In the last few posts, we’ve described agriculture, government, and politics on our small island, and even some of the nuances of trying to get things done in areas without access to the resources of more industrialized countries. A substantial part of our time and attention that we haven’t mentioned centers on the business of running a farm: creating invoices, looking at cost-benefit numbers, and deciding how much to grow of a given crop. These are normal 9 to 5 stresses that cross into large and small countries alike, so we didn’t think there was a place for them in a small country specific post. Today, we want to tell the story of a service that is becoming a significant component of our day-to-day business operations, yet also pulls back the curtain on issues relevant to small countries: home deliveries. This type of offering has increased in popularity in large countries, and we have been working hard to launch it in the small island context. It’s a pretty simple idea: we deliver locally-grown fruits and vegetables from our farm and other local farmers to people’s doorsteps. A lot of island residents struggle to find fresh items at the grocery store and tracking down local produce can be time-consuming if you don’t know where to go. Furthermore, it offers us an opportunity to support other farms with weekly purchases, and thereby stimulate the island’s entire agriculture sector.
The idea came from two realizations. First, we noticed that there are some farmers doing good work on the island but they struggle to get their products to market (or sell them at all). In short, there’s an endemic distribution problem that compounds the food production problem. No one has put in the effort to make it simple, and profitable, for farmers to access customers. Decision makers, including the large grocers, government officials, and landowners often do not trust the profitably or consistency of local agriculture, especially when considering the needs of tourism and other service-related industries.
Second, a lot of people complained to us about the inconvenience of not knowing where and when to find locally grown items. International shipments of fruits and veggies arrive once per week, on Wednesdays, and if you don’t make it to the grocery store by Thursday, you are out of luck in terms of finding even remotely fresh produce. When we asked local farmers why they don’t sell more to Rams, the largest grocer, their replies are simple, “They pay me pennies on the dollar.” Large international distributors have leverage over local farmers, because they are consistent and have the economies of scale to drive Kittitians off the scene. So instead of selling in bulk, Kittitian growers set up small stands outside banks and other businesses that drive traffic, and spend all day trying to sell their small selections of produce. Consumers quickly get confused seeing local items on the streets and low-quality imports on store shelves, not to mention the seemingly random price points of different vendors.
Does all of this sound like an opportunity to connect some dots? We thought so.
If local farmers couldn’t transport their produce to customers, could we generate enough business to provide that service ourselves? And if international big business made it unprofitable to pursue farming in small islands, could we create higher prices for local growers? The simple answer – yes. After several conversations with people interested in home deliveries, we found they valued quality and convenience above all else. No settling for half-rotten tomatoes, no haggling over prices in the market, no running down city blocks to find the guy who sells the bananas and then finding out that the gal who has sweet potatoes sold out early. “Just get fresh stuff to my door and I’ll be happy,” was the common response.
So, we charge a bit of a premium, local farmers make a sustainable profit, and customers are happy to pay for easiness and freshness. We currently have 30 weekly subscribers with more beating down our door asking to jump on board. However, on the back end we often buy all of the tomatoes, papaya, squash, etc. from multiple farms to fill our orders. This is great for those farmers, but not so great for a home delivery service with high demand. Next time, on the small countries outpost, we delve into the production problems of small island farmers, how they hinder the growth of the industry (and our deliveries), and we recap the year.