We are wrapped up in some typical spring weather in Calgary, and by typical I mean gale force winds and alternating rain and snow. So while we wait for some sunshine to peek out from behind the clouds I wanted to share my impressions of the organic grocery delivery service that we’ve been using for a couple of years now – SPUD! The name is an acronym for Small Potatoes Urban Delivery and they arrived here from Vancouver in 2005 with current locations in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and LA.
Running a well designed website they provide an array of organic choices aiming for mainly local producers – from fruit and veggies to bread, milk, meat and prepared foods, to cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items. While they were very fruit and veggie heavy at first, I’ve seen their lineup expand over time to include more and more convenient products. While I generally much prefer to go to a farmers market to stock up on food, there are many a time, especially in winter where such a trip is simply not happening. Left to choose sad looking veggies at the local grocery store (even if they look good I’d rather support local farmers with more sustainable practices), or schlepping across town on slick roads SPUD! Gives me a great alternative to both.
While their prices are fair to farmers, and there’s the convenience of delivery, they are often not cheap. It is not uncommon to see a single bell pepper or a zucchini hover around 2.50, especially out of season. A half pound of salad greens is typically over four dollars and organic, cage-free eggs are around six. Even when I understand deeply that the real cost of food is often not reflected at the grocery stores, sometimes SPUD!’s prices can be hard to swallow. I suppose the cashier till is where most abstract intentions to eat locally and support sustainable food break down in the face of limited budgets. I also reflect on the fact that I’m cooking for two, and our food budget is easily our largest expense outside of the mortgage. Having said that, I think we’ve developed a system that allows us to maximize our food choices for the way that we eat, and it clearly works for us. For around a hundred dollars a week we get six litres of milk, a couple of great Hoven farm steaks, a loaf of bread, a couple heads of garlic, zucchini and mushrooms for the week, six to twelve apples, a few lemons, two to five tomatoes, sometimes cukes or green onions, whatever seasonal fruit may be on sale, occasional toothpaste or tea, or crackers or burritos or eggs, as well as hazelnuts and mac’n’cheese. Some combination of those comprises our weekly baskets.
The best way to eat in a manner that does not cause damage to my ethical sensibilities and wallet is to deal with local farmers directly. When you purchase bulk meat from local suppliers, freeze/can seasonal produce, you mainly need milk and bread as well as some fresh stuff throughout the week. Dealing with a delivery service at the very least eliminates the many middlemen that reduce farmers’ earnings to nothing.
I love the fact that they provide pretty detailed info on some of their suppliers and you can find out who grows your food and where. I love the fact that you can buy bulk items in caselots, which is great when it’s say, peach season and they’re affordable and you want to freeze a few bags. I love the fact that they have great info on most of their products, telling you what’s in it, how to store it and how to use it. Their weekly delivery sheet has the bill on one side and a neat newsletter on the other, where they profile green websites, provide a seasonal recipe and share tidbits of news. You can find out exactly why there is a shortage of onions and potatoes – apparently it’s because farmers underplanted due to vast overproduction in previous years, or how the earthquake affected blueberry farmers in Chile. I love the fact that they interact with the community, they are on Twitter with updates and are supporting the Calgary Horticultural Society Fundraiser. I love their reward points that you can redeem for discounts, and the fact that THEY DELIVER! Their customer service is also pretty good with prompt refunds on bad produce (only happened twice I think), and relatively quick replies to questions.
Here are some features that they don’t have, and I wish they did. Product reviews. This is elementary, and many is the time I took a chance on something and found it too… granola for me. This is especially common with some soy-based, organic, vegan-whatever foods. They are so healthy that the taste is like cardboard. The product reviews would quickly weed out the stuff that consumers actually like and the stuff that is only for the hardcore health warrior. I guess I’m a gourmand first. I also wish they carried small lot seasonal stuff. Like now all the food boards are aflutter over morels, ramps, fiddleheads, etc. Have I seen any in Calgary? Nope. This is not only applicable to SPUD! but also to all the restaurants claiming seasonality on their menus. Yeah? Where? I also wish they carried more local products that I know are good but aren’t partnered up with SPUD! for whatever reason – Lundt carrots, or Hotchkiss tomatoes for instance. I’m sure there are many reasons why certain farmers would not be a part of SPUD, but since *I* don’t know them I can only sigh. Surely there are local greenhouse farmers that grow tomatoes, they can’t all be from Mexico or wherever.
So like every business they have their good side and some room to improve. But they deliver ethically sourced products and the vast convenience of delivery. And I support them for trying for a vision where farmers get paid a living wage so that stories like the plight of these tomato pickers happens less often. Since the government blatantly disregards our votes, voting with our dollars is often the most impactful way we get heard.