berkshire Organics has purchased over $1,000,000 in produce and other products from local farms and businesses.
Last year we started working with the Pittsfield School System where we assisted with logistics, storage and delivery. We have just had a non-profit approved so we can continue to offer this program. We are calling it Berkshire Organics S.E.E.D.S. (Sustainable Education Every Day for Students). We will be the connection between schools and farms in our area. There is a lot of work in ordering, coordinating, storing, delivering etc. We plan to offer this service the Dalton and Pittsfield schools this year and then extend to other towns if there is interest.
Since I started Berkshire Organics I have been approached by several people all over the country wanting to start a similar business in their community. I have been a consultant for a woman from Duxbury, MA who started South Shore Organics January 2011. She has started the same exact way and we are collaborating on several online projects. We hope together we can help people become interested in offering this service in their towns.