“The cooler that’s full [of milk] today will be cleaned out tonight at 12:15. The milk is not 24 hours old. It doesn’t get fresher than that. The eggs are pulled today and they go out tomorrow,” he added.
The practice harkens back to a time in America when the food on the dinner table came from local dairy farms, butcher shops and vegetable gardens. Perishable products weren’t shipped halfway around the world or made available all four seasons of the year.
Petrick at George Mason said those trends have emerged as the costs of shipping and overseas harvesting have come down and consumers demanded year-round access to items such as strawberries, watermelon and butternut squash.
But that’s begun to change. People are more conscious of the environmental footprint their food leaves behind, as well as the sacrifices to health and taste that accompany foods that are heavily processed or genetically engineered for preservation.
“Food has become really important in the United States,” Petrick said. “Culturally, I think there’s a much greater group of people who really care about their food, care about the way it’s made.”
Count Terrell and her family among them. Though she and her husband stretch their budget to afford local food delivery — shipments run $4.95 each, plus the cost of food — it’s an expense she and her husband bear for the benefits.
“As somebody who gardens and really appreciates what tastes good, I really want my kids to know what a strawberry should taste like,” Terrell said. “Not a strawberry that comes from Chile that’s been hybridized so it maintains its flavor for two or three weeks.
“Even though I do, frankly, buy blueberries in the middle of the winter sometimes, I much prefer a lifestyle where we eat what’s in season and look forward to that season all year,” she added.
To the table
The process of bringing products to Terrell’s doorstep and that of thousands of others around the region provides perhaps the best insight into just how critical technology has become for the farm-to-table movement.
South Mountain Creamery sends shipments from its sprawling farm in Middletown to homes in Pennsylvania, the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia. The weekly undertaking requires 25 trucks that drive 80 routes.
South Mountain Creamery used to design the routes manually using a combination of Internet services such as Google Maps and basic software. The entire process was imprecise, inefficient and prone to human error, Lee said.
Even today, each driver hits the road with a packet of paper detailing each address and its order. The driver then plugs an address into a GPS, makes his or her way there and drops the contents on the porch. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.