Atlanta Orders In: Fresh Harvest builds robust local food supply chain

The core of Fresh Harvest's subscription-based weekly food delivery service is a customizable basket featuring locally grown, certified organic produce. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Caption
The core of Fresh Harvest's subscription-based weekly food delivery service is a customizable basket featuring locally grown, certified organic produce. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Subscription-based online food delivery business provides jobs for Clarkston refugees

In a year marked by uncertainty, a modest community supported agriculture business has been a source of stability for families and small businesses while finding its niche in the marketplace.

Thanks to Fresh Harvest, based in Clarkston, thousands of households in greater Atlanta have access to fresh food each week, and two dozen area farms remain able to plant, harvest and sell certified-organic greens, sunchokes, sweet potatoes and even boutique produce, despite restaurant orders having dwindled or dried up. And, resettled refugees have steady jobs, working in the Fresh Harvest warehouse or driving delivery trucks.

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Refugees now comprise more than 60% of Fresh Harvest's 80-person payroll. Among them are, from left, Hay Hay, Hsa Eh and Hay Blu Moon, part of a crew that works overnight to prep trucks for the next day’s deliveries. Courtesy of Fresh Harvest
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Refugees now comprise more than 60% of Fresh Harvest's 80-person payroll. Among them are, from left, Hay Hay, Hsa Eh and Hay Blu Moon, part of a crew that works overnight to prep trucks for the next day’s deliveries. Courtesy of Fresh Harvest

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

The core of Fresh Harvest’s subscription-based food delivery service is a customizable weekly produce basket. Offering free sign-up, no cancellation fee and flexible ordering, it has outgrown the storage capacity in its cooler and freezer.

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Prior to the pandemic, Fresh Harvest fulfilled about 1,700 deliveries a week in greater Atlanta. Now, it handles 4,000 deliveries weekly, and recently began serving Athens. Courtesy of Fresh Harvest
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Prior to the pandemic, Fresh Harvest fulfilled about 1,700 deliveries a week in greater Atlanta. Now, it handles 4,000 deliveries weekly, and recently began serving Athens. Courtesy of Fresh Harvest

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

Fresh Harvest went from fulfilling about 1,700 deliveries a week to 4,000, and recently began serving residents in Athens. Director of Sales David Melton noted that numerous new clients are older adults, a group at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Fresh Harvest’s online ordering and delivery service has enabled these people to shop from the safety of their homes.

To keep up with demand, the company scrambled to expand its supply network, building partnerships with an additional two dozen artisan food producers, and more farms, many of which had been heavily dependent upon restaurants for their business.

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Besides produce, Fresh Harvest customers can order meat, dairy, bread and other grocery products, as well as prepared foods from local small businesses. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Caption
Besides produce, Fresh Harvest customers can order meat, dairy, bread and other grocery products, as well as prepared foods from local small businesses. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Besides tapping Fresh Harvest for certified organic produce with a click of a button, customers can order meat, dairy, bread and other grocery products, as well as prepared foods from 85 food artisans, including tamales by Chamblee-based 100% Artisan Foods, savory pies by Norcross-based Pouch Pies and healthy vegan bowls by local startup Stop Think Chew. “Everything but the toilet paper and dog food,” Melton summed up.

Staff has quadrupled, with hiring focused on refugees who’ve resettled in Clarkston. Refugees now comprise more than 60% of the 80-person payroll, including a newly created four-person crew that works an overnight shift to prep trucks for the next day’s deliveries.

ExploreTake a food tour of Clarkston
During the pandemic, Fresh Harvest's fleet team increased from eight to 16 drivers, to keep up with consumer demand. Courtesy of Fresh Harvest
Caption
During the pandemic, Fresh Harvest's fleet team increased from eight to 16 drivers, to keep up with consumer demand. Courtesy of Fresh Harvest

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

Ramping up delivery capabilities has meant doubling the number of drivers and trucks. But, there have been bumps along the road — from breakdowns to flat tires to the recent theft of catalytic converters from eight of its 15 trucks. “That was a real bummer, but we made it work,” Melton said. For the week and a half that those big rigs were getting repaired, the fleet team jumped into rental trucks. “We didn’t miss a single delivery day,” he said.

Melton not only has been amazed by the explosive growth of the company, the dedication of its staff and the partnerships it has developed with growers and producers, but also by the generosity of customers. Fresh Harvest pays employees competitive wages, but, at the behest of customers, this year it added an option that enables them to tip delivery drivers on a one-time or recurring basis. “It has been very popular,” Melton said. Tips are not shared; they go directly to the individual driver.

Fresh Harvest Director of Sales David Melton is seen in the parking lot of the company's headquarters in Clarkston. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Caption
Fresh Harvest Director of Sales David Melton is seen in the parking lot of the company's headquarters in Clarkston. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Customers do not incur charges for weeks that they need to skip delivery, but they can opt to donate the value of the produce basket to Share the Harvest Market, a subsidized market that Fresh Harvest operates in Clarkston.

The weekly market has been on pause, due to the pandemic, but it has continued to serve the community, thanks to local nonprofit partners Concrete Jungle and Envision Atlanta, whose volunteers deliver organic produce directly to homes of Clarkston-area families in need. During the week of Thanksgiving, Fresh Harvest customers donated more than $10,000. “As we have more donations come in, we’re having conversations about that becoming a nonprofit arm of what we do,” Melton said.

If you’re struggling to find a silver lining to the pandemic, think of Fresh Harvest.

FRESH HARVEST

Menu: weekly customizable basket of locally grown, certified organic produce; prepared foods and beverages from rotating selection of 85 small businesses

What I ordered: Georgia Grown medium basket, individual and family-sized savory pies, vegetarian tamales, tomato basil pesto quiche

Service options: online ordering; contactless delivery; contactless pickup (10% discount for on-site pickup); delivery day based on customer location

Mask policy: all employees wear masks

Address, phone: 735 Park North Blvd., Clarkston; 404-721-4402

Hours: 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays

Website: freshharvestga.com

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