It’s easy to have misconceptions and prejudices; I’ve got plenty. When I arranged to meet Lorraine Upham, who runs an ‘organic fruit and vegetable box delivery service’, I confess I expected someone kitted out like a figure from a Bruegel painting (brown smock, handmade shoes, rather medieval). I certainly wasn’t expecting an immaculately groomed, stylish woman dressed in contemporary New Zealand clothes.
“People are always surprised I don’t look like a farmer and I certainly don’t have dirt under my nails. I grew up on a farm, but my background is marketing and I just happened to find a niche,” said Lorraine. She used to work in a Raumati vegetable shop, where customers kept asking for organics; she persuaded the owner to stock some organics, then started tracking down suppliers.
“Normally shops specialise, and the customers track them down. Instead, I gathered details of people interested in organics, found out what they wanted, then rang back when it arrived.”
Lorraine trawled the New Zealand countryside to source organic supplies (“it was all gumboots and mud!”) before setting up The Organic Connection; now she keeps in close contact with her suppliers by telephone and makes sure to take her all-important packing team out to a slap-up lunch once a year.
“I work from home, with a computer, a telephone and my dog, Miss Molly, although I spend a lot of time visiting customers. Some of my friends think I’m potty (especially men, often hardcore carnivores) although I’m not the one taking blood pressure medicines! Others are very supportive and totally understand the role of organics.”
It’s certainly a stress-free way to shop. Once the order has been set up, a box of seasonal fruit and vegetables is delivered weekly or fortnightly, packed with a peak-fresh liner; perfect for those who don’t have the time to trawl through shops, or like the convenience of a regular delivery; it cuts down the need to go shopping, and that saves money. Customers can also order on an ad hoc basis. Boxes are delivered to customers’ doors on Wednesdays or Thursdays, providing the order is made before Monday or Tuesday night.
The smallest order, the Baby Box, is enough for two people (or one hungry person for a fortnight). Customers have no idea what to expect, although Lorraine allows for some customisation to accommodate allergies, or the person who’s just bought a huge sack of potatoes. When I spoke to Lorraine, the boxes featured apples, pears and kiwifruit (all from cold storage), citrus (a year round staple) and cherimoya (a South American fruit, grown in New Zealand, which tastes of pineapple, passion-fruit, banana, mango and lemon); plus avocados, broccoli, beetroot, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, celeriac (“most people don’t know it, and think it’s an ugly turnip, although it’s delicious mashed, or made into the French classic, Celeriac Remoulade”), kale, cavolo nero (Tuscan ‘black cabbage’, often used in River Cafe cookbooks and loved by devotees of Italian food), pumpkin, yams and, of course, potatoes.
“I am experimenting with the idea of including recipes in the boxes; I certainly have them on my website with other information about the more obscure varieties, and I’m always happy to take phone calls, although it’s tricky when the customer doesn’t know the vegetable names. I deliver in North Island urban areas, as remote rural areas are fraught with transport difficulties.”
“Box deliveries are good for the organics industry, as growers can harvest what’s ready, rather than having shops dictating distribution times to them. If, for example, the cavolo nero is perfect, they can just pop a few leaves in every box.”
Lorraine finds her customers interesting. “Many are the upwardly mobile from other countries; currently I’ve got 46 nationalities on my books, including Japanese, Russians, Egyptians, Chileans, Serbians, Hungarians. They’re a long way from the image of muslin skirts and jandals. Plus professionals, academics, and people working in Wellington’s movie industry, with lots from Weta Digital.”
Young families are another major customer group. “Dad has a good job, Mum is at home with the kids; she’s often very conscious of their children’s diet, wanting to give them the best start in life. I’ve got a lovely group in Hataitai, and they make terrific scones when I visit!”
Organics fruit and vegetables may not have quite the eye appeal of the apple presented to Snow White by the wicked witch, but that’s more than compensated by the taste, and the ability to have them delivered.
The Organic Connection
T: 04 298 7377