Farm To Table, With A Little Help From The Internet

You love your local farmer's market. But, depending on where you live, it may not stock fresh citrus or organic heirloom tomatoes or maple syrup. So what's a locavore to do? Enter America's Farmstand. It's an online retailer dedicated to fresh, organic or sustainable produce from small family farms around the country. It ships food items directly from the farmer to your front door. Its founder, Todd Greenfield, left a 13-year Wall Street career to start his virtual farmstand.

"I grew up surrounded by fresh food in the rural farmland of Connecticut," says Greenfield. "My grandfather was in the dairy business, so I grew up feeding farm animals and picking up vegetables for dinner at the local farmstand."

As a city guy, Greenfield became a regular at local farmer's markets. When he spoke to farmers, he found that many of them said the same thing — that their way of life was in danger. A range of challenges, from rising operating costs to NAFTA and other regulations, make it difficult for small farmers to survive in a country whose food production is dominated by large agribusiness. Greenfield came up with the idea to create a platform to sell fresh farm products directly to consumers around the country. An online farmer's market, if you will.

"It started as a way to make it easier for families to get honest, farm-fresh food back on the dinner table," he says. "But transparency has become more and more important to me. People want to know where their came food from, who had a hand in it."

America's Farmstand works with 125 family farms around the country, with plans to grow to 250 farms by mid-2013. The average farm on the roster is 75 years old. Farms are vetted for more than 30 criteria, including growing methods, sustainability practices, biodiversity and treatment of workers. Most importantly, Greenfield ensures that there is absolutely no warehousing involved. Today, he points out, the average time it takes for a fresh food item to get from the ground to a grocer's shelf is 14-15 days, and it could be sitting on that shelf for up to another five days. His business is built on the idea that fresh foods can be consumed mere hours after they're harvested.

So, what to order? Send fresh Florida grapefruit to Nana or Mystic oysters from Connecticut to your boss? Send Maine lobster, Georgia pecans or Empire apples to a displaced local. Or gift yourself some organic, grass-fed beef from upstate New York for your holiday roast. Another great gift idea is the Adopt-a-Crop program. It allows the recipient to "rent" a share in a family farm for a season. The program is especially popular in schools — Greenfield and his team will go into classrooms to talk to students about local agriculture. At harvest, participants are rewarded with a fresh delivery of the season's crop.

Related: Gift Guide: 8 Mail Order Menu Items For The Tragically Homesick

"We want to encourage our customers to buy local when they can," says Greenfield. "But if you're in New England and can't get fresh local oranges, wouldn't you buy them from a small farmer in Florida if you could?" Well, now you can.

Here are five more products that stand out:

1. Coach Farm Goat Cheese: From the same family that founded Coach leather bags comes this creamy, lemony chèvre. Flavors include plain, dill, black pepper and herb. (12-pack for $60)

2. Organic Blended Heirloom Tomato Sauce: Ideal for fresh pasta or pizza, these simple sauces are made from California Yellow Roman, Pink Oxheart and Green Zebra heirloom tomatoes, respectively. (3 jars for $30)

3. Georgia On My Mind gift box: In addition to whole toasted and sea-salted pecans, the gift box includes pecan-studded Whipping Cream Pound Cake and Pearson farm's famous Buttermilk Pecan Pie. ($90)

4. Certified Organic Beef sampler: This Nichols, NY farm has been organic since the '80s. The sampler features boneless chuck roast, strip steak, premium hot dogs, ground beef, as well as andouille and chorizo sausage. ($149)

5. America's Farmstand Signature Farm Fresh gift basket: Get a smattering of the company's favorite products, like fudge from Arndt's Fudgery, WholeVine's varietal grapeseed oil, Annie B's homemade caramel corn and grade A Vermont maple syrup. ($135)

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