Professional Development

Everett Myers, FruitShare, CEO and president, at his Stillwater farm. Photo by Tate Carlson

A ripe idea bears fruit

The founder of FruitShare applied the CSA concept to a new food group

By John P. Palen
08-18-2016

Experts say that an apple a day is good for you, but what kind of apple?

The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement has taken firm root in Minnesota along with organic farms, farmers markets, pick-your-own farms and farm-to-table restaurants. Consumers can purchase everything from honey and beef to goat’s milk, maple syrup, wine and a whole variety of vegetables and fruit.

And this isn’t some hobby for the business owners involved. The Minnesota2020 project estimates that CSAs alone contribute more than $10 million in direct sales to consumers — normally through a subscription for a portion of the farm’s production.

You can get Minnesota apples, but what about oranges and cherries and plums? That’s a little trickier. Although mass marketing as well as global travel have expanded our taste for food diversity, the state’s climate can only produce so much. 

For people who want the freshest and best variety of fruit, they have to return to a focus on seasonal eating, but also change how they shop for it.

Stillwater native Everett Myers had a connection to the earth that fewer kids experience today. His family’s farm supplemented the kitchen table with produce year-round, and he never forgot the difference in taste. It led him to study geography and ecology and then join the Peace Corps to support fruit and vegetable farmers in Ecuador. After establishing a successful Minnesota CSA farm and learning about modern distribution methods, Myers envisioned a better way to get fresh fruit direct to the consumer. His latest venture, FruitShare, was founded in 2003.

“Growers are diversifying how they go to market because of the high cost for equipment to plant, grow, process, clean, package and deliver products,” Myers says. “They are establishing relationships with committed buyers like restaurants, co-ops and distributors and are also getting better margins when going direct to consumers.”

Buying fruit direct from growers only when it is in season is one aspect of getting fruit at its peak. FruitShare is part of a movement to re-educate consumers on what exactly is fresh and how it impacts health and wellness. But old habits are hard to break. Myers knew that delivery had to be convenient and fast to get people to purchase biweekly or monthly gift boxes of fruit.

Relationships with a variety of growers nationally and some internationally gave Myers access to the most popular fruit as well as some varieties of foreign fruits such as figs, pomegranates and kumquats. FruitShare has also tapped into the instant gratification of online ordering and free shipping through a well-organized and educational website — including lists of available fruit, fundraising and gift options, recipes, a blog and newsletter.

“We are active in wellness campaigns for companies and their employees,” Myers says. “Studies show that for every dollar spent on wellness, companies can save $5 in reduced absenteeism and another $4 in health care costs.”

Companies can offer CSA subscriptions as an employee benefit to attract talent. They can also subscribe themselves to offer biweekly deliveries of fresh fruit to the office.

“I am basically applying the CSA concept to fruit. Consumers or businesses purchase a share of the farm’s production when it is in season. Our apple season begins in September and we stop delivering after we can no longer get them fresh. Some stores may sell an apple that is a year old.”

Which kind of apple you eat may not immediately impact your health, but it is certainly influencing how growers and distributors will market it to you in the future. 

Bio

John P. Palen is CEO of Allied Executives and works with CEOs, business owners and executive leaders on leadership development and business performance improvement through peer groups, coaching and educational workshops.

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