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Deliveries fresh from the farm

Agriculture: Family that brings produce to SCV enjoys supporting growers from Sacramento to L.A.

Posted: February 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Brothers and owners of Farm Fresh to You, from left, Thaddeus Barsotti, Noah Barnes and Freeman Barsotti sit at the family’s fruit and vegetable farm Capay Organic.

 

The 20-acre Capay Organic fruit and vegetable farm was founded in 1976 by Kathleen Barsotti and Martin Barnes, who were in on the ground floor of the early stages of the organic food movement. Today, the family-owned farm located some 90 miles northeast of San Francisco has grown to 300 acres.

Kathleen Barsotti, the family’s matriarch, established Farm Fresh to You in 1992, a produce delivery service that is now delivering boxes of organic produce to Santa Clarita Valley customers’ doorsteps or offices.

The business relies on the produce of the Capay farm and a collective of local farms throughout the state.

“My mom told me this — the most sustainable thing about a family farm is the bottom line,” said Thaddeus Barsotti, 31, operations manager for Farm Fresh to You and manager of the family-run farm.

“If you’re not making money, you’re not going to exist very long,” Barsotti said. “Our goal is to be profitable and deliver an excellent product to the consumer.”

Today, the second-generation family farm is run by Kathleen’s sons Thaddeus, Freeman and Noah Barnes, who chose to use his father’s surname.

A fourth brother, Lt. Cmdr. Che Barnes, 35, who served in the Coast Guard, was killed off the coast of San Diego
after the plane he was piloting collided with a Marine Corps helicopter while searching for a missing boater in November 2009.

Continuing to expand the family business, Thaddeus Barsotti assumed responsibility for the business when he was only 20 years old.

He described taking over as a difficult, but learning experience.  He still makes mistakes and questions himself, he said.

“But I’ve come to the conclusion you always learn and just hope you don’t repeat (mistakes),” he said.

Collective of farms
“Our mission is to connect the local farms and communities to as many people as possible,” Thaddeus Barsotti said.

“As people become more conscious about their food system, they want to support the local, family processes,” he said.

Operating on a community-supported agriculture model, or CSA, allows the principals of the family-run farm to manage a home delivery service by connecting with a network of local farms in communities across the state of California under the umbrella of Farm Fresh to You.

While most of what is produced on the family farm is grown directly for consumers, the company also makes agreements with a collective of farms to harvest as many fruits and vegetables as possible each season offering the best and widest selection of products to be delivered to customers’ doorsteps, Barsotti said.

“We buy from other farmers; it’s farmer-to-farmer sales,” Barsotti said. “We don’t try to buy something at ridiculously low prices to make a profit. It’s a sustainable model because we support each other.”

But moving fresh vegetables and produce from a farm to a customer’s doorstep up to twice weekly, if desired, requires an involved chain of logistical steps.

Operations
Farm Fresh to You employs about 400 employees, and the company has a fleet of 70 vans throughout its market area, with distribution hubs and packing facilities in the L.A., San Francisco and Sacramento areas.

But the planning starts long before the organic food ever hits the distribution centers.

The company plans which produce it and other organic farms need to grow, based on customer demand.

“We plant acres, a harvest team pulls the produce and packs it and then it all goes to the packing centers in refrigerated trucks where people wash the food and custom-make the boxes customers order,” Barsotti said.

Once made, the boxes leave by refrigerated semi-trucks that deliver the packaged products to the closest delivery route where the company’s fleet of vans take over, delivering food to the customer’s doorstep by 7 a.m.

Delivering to about 40,000 homes a month throughout the state, the company’s biggest challenge is getting a box into customers’ refrigerators if they leave for work before the box arrives, Barsotti said.

But customers in warm-weather climates solved the delivery-time problem by leaving coolers outside their door for the produce to be placed in, said Barbara Archer, communications manager for Farm Fresh to You and Capay Organic.

The logistics-intense business, however, has proven to be successful.

Sustainable model
Selling boxes in up to six different sizes, Capay offers customers the option to order produce online and have it delivered every week or once a month. Prices start at $25 per box.

“We want to make it really easy for people to subscribe to a service like this,” Barsotti said. “We give them what they want, exactly how they want it.”

It runs on a complex, but efficient system, Barsotti said.

Any farm that is already selling produce, whether direct to consumers or selling to retailers, already has their overhead costs built into running the farm, he said.

“We’re able to save a lot of money that can be given back to the farms for the growers,” he said. “We don’t have to own these expensive retail stores and hire a staff to run a produce business.”

The business is essentially an online farm, Barsotti said. And the sales the company generates results in acres planted across the state through procurement contracts with other organic farms in addition to the family’s farm.

Local stores are often more interested in stocking produce customers want, whether it’s seasonal or not, by importing from other countries, Barsotti said.

But as the company also works with smaller local farms, the partnerships create more economic stability for the farmers because they’re planting fruits and vegetables based on consumer demand. The farmers know they can count on getting at least 50 percent of their produce sold through Farm Fresh to You, Archer said. The model pumps money back into local economies.

“It’s important in society to keep your dollars local and have renewable systems in your community that can feed your children and family.”

So far, the model is proving successful, Barsotti said, grossing an average of some $1.2 million in sales per month.

To start in a new market, the company needs to make close to 100 deliveries per week and generally it builds up to that level within a month or two of coming into a market, Barsotti said.

“The cost to make a box never changes,” Barsotti said. What changes is the cost to deliver and we have too always pay attention to that.”

The brothers aren’t doing anything different than when their parents started farming, he said. But they are using other powerful tools, such as computers and the Internet, which their parents never could have imagined.

“It has the potential to transform the agricultural industry in ways people can’t imagine,” Barsotti said. “We’re leading the charge and have invested a lot of money in infrastructure and databases.”

He predicts that in 10 years, the Farm Fresh to You model won’t be that unique. The model could really change the retail produce industry, Barsotti said.

Connections
“As your grandmother said: ‘If you don’t recognize it, don’t eat it,’” Archer said. “We want people to know where their food comes from. And on our box, you’ll see where each of the foods in the box comes from.”

Farm Fresh to You provides a direct connection between the consumers and the land, Barsotti said. The company connects the product from the seed in the field to the customer in the home.

But the connections within the family have broken from time-to-time.

The brothers’ parents divorced in 1992. Kathleen continued as sole proprietor of the family farm.

For many years, their father, Martin Barnes, lived in Davis, where he founded a small, community newspaper and also spent extensive time traveling. Today, he owns a bed and breakfast at a home he restored in the Vers Provence of France.

 Within eight years of starting Farm Fresh to You, however, Kathleen Barsotti lost her battle with breast cancer at the age of 51 in July 2000. Thaddeus, then 20,  and his brothers stepped up to run the farming business.

And the family of brothers remain rooted in a way of farming that connects with people who are becoming increasingly more conscientious about their food systems, Barsotti said.

“It’s a connection that’s healthy for the soul,” Barsotti said.

Families can sign up for home delivery of fresh, organic produce online at www.farmfreshtoyou.com or by calling the Southern Calif. office at 800-796-6009.

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