Hicksville-based online grocer OurHarvest.com joined the farm-to-table movement with its own version of a farmers market, but first it had to overcome trust issues with local farmers.
OurHarvest launched in July 2014 with just five suppliers and now works with 90 farmers, fishermen and food artisans from the tristate area, 20 of which are based on Long Island, the company said. It has expanded its offerings from 20 products to more than 450, including potatoes, squash, pickles, turkey, pies, chocolates and spice rubs.
Co-founders Scott Reich and Michael Winik, both 33, said it took months to build a supplier base because farmers were initially skeptical to partner with an online startup. They questioned how OurHarvest would operate, if the business would appeal to consumers, and how and whether they would get paid, Reich and Winik said.
“We set retail prices that ensure farmers get paid a fair share for their hard work,” Reich said, adding the company names the supplier of each product so customers know where their food comes from. “Unlike industry norms, we pay our suppliers when we receive product from them, so there is no financial risk in selling to us. We communicate regularly with our suppliers about our ongoing volume needs so they have insight and predictability into how much product we will be ordering.”
OurHarvest offers mostly local products, including meats and seafood, dairy, beverages, produce, baked goods and pantry items. Consumers order online and pick up their food at one of 13 Long Island locations. The company, with a 2,500-square-foot sorting facility in Hicksville, also has a pick-up site in Maspeth, Queens, and offers delivery through Uber in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.
On average, OurHarvest delivers more than 10,000 pounds of product per month to more than 1,500 customers. The company said its revenue has grown 50 percent year-over-year; it employs 15 people on Long Island.
“Once we started showing that what we were doing was real and our customers were coming back, farmers started telling their friends,” Winik said. “Now . . . we have so many farmers reaching out to us that it is hard to vet them all to be able to get them on our platform.”
One of the first suppliers for OurHarvest was Heather Forest, farmer and owner of Fox Hollow Farm, a five-decade old, 10.5-acre operation in South Huntington. Forest said she liked that the company donated a meal to a local food pantry or food bank for every order above $25.
“The reason we got involved with OurHarvest in the first place was that we had such an abundance of produce beyond our needs,” even for the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture program that serves 100 member families, said Forest, 68. She grows peppers, escarole, string beans, cabbages, tomatoes and other produce. “OurHarvest explained the whole concept, giving fair prices to farmers, and they did. They offered us more for our produce than any other distributor.”
But other suppliers were skeptical. Andrea Cascun, who with her husband Don Cascun owns and operates the 125-acre Cascun Farm in upstate Greene, was wary of working with a new online company. It took Reich and Winik about two months, including hours on the phone with them and visits to their farm, before they came on board as the sole provider of chicken products for OurHarvest.
“We had done business with two other online companies before,” said Andrea Cascun, whose farm has been around since 2012, and their ordering systems “didn’t allow us to get everything prepared to get them what they needed.” But OurHarvest “was able to give us an order a month or two ahead of time. It allowed a little more flexibility and it gave us time to fulfill orders in advance. They were also willing to give us payment upfront.”
Sandra Menasha, vegetable and potatoes specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said a new business must gain trust by building relationships with growers and paying them on time. Growers lose trust when a business breaches contracts for better pricing with another grower, she said.
“When it is a new business, there is not the track record to ensure that they are going to deliver,” Menasha said “There isn’t the history behind it to instill confidence. That’s where you have to build the relationship so that the grower feels comfortable doing business.”
Businesses also need to establish an order schedule and be understanding that due to weather constraints farmers may not have product consistently, said Rob Carpenter, administrative director of the Long Island Farm Bureau in Calverton.
“Agriculture is a very unique industry because you are dealing with perishable items,” Carpenter said. “You have to be careful to maintain the quality of the product because it has the name and reputation of the farmer upon it.”
At a glance
Company: OurHarvest.com, Hicksville
Founders: Scott Reich and Michael Winik
Product: Online grocery delivery
Volume: 10,000 pounds of food per month