For members of Slow Food, you still have time to redeem your discounted order from February's partner - Irv & Shelly's Fresh Picks as part of 2016's Year of Slow Food. Irv Cernauskas and Shelly Herman are on a mission to not only support local farms and farmers - but also to ensure that this fresh food is easily accessible to all. Read on to learn more about how they got started and why they keep fighting for good, clean and fair food for all.
What was the idea behind Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks? How did you start?
Our idea was to serve as a partner with local farms to increase the amount of local food reaching Chicago. Farmers often cited the challenges of marketing and distribution, and we thought if we could help on that, they could focus their knowledge and resources on increasing production. We started by visiting farms, and other similar businesses across the U.S. and Canada, then just diving in and "bootstrapping" our own savings and debt to build out our warehouse and website.
What would you be doing right now on a typical workday?
Every day we check in with farmers we know to find out what crops they have available and would be most helpful to their operations to sell to us. We also check our customer orders and make sure we have enough food lined up to fill them. And we make sure our staff has everything they need to get the work done, and help resolve any issues that come up.
What’s the best part about your job? The hardest part?
The best part of our job is the great relationships we have with the families who produce the wonderful food we deliver, and helping our customers make delicious and healthy choices. When farmers tell us how much the support they get from Fresh Picks means to them, and customers tell us how improving their diet has made them feel better, and that their kids are so excited when our deliveries arrive, it makes our day! The hardest part is when things don't go as planned. Like last Saturday, after the wind storm, ComEd lost power to our refrigeration and we had to scramble to protect our food. That wasn't a fun morning.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle for Chicago’s food systems to overcome?
We have to recruit more Chicago residents, to help them see, and taste, the value of local food, and make it easy and fun to vote with their dollars for something better. We have a lot of very loyal customers, but we are just scratching the surface of the potential we see. Big national companies with giant marketing budgets and slick technology challenge our local food system for the attention of consumers.
How does your work relate to the Slow Food objectives (good, clean, fair food)?
We are all about making it easy to act on those values. It can be hard for folks to get to a farmers market or commit to a CSA membership, especially in the winter. By offering convenience, choice and great customer service, we work to make it possible for more people to have good, clean and fair food a part of everyday life. Even if they can't meet their farmer face-to-face every week, visitors to our web site can click through a product to see a page with pictures of the families who grow the food, where the farm is located, and descriptions of their practices. That way they know where there food is coming from, and where their dollars are going, and can feel good about the choices they are making.
What do you think is in store for 2016’s trendiest food item- kale’s successor?
hmmm...my crystal ball says maybe aquafaba. Cauliflower and beef bone broth still seem to be going strong. We always sell out of the bones before any other beef cut!
Why Chicago? If not Chicago, where?
The Central Valley of California, after generations of unsustainable water and soil depletion, and often unfair labor practices, is potentially facing the end of a long run as the green grocer of the nation. But with abundant water and fertile soil, and a great tradition of family farming, Chicago and our region has a great historical role to reclaim as a center of food production and distribution.
Is there anything else you’d like us to share about your business?
It is a challenging world out there! We need all of your members help spreading the word so we can keep on fulfilling our mission. We are approaching our ten year anniversary and will have an Open House on April 10 at our facility (just off the Edens and Touhy Ave), and we would love to have people come join us to celebrate, sample some delicious chef creations and mingle with farmers.