The pandemic has turned the chore of grocery shopping into a potential health hazard — a masked game of trying to stay away from other people punctuated by rigorous hand washing. We’re reluctant to shop for groceries and yet we still need to eat.
Several new businesses have sprung up to offer online ordering and home delivery of groceries. These services were created to transport the bounty of local farms to homes in the surrounding community. They fortuitously launched at a time when we’re all interested in shopping from home.
Second Mile Food Hub is a nonprofit organization that grew out of Clark County’s local food movement. Second Mile’s mission is to provide aggregation, distribution and marketing for Clark County farmers. The virtual store launched in May and is filled with locally grown herbs, vegetables, microgreens, mushrooms, nut products, baked goods and prepared foods.
Second Mile is “a hyperlocal grocery store without the TP,” said Holly Hansen, member of Second Mile’s board of directors and owner of the space where it operates. Each item moves directly from the farmer to the hub.
“Only the farmer and I touch the veggies,” Hansen said. “We’re masked and gloved when we do.”
Some of the items may be familiar to anyone who has visited the Salmon Creek Farmers’ Market. Ann Foster, who runs that farmers market, is a board member and driving force for the food hub.
Second Mile delivers to individuals along the Interstate 5 corridor from downtown Vancouver to Ridgefield. The original idea was to deliver to office buildings, but then the pandemic hit and workers stopped congregating in those spaces. Deliveries to a group of neighbors outside the I-5 corridor can be arranged if people aggregate a cluster of orders. Second Mile currently delivers to one pod with six neighbors. Orders arrive on doorsteps on Thursdays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
“There’s no minimum order at this time,” Hansen said. “We’re very COVID-conscious and we just don’t want people to have to go to the grocery store.”
In the winter, Second Mile plans on adding more prepared items like soups, sides and breads.
Alpenrose has been in Portland for 100 years, but stopped milk delivery 40 years ago. That changed when Smith Brothers Farms bought the company in September 2019.
Smith Brothers has delivered milk in the Seattle area since the dairy was founded in 1920. The company’s business model is based on building a relationship between customers and the person who delivers their milk. Like in the old days, a milk delivery person is assigned a route and delivers to the same homes every week.
Alpenrose planned to launch the delivery service in 2021, but accelerated the schedule when the pandemic hit.
“Alpenrose milk and eggs are the core of our business model, but we’re looking at things to add that make people’s lives easier,” said Josh Reynolds, the company’s vice president and general manager.
Alpenrose’s milk comes from local dairies and is purchased through the Northwest Dairy Association Co-op. Alpenrose has partnered with local favorites like Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Franz bread, Tillamook, Zenner’s Sausage Company, Pacific Coast Fruit Company, Portland Coffee Roasters and Spielman Bagels.
“Admittedly, produce is not a strong category, but we’re interested in adding locally grown products and meal kits from restaurants who’ve pivoted during the pandemic,” Reynolds said.
The delivery area in Clark County includes Vancouver, Camas and Battle Ground. Alpenrose has received a lot of inquiries for delivery from Ridgefield. Reynolds wouldn’t guarantee expansion to that area anytime soon, but is aware of the demand.
The minimum order for free delivery is $15, with a $2.99 delivery fee for smaller orders. Orders arrive in a old-timey white metal box with the Alpenrose logo that is reused for future deliveries.
Masa owners Trang Ho and Trang Sharbaugh met in high school in Vietnam in 2003. They reunited in Southern California a decade later and found a mutual interest in a zero-waste lifestyle. They were also each seeking a more meaningful career path. Taking Ho’s boat in Catalina to get groceries every day reconnected them with their childhoods in Vietnam, where their mothers would go to the market daily seeking the freshest ingredients.
Sharbaugh moved to Portland from Sydney, Australia, where she earned a master’s degree in marketing from RMIT University. Ho, who was working in the fashion industry in the San Francisco Bay Area, soon joined her. In December 2018, they formed Masa to create a way to bring fresh locally grown food to consumers in the Portland area. They created a list of 200 farmers and then lobbied them to join Masa. They also volunteered on farms to immerse themselves in farmers’ challenges.
Masa’s website has about 500 products, including ordinary staples like fresh produce, milk and chicken eggs but also unusual items like peacock eggs, silkworm cocoons and wool socks.
Traditional grocery stores don’t connect customers with farmers the way Masa does. For example, Masa not only sells items from Happiness Family Farms in Sauvie Island and Vancouver, but also shares the story of the Burundian refugees Prosper Hezumuryano and Rosata Niyonzima, who grow the African eggplants, red beans and amaranth of their native country.
Masa currently delivers to Vancouver. The delivery fee is $7.50, with no minimum order required. Orders are placed on Wednesday night and delivered on Saturday. Masa is exploring the possibility of expanding delivery to other parts of Clark County.
“We need enough orders to make sure there’s enough deliveries for our driver,” Ho said. Sharbaugh and Ho said they want to ensure their drivers and farmers make a living wage.