Going online to buy local produce? Exploring Relay Foods
When I first met with Caesar Layton for a story about Relay Foods, a Charlottesville-based online grocery store and farmers market that recently expanded into DC and Baltimore, I didn’t quite get the convenience factor. I mean, I am one of those people who drives to three or four different stores and markets each week. I have one store I go to just for eggs (and at $3.25 a dozen for free-range, organic and local, I don’t see that changing). So the thought of buying groceries online for convenience didn’t immediately appeal to me.
But then I tried it. And if the convenience didn’t get me (which it has begun to over the past month), the at-my-fingertips access to local producers and artisans did. Relay’s Charlottesville roots make its established network of Virginia and other farmers available to us city folk. And while the local produce offerings aren’t at their peak this time of year, I’ve enjoyed several goodies from Polyface Farms in Staunton, Down Branch Farm Produce in Charlottesville and a few local boxes that the Relay folks pick for me. I was simply giddy about the quail eggs from Down Branch (which I’ve reordered each week — amazing!) and the shitakes from amFog. And I just got an email saying spring asparagus and the like are on their way!
When I had to amass a half-dozen spices for a complex Indian recipe, Relay’s convenience factor really came into play. I could just type the names into the search box to see if Relay had them: garam masala, rose water, green cardamom, etc. No scouring the aisles and then having to stop off at an obscure spice shop to be recipe-ready. If only Relay had done my mise en place for me, measuring the spices into a bowl before I started cooking, so I wouldn’t have burned the first batch #whyIpayforIndianfood.
All in all, I’ve enjoyed adding Relay into my grocery shopping mix. You can have the groceries delivered to your house for $10 apiece or $20 a month for weekly deliveries. Or, you can pick them up from various spots throughout DC (mine is near the Eisenhower metro stop in Alexandria… closer than one of my grocery stores). You pay a bit of a premium price for the convenience, but some items, like bananas or milk, are competitively priced or discounted at times. You have to finalize your order by midnight two days before your pickup day… or you might have to spring for delivery once in a while (woke up one Wednesday morning to remember I never pushed the go button).
I’ve had a great time experimenting with Relay, and I’d encourage those of you who live in DC to give it a whirl. I suggest you start by scrolling to the bottom of the homepage and browsing by vendor — see if you can’t find something irresistible. It’s like an online farmers market, getting to read a bit about each producer and peruse their products. Relay even sends you samples of new items every once in a while (including a to-die-for Maryland-made granola). Check out my story about the company at ElevationDC.com, how it came to DC and the big-picture model it’s pursuing for taking local food relationships online. And let me know your thoughts. Does buying groceries online, without squeezing the avocados and smelling the pineapple, weird you out? Or might you be swayed if online helped you find more local produce options?