Healthy PlanEat: Business Brings Just-Picked Produce To Pop-Up Location

By Cassandra Day The Middletown Press, Conn.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Rosemary Ostfeld says she created "Healthy PlanEat "to help re-energize the connection between people and local farms.

MIDDLETOWN

A Wesleyan University professor has launched a website that connects local farmers with individuals looking to add fresh, organic, sustainably grown produce to their diets.

Rosemary Ostfeld, an interdisciplinary environmental scientist, founded Healthy PlanEat, a start-up business through which farmers can sell their food to local buyers. The site was launched last week in Middletown in partnership with Star Light Gardens of Durham.

She'll use the remainder of November to test out the pilot program.

Ostfeld created Healthy PlanEat "to help re-energize the connection between people and local farms and to help people achieve a healthy and environmentally sustainable diet," she said.

Through the website, people can pre-order food from local farms to pick up at the farm, a farmers market, or pop-up pick-up locations.

On Monday afternoon, customers were picking up vegetables at Kidcity Museum, 119 Washington St./Route 66, where the pilot will be conducted for the next several weeks.

Orders can be placed online weekly, from Sunday morning through Saturdays at 9 p.m. Delivery is Mondays from 3 to 6 p.m. at Kidcity.

Orders picked up Monday afternoon are picked that day. "This is super fresh," Ostfeld said.

"They've been really amazing and supportive," she said of her Kidcity partners.

"It's in such a perfect, central location, within walking distance of Wesleyan and Main Street. There are already families going there to spend time with their children. I was interested in that audience," said Ostfeld, who earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in biology and earth and environmental sciences, and masters of philosophy in environmental policy from Wesleyan. She also holds a doctorate in land economy from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

This fall, Ostfeld is teaching two classes on a part-time basis at Wesleyan: on start-up incubators, and sustainable agriculture and food systems. She is also an entrepreneur in residence with the Wesleyan Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

While she was studying at Wesleyan one summer, Ostfeld worked at White Gate Farm in East Lyme, her hometown. That experience piqued her interest in the subject.

"From our perspective, it seemed like an easy way to support a great idea that would make being downtown more fun, because people may combine coming by and picking up from the farm with coming downtown," said Jennifer Alexander, founder and executive and creative director of Kidcity Museum.

The produce "locker" is outside the entrance to KidCity, so Healthy PlanEat customers don't have to go inside unless they choose to visit the museum, Alexander said. Each participant is given a code to access their food.

"We just love the idea of supporting a start-up that was going to support farms, and, hopefully, it grows into something in the coming years," said Alexander, also a commissioner on the Downtown Business District.

"I'm so thankful they've been so supportive so far," Ostfeld said.

When people visit Healthy PlanEat, they can choose to buy from partner farms near them from a map of locations.

Currently, only items from Star Light Gardens are available, however, Ostfeld is working with the Connecticut Northeast Organic Farmers Association's Farmer's Pledge participants and USDA-certified organic farms. Soon, she'll be selling items from Four Root Farm in East Haddam, Provider Farm in Salem, and High Hill Orchard in Meriden.

She's hoping to partner with more farms and encourages those who use sustainable practices and avoid use of pesticides to contact her. Those interested in a collaboration can email Ostfeld at [email protected]

In the near future, Ostfeld hopes to set up a wholesale service, supplying local produce to area restaurants.

She chose fall to launch because that's when farmers markets typically wind down in Connecticut.

"Farmers still have a lot of product -- a lot of farmers grow in greenhouses and do winter [Community Supported Agriculture programs], so they're still producing," Ostfeld said.

Ultimately, Ostfeld would love to do a crowd-funding campaign and build an app to make the process even easier for customers and vendors, she said.

KidCity also supports the North End Farmers Market, which runs Fridays from June to October in front of It's Only Natural market at 575 Main St. Alexander has been donating $5,000 a year to the market, which organizers use to match customers who use their SNAP benefits to pay for items.

Many local farmers and purveyors sell their wares at the market.

"We've had way better turnout than we could have anticipated," Jen Hill, assistant manager at Star Light Gardens, said Monday evening, after all nine of those enrolled picked up their deliveries on the first day.

"As it gets colder, our selection is going to wind down, but we practice season extension at Star Light Gardens, so we have six high tunnels (a greenhouse without a furnace). We try to load up with greens this time of year.

"It does get really cold at night so we load them up with blankets and uncover them during the day," Hill said.

For the past few years, SNAP recipients have been able to show their SNAP card and pay $3 at KidCity for admission, a discount of $7.

"We love it because people come from all over with a food stamp card, and we decided to donate part of that income to the farmers market," Alexander said. "It's money we make from SNAP visitors with this special discount price. We then turn around and donate to the market so farmers can earn more from people with food stamps."

When Ostfeld approached her with the idea, Alexander said it was a natural fit: "an extension of that idea, of making food more available, more connected and also supporting a start-up downtown," Alexander said.

When Kidcity was just an idea, Alexander got a lot of support from Wesleyan University as well as members of the community, she said, so she tries to reciprocate those efforts.

"Hopefully, it will grow into a full-fledged business in the future. This was a way to get it off the ground for the season and test her idea," Alexander said.

"What it most aligns with is how local we are. This is about local farms and local customers connecting directly. That's more value for us. We build all our own exhibits. Just like Main Street -- it's a lot of independent entrepreneurs," Alexander said.

The service is reasonable , Ostfeld said, with prices ranging from $3.50 to $4 for bok choy, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, radishes and carrots, to $6 for a bag of fresh salad greens.

Visit healthyplaneat.com to place an order. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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