In 2017 Gary Wieczorek had been working in the produce industry for well over 20 years. His experience in all aspects of the wholesale and retail sides of the business ultimately led him to a position as a food safety expert with the FDA. During those years Gary witnessed disturbing occurrences of food waste within this highly perishable industry. Not only was he watching unpurchased food being thrown into dumpsters, he also learned that 25-40% of fruits and vegetables were being unpicked at the farm level. Farmers know that at a grocery store, consumers will always choose the unblemished item over the blemished. For that reason farmers become choosy when picking as time ticks by during harvests in order to make the most gains.
Meanwhile Gary’s wife Gina was diagnosed with MS and was committed to holistic treatment after being dissatisfied with a traditional medical route. To accommodate her specific diet, rich in natural and organic foods, she searched out locally grown, organic produce finding that it was not as easy as she thought it would be. She drove daily to different farms in the Southtowns of Buffalo to get the freshest produce she could find, but didn’t always know what they would have, how much it would be, and how much of it would be available.
Together the husband and wife team came up with a tech-based idea to tackle both problems. After two years of planning, creating, and collaborating they launched Produce Peddlers this past June with the help of tech gurus Dan Magnuszewski, Jack Greco, and Pat O’Brien. Basically, Produce Peddlers is a web-based app accessible through their website that links farmers directly to bulk produce consumers, namely restaurants and caterers. Farmers take photos of what they have picked each day and post to the app with an asking price. End-users then purchase quantities through the app and Produce Peddlers picks up the purchased produce from the farm and delivers directly to the buyer the next day, or same day when possible.
To explain just how this works, take for example, my meeting with the Wieczoreks. We met at O3 Cafe in Snyder. The soup of the day was Roasted Cauliflower & Corn Squash with Parmesan Croutons. The day prior, owner Joe Orlando purchased cauliflower and squash from Seabert Farms through the Produce Peddler app that was delivered directly to his cafe by the Wieczoreks. That might sound simple, and it is, simply brilliant! But what that app purchase provided to Orlando is immeasurable. As a proud new father, Orlando has learned that time is now a precious commodity. Committed to locally sourced produce whenever possible, he routinely made several trips each week to farmers markets to seek out freshly picked produce. Using Produce Peddlers eliminates those shopping trips, allowing him to spend more time at home with his family – priceless.
Farmers love this concept too. Kyle Seabert, of Seabert Farms in Lockport, says “Produce Peddlers is a great way to get our produce out there and really shines a light on local farming. The whole delivery step is really nice for us, we are able to stay on the farm longer and get things done.”
What’s even more impressive is that the app is free to both sellers and buyers. So, for example, let’s say you purchased a plot of land in East Aurora with a small get-away cabin for you and your family to spend quiet weekends. On one of your family hikes you discover an abundant harvest of chanterelle mushrooms, so many that you don’t know what you could possibly do with them. (Yes, this is a true story that happened to a friend of mine.) Well, you could post those foraged babies up on Produce Peddlers for free naming your price, have them picked up at your little cozy cabin, then find out for yourself how the local chef has prepared them that night at a city restaurant by treating your family to a night out. That, my friends, is what farm to table dreams are made of.
Currently, Produce Peddlers serves both buyers and sellers within a 50-mile radius of downtown Buffalo. Buyers include Green Eats Kitchen and Juice Bar in Orchard Park, Get the Grove in the Ellicott Square Building, Butera’s in Hamburg, Barrel + Brine in Buffalo, and Kevin’s Catering in Kenmore. Selling farms include Draudt’s Farm in Hamburg, Eden Valley Growers – the largest and oldest farm co-op in Western New York, Goodman Farms in Ransomville, Flat #12 Mushrooms on Buffalo’s West Side, and micro-green grower Vertical Fresh Farms in Buffalo.
Connecting all these conscientious consumers with local farmers is, of course, magnificent, but Produce Peddlers has begun serving schools as well to fulfill their lunchroom needs with locally sourced whole foods. The Wieczoreks work with The Park School in Snyder, Nardin Academy in Buffalo, and recently signed on with the Hamburg school district. Keeping money in the community is a win for everyone, and Produce Peddlers plans to expand into local hospitals and institutions as well.
Gina Wieczorek states, “Produce Peddlers is a no-commitment, easy tool for both buyers and sellers. At the end of the day we just want to keep perfectly good food out of the dumpsters and onto the tables.” The Wieczoreks look to not only foster relationships between farmers and consumers, but ultimately put an end to food waste. Their bottom line is, if it’s edible get it to people, if it’s not edible send it to compost.
In just a matter of months Produce Peddlers has seen much success. If you see their van driving around with their logo, Peddler Pete, on the side, give them a shout out. If you are interested in learning more, are in the food service industry, or just inherited a large beet farm, check them out at www.producepeddlers.com.