Before COVID-19, farmer Alex Ball had anticipated it would be another decade before Metro Detroit farmers adopted online ordering systems en masse. But that changed when the pandemic hit.
"It was funny," says Ball, owner of Belleville-based Old City Acres
. "Overnight, every farmer developed a way to sell their product online. I'm excited now because I see a lot of growth in small farmers."
The pandemic has provided an unexpected jolt of energy for numerous Metro Detroit farmers to expand their businesses and begin delivering local food directly to their customers. Ball introduced an online ordering system and a CSA in 2018. His CSA membership grew from 15 members in 2018 to 25 members in 2019 – and then to 50 in 2020, forcing him to build new infrastructure to handle the added demand.
"My business skyrocketed in the one-month period where people decided they wanted to buy local food again," Ball laughs.
is a "vertical farm" near Belle Isle that grows greens and herbs in a controlled indoor environment, with plants stacked to the ceilings of two buildings to maximize cubic space. Before the pandemic, Planted Detroit sold its product primarily to restaurants. But when the pandemic hit, the business introduced an online store through which customers could order ready-to-eat salads for delivery throughout the greater metro area.
"Our plan for our products was always a direct-to-consumer model," says Simon Yevzelman, Planted's director of food safety and biosecurity. "Really, the pandemic just accelerated those plans."
Other businesses have launched new ways to connect multiple local farmers to new customers online during the pandemic. Drew Patrick is the owner of Michigan Fields
, an Eastern Market-based online store for Michigan produce and more. Patrick says he'd had tentative plans for the business for a long time as a result of working with local food and beverage companies through his branding and design business, Skidmore Studio
When COVID hit, Patrick says, "We said, 'This is a way we can help, and it's a way for us to keep people busy and support local growers and producers.' So we got it up and running in about two weeks."
Dazmonique Carr, founder of Deeply Rooted Produce
, says the pandemic forced her to "to look at what we're good at and what other people are not doing." She started her business, an online market offering produce from Metro Detroit farms, in 2016 while she was at Wayne State University. She realized she had an advantage in the many connections she had with Detroit farmers, and an opportunity for growth in the fact that many of those farmers didn't deliver to customers' doorsteps. So in 2020 she launched a CSA that offers delivery across Metro Detroit.
Carr says the farmers she works with have been "appreciative" of the new stream of income Deeply Rooted Produce has created.
"If you were not online, you had minimal streams of income, especially because people weren't really coming in person," she says. "If you had a farm stand or you were at a market, the trickle-down effect from you not having an online presence was definitely felt."
Although food shortages in major grocery stores prompted last year's initial surge of interest in local food, that interest has persisted into this year – and farmers think it's here to stay. Jerry Ann Hebron is the executive director of Northend Christian Community Development Corporation
, which runs the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm
in Detroit's North End. In addition to providing thousands of free meals to those in need last year, the farm also launched an online store
in collaboration with D-Town Farm
. The store will add 10 more local vendors this year, and Hebron anticipates adding even more in future years.
"Awareness was raised for people, and it was shocking," she says. "I think now people are more interested in seeing who's growing the food, learning who they are, seeing what their growing practices are, and being able to say, 'Oh yeah, I go over there on Oakland' or 'I go out to D-Town in Rouge Park.'"
"The pandemic has really accelerated changes that people like me in the food system and agriculture industry would like to see happen already," he says. "We want to reduce our reliance on monoculture. We want to reduce our reliance on out-of-season foods being grown in other places and shipped across the nation, losing all their freshness on the truck and then lasting two days on the shelf. ... That's only going to make [local] businesses prosper and it's going to make people healthier."
Local food, on your doorstep
Want to get local food delivered to your own doorstep? Here are some of the abundant options available in Metro Detroit:
This Brightmoor-based farm's CSA offers delivery within a 20-mile radius of its location at 15078 Beaverland St. in Detroit.
Deeply Rooted Produce:
This Detroit-based business' online store, the Detroit Produce Market, offers local produce, baked goods, and other pantry items. Its CSA, launched last year, will return this year with a sliding-scale pricing model to serve customers of all income levels. Delivery is available throughout Metro Detroit, or you can pick up your order from Rivendell Gardens in Detroit.
This Grand Rapids-based company offers local produce delivery in Detroit and Grand Rapids. It is accepting only a limited number of new customers in certain ZIP codes, so check to make sure service is available in your area.
This Detroit company, launched during the pandemic, aims to deliver local produce both to paying customers and to those who may be food insecure. You can buy a produce box for yourself or make a smaller donation that will provide a box to someone in need.
This Kansas City-based company has a Detroit hub offering delivery of local produce boxes.
FarmStop: Two Birmingham residents
launched this online local grocery store last year in response to the pandemic. They offer delivery anywhere in Wayne or Oakland counties, as well as pickup from their Livonia headquarters.
This Detroit-based farm's CSA offers delivery within a 20-mile radius of its location at 2334 Buchanan St.
This Indianapolis-based local produce delivery company has a Michigan hub. You can order local products for delivery in Wayne County and other areas of Southeast Michigan.
Michigan Farm to Family:
This Brighton-based company offers delivery of produce, meat, dairy, seafood, baked goods, and other prepared foods from dozens of Michigan farms.
This Detroit-based online store offers Michigan produce, meat, dairy, and baked goods for delivery in Metro Detroit. It's also introducing its own Michigan Fields-branded meat and butter this year.
Nurturing Our Seeds:
This Detroit urban farm sells surplus produce baskets for delivery online.
: This Detroit company specializes in greens, herbs, and ready-made salads. Immediate delivery is available in Detroit, Hamtramck, Ferndale, Royal Oak, Madison Heights, any Grosse Pointe community, or St. Clair Shores.
Shop Detroit Farms:
Formerly the D-Town Farm and Oakland Avenue Urban Farm Online Market, this Detroit-based marketplace is rebranding as Shop Detroit Farms to reflect the new local vendors it plans to add this year. Delivery will be available for the first time this year, only to customers in the city of Detroit.
Most importantly, this list is not complete! If you're having trouble finding a produce delivery service that fits your specific needs, you may not be alone. High demand over the past year has caused some to limit their new customers/subscribers. Ball, for example, notes that he has already sold out his CSA memberships for this year. But for those who may think they've missed the boat on fresh produce delivery this year, he recommends calling your local farmers market, which may be able to connect you to a farmer who could use your business.