Jarryd Brennan is produce buyer and forager for Farmhouse Delivery, a Texas-based online grocer that services Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. Established in 2009, Farmhouse Delivery focuses largely on local products and offers a wide variety of produce, meat, and other groceries through its subscription boxes, meal kits, and a la carte options. Jarryd joined OPN to talk about why carrying organic produce is important to Farmhouse, the company’s new sourcing relationship with Veritable Vegetable, how COVID has boosted business, and more.
How did you get started working in the produce industry?
I’ve been a gardener since I was in elementary school, and I’m kind of a plant nerd. I went to school at Texas State to study biochemistry because I was super interested in nutrition and plant medicine and how they interacted with the body. But I got a little discouraged when all my nutrition professors were drinking diet sodas and eating processed meat. So I kind of rebelled and instead of going to grad school, I went and worked on a biodynamic farm as an apprentice for a year after graduating (the farm is called Raphael Garden, and it’s at Rudolf Steiner College in Northern California).
When I came back to Texas, I started a permaculture food forest on 2/3 of an acre in my backyard, and I also started working at Whole Foods as a cashier/bagger. I got pulled into a career path at Whole Foods and became the produce team leader and then the perishables team leader before coming over to Farmhouse as a buyer in October 2018.
Farmhouse Delivery produce box
Farmhouse Delivery offers both produce boxes and a la carte produce items. What percentage of the produce in your boxes is organic, and how many a la carte organic produce SKUs do you offer?
For the boxes, about 80 percent of what I source comes from local farms, the vast majority of which use organic practices and about 40 percent of which are certified organic. For the a la carte offerings, we have 62 total SKUs as of right now, and 45 of them are certified organic.
Why is carrying organic produce important to Farmhouse Delivery?
Carrying organic is important to our company because organic agriculture is about taking care of the land; it’s about using practices that support the health of the earth and the health of the plants. And then when we consume healthier plants from stronger soil, we are healthier and stronger and better for it. So we’re taking care of ourselves overall by taking care of the plants.
Jarryd Brennan, produce buyer, Farmhouse Delivery
What are Farmhouse Delivery’s sourcing standards for its organic produce?
So really we’re looking for the highest-quality produce around. And Farmhouse’s focus has always been if it’s in season, and we can get it locally, that is what we’re going to promote. But we also recognize that people want bananas and apples throughout the year, so in 2020, we started expanding our SKUs and our offerings to include certified organic things grown outside of Texas.
Since adding these non-Texas certified organic produce options, we’ve seen tremendous amounts of growth—56 percent of our sales are coming from the a la carte section. A la carte offerings of organic berries and organic off-season greens are huge for us!
Are a lot of your certified organic a la carte items coming from California? And if so, are you sourcing them directly?
Yes, they are. We’ve had to work with third-party distributors in order for it to make financial sense. We couldn’t back haul; we couldn’t directly source from California farms. We’ve been challenged a little with the third-party distribution partners we’ve been working with as far as quality and consistency are concerned, so we just recently partnered with Veritable Vegetable out in California.
We were able to figure out a freight back-haul situation that makes logistical sense for us so that we can source directly from Veritable. And it’s super exciting because they have such great abundance; the quality is great; their selection is great; and they have full traceability to the farm—they have really close intimate connections with local growers, the small-scale growers. At Farmhouse, we want to be able to tell the story of the farmer because we find that people want to know where their food comes from, and being able to hear about their farmer and see how they grow helps connect people more closely to their food.
Farmhouse Delivery local produce box
How has the COVID-19 situation impacted Farmhouse Delivery?
Once the Texas governor issued the stay-at-home order on March 31, we saw four times the sales volume overnight. At first we were like, “Oh yay—this is awesome!” And then we were like, “Oh no! We do not have the infrastructure and the systems set up in place to handle this volume.”
And so that first week was really, really intense. But we were quick to respond, and we went from running one pack line a day at our Austin headquarters to expanding into running two lines, and then we started running a third line at night.
We had to put a restriction on new customers signing up due to the increased demand, so we had a 2,000-people-long waitlist. We tried to focus more on the Austin (and San Antonio) area first just because it made more sense for us to serve more directly in our community. We had to cut off Dallas and Houston for a while, but then we were able to fold them back in once we had the infrastructure to support that volume.
"At Farmhouse, we want to be able to tell the story of the farmer because we find that people want to know where their food comes from, and being able to hear about their farmer and see how they grow helps connect people more closely to their food." -Jarryd Brennan
Is COVID what led you to start carrying non-local certified organic SKUs?
I had already been testing the waters pre-COVID and bringing on a few out-of-state organic SKUs and trying it out. But then once COVID hit, I was like, “Yeah, I’m going full force! I’m going to offer everything because people can’t go to the grocery store, and they’re going to want everything!” I wanted to give them the complete produce shop.
What kinds of organic produce sales trends have you noticed over the course of your career?
Organic sales continue to rise across the board. Working at Whole Foods, I saw organic always outperformed conventional. At Farmhouse, it looks like the sales trend for organic produce is in fruit—mass consumption of organic fruit like avocados, berries, and bananas.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
My favorite part of the job is supporting farmers and feeding folks with what farmers produce. I have a lot of joy knowing that I’m facilitating feeding people because I love to eat—especially seasonally. And just being around people who love food is a beautiful thing!