Nature’s Garden Express

CLJ: How did Nature’s Garden Express come about and when?

We always talked about starting a business that would have a positive impact on the community. We realized the importance of the food we put into our bodies and the importance that organic practices have not only on our health but also on the health of our planet. In 2008, we moved to Atlanta and began working on a business plan that would support farmers practicing sustainable agriculture and provide consumers with convenient access to healthy food choices. On January 24, 2009 we delivered our first sixteen boxes of organic food to Atlanta residents.

CLJ: What is your company’s purpose and mission?

To provide our community with easy access to nutritious and affordable food, while supporting local farmers and producers who practice sustainable agriculture.

CLJ: What were some of the challenges you faced when you started?

Beyond the technology obstacles, establishing a grower network and supply chain was an important early component of the operation. Finding customers and keeping customers was and continues to be an ongoing effort. We now have a strong presence in Georgia as a result of nine years of grass roots marketing. A more recent partnership with FedEx has enabled us to expand our service offering into other southeastern markets and beyond.

CLJ: How much have you grown?

We have just over 16,000 active members and typically service around 2,500 households per week. Our subscribers can order weekly or every other, hold their service, schedule vacations, and skip orders as needed.

CLJ: What does sourcing local food mean?

Sourcing local food reduces our carbon footprint and typically yields produce that’s a lot fresher than commodity foods which are warehoused, shipped, re-warehoused, and finally end up on the shelves. Organic agriculture is entering a new phase of growth in Georgia, which is now competing squarely with other southeastern states. In order to meet the demand of our subscriber base we use a broader definition of local to be within 400 miles or a day’s drive from one’s home. This enables us to partner with local and regional growers and to be able to offer a diversity of seasonal foods.

All our livestock products are humanely raised, locally-pastured animals treated with respect and dignity. We personally visit these small-producer, livestock operations and offer videos of the farms on our website.

CLJ: How does the process of order and delivery typically work?

Everything happens through our website. On the morning of delivery, we pack fresh produce in boxes on an 80-foot pack line that are then loaded onto refrigerated delivery vans. We are in different areas of town on specific days of the week. Our nonlocal FedEx customers have several delivery day options.

CLJ: What are the statistics regarding people in need in your area?

It’s pretty distressing. According to a 2014 study the Atlanta Community Food Bank participated in, one in 7.5 people, or an estimated 755,400 people in metro Atlanta and North Georgia, turn to food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families each year. This includes more than 164,000 children and more than 64,000 seniors.

CLJ: Is donating food part of your corporate structure? How much and where do you donate?

We donate weekly to local churches and have been awarded as a Top Donor to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. We donate about 100,000 pounds of fresh produce per year.

We also recently partnered with the Georgia Department of Agriculture to start a new program called “GA Proud.” The program sends boxes of Georgia grown products to families in need. For each purchase of a “GA Proud” box on our website, five dollars goes towards a box for a family in need.

CLJ: What do you feel most proud of?

Most of all, we are proud to be doing good work in the community and creating ripples of good energy each day we wake up and come to work.

CLJ: Do you see the world changing today in the area of sustainable and organic foods?

People are waking up to the importance of the food we put in our bodies and to the way we’ve harmed the environment through conventional agriculture. Demand for clean, sustainable food is strong and there’s evidence of this on the shelves at the grocery store.

CLJ: What advice do you have for our readers when it comes to buying and eating organic foods?

It’s important to read beyond the label. For example, farms in places such as Arizona and California may be Certified Organic, but pumping water into the desert for irrigation isn’t considered to be a sustainable practice. And vice versa, there are many smaller farms using sustainable practices that can’t afford the USDA certification. These are the farms we need to be supporting.

Similarly, with animal welfare, the organic standards leave a lot of room for improvement. With poultry, for example, organic standards require access to the outdoors and certified organic feed. But this is hardly equivalent to the non-certified poultry and eggs we carry, where the birds are raised on grass pastures and free to eat bugs and grubs like they were meant to. On our website, shoppers always know where their food comes from and have quick access to a bio of the farm and its producers. Certified Organic is not always the top choice when it comes to sustainability.

SCOTT FRISHMAN graduated from Auburn in 2001 and worked as a Chassis Engineer at Honda for eight years before starting Nature’s Garden Express. He currently lives in Tucker, GA with his wife and pack of special-needs dogs.

MICHAEL KIRK is one of the founders of Nature’s Garden Express. He enjoys working in an environment where progressive-minded people collaborate and can be creative and spread the word about sustainable living. Michael is a lifelong musician and lover of animals and the outdoors.