Forging Edible Bonds; Small organic food producers are finding a niche delivering directly to consumers, who offer strapped growers steady cash and devoted eaters
By Fred Alvarez, Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Times, August 6, 2003

As cutting-edge operations go, the one taking root at Tom Willey's organic farm in the Central Valley is surprisingly simple. In the shade of a tin-roof shed, workers wedge bunches of sweet carrots, stalks of broccoli and other chemical-free crops into cardboard boxes headed straight to family dinner tables. Willey runs the equivalent of a home-delivery service for organic produce, a new way that small growers are making ends meet. "I think there are ways to survive and leverage your smallness into something that corporate producers can't mimic," said Willey, 55, who delivers fresh-picked produce three times a week to more than 200 Fresno-area customers. "Educating people to eat locally, to eat seasonally, to have a personal relationship with the grower and the land the food comes from, I think that is the best [hope for] the future of the small farmer." The grass-roots approach is rapidly winning converts. Thousands of Californians now pay farmers to pick, pack and deliver produce just for them.