Lots of people are thinking about the future of dinner in America. One of them is Judith Winfrey, president of 5-year-old PeachDish, an Atlanta-based meal kit company that reports it spent $1.6 million with local farmers and food producers in 2017.
“My passion is good food and getting good food to people,” Winfrey said. Helping small farmers and food producers take part in the digital economy is a major reason she took this job after years in the Atlanta hospitality industry.
She has her feet in two worlds. As president of PeachDish, she oversees a company that delivers meal kits based on fresh Southern produce, products and recipes. But, she’s also co-founder, with her husband Joe Reynolds, of Love Is Love Farm.
“As the wife of a small organic grower, I have a real understanding of the importance of the work they do,” she said. “They are small business owners, but they are also environmental stewards. … I don’t know any small-businessperson who has to work as hard as a farmer does.”
Winfrey’s roots in farming extend back to her grandparents, sharecroppers in the Athens area. “I think Georgia doesn’t get the recognition it deserves for its contribution to agriculture, especially the sustainable agriculture movement,” she said. “I like to remind people that Georgia has been growing food since before California was a state.”
PeachDish sends out more than 2,000 meal kits per week, each selected from a menu based on a Southeastern harvest calendar. “We put out an annual produce forecast to all the farmers we work with, about 200 at this point. We want them to plan their crop rotation around us. We won’t be their only market, but we want to be a significant market for them. … We can aggregate from our farmers, so if one has only half what we need, we can augment with produce from others.”
In October 2017, PeachDish used 19,000 apples, purchased 12,000 pounds of onions, and prepped 5,000 pounds of sweet potatoes.
“Our farmers can harvest something in the morning, deliver it to us, and we can have it shipped out to our customer that same day,” Winfrey said. This model works because Georgia has a long growing season, with fresh produce available 365 days a year.
PeachDish ships anywhere in the continental U.S. “Southern food is probably the best-loved cuisine in the United States. We have customers who are Southern ex-pats (and) others who just like Southern food.”
Customers have a choice each week of at least seven entrees, with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options available. Most meals can be fixed in less than an hour, although there’s also a selection of “quick fix” meals that can be prepared in 35 minutes or less. And, there’s always something sweet.
The kits come with recipe cards, including photos of how the finished dish should look, nutritional information, a biography of the chef who created the dish, and step-by-step instructions on how to prepare the meal. Each box also contains a list of the farmers and other suppliers who provided each of the products used in that week’s meals.
The menus vary each week, and rotate throughout the year. There are some classics, though, like Zeb Stevenson’s chicken and dumplings and Kevin Clark’s Comfy Chicken (biscuits with fried chicken and sausage gravy), that are so popular they appear on the menus with greater frequency.
The kits are “built” in a 30,000-square-foot facility in southeast Atlanta. The industrial area abuts a defunct rail line, and the stylish gray exterior of the PeachDish offices, with its huge peach logo, is a bright spot in the corridor.
There are cool rooms, storage for dry goods, and a vertical form fill machine that packs heat-sealed bags of ingredients, like rice and seasonings. There’s a room set aside for ingredients, such as peanuts, that are known allergens, and freezer space big enough to hold dozens of pallets of ice packs, an essential part of a business that ships meals three days a week to destinations across the country.
Winfrey is particularly proud of the impact PeachDish has on its hometown economy. “When people in Georgia purchase from us, they are not only supporting a Georgia business, but they are supporting hometown farmers and food producers. They get the freshest, most delicious food, and they make a big impact on their local community. That means a lot to me, and to everyone here.”