Agriculture

Fresno food group takes over T&D Willey’s produce box service

Tom Willey at the packing shed at T&D Willey Farms in Madera in 2004. His T&D Willey Farms is a pioneer in community supported agriculture in the central San Joaquin Valley. On Thursday, May 28, 2015 Willey joined in an announcement that he has agreed to sell the service to Fresno Food Commons.
Tom Willey at the packing shed at T&D Willey Farms in Madera in 2004. His T&D Willey Farms is a pioneer in community supported agriculture in the central San Joaquin Valley. On Thursday, May 28, 2015 Willey joined in an announcement that he has agreed to sell the service to Fresno Food Commons. Fresno Bee file photo

Fresno Food Commons, an organization devoted to building a stronger local food system, took its first major step Thursday by taking over a long-running food subscription service operated by pioneering Madera organic growers T&D Willey Farms.

The Willey’s weekly produce box deliveries, known as community supported agriculture, or CSA, will be renamed Out Of Our Own Backyards, or Ooooby Fresno.

The partnership was announced Thursday. City officials, supporters and members of Fresno Food Commons met at the organization’s newly renovated office, 504 E. Belmont Ave.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said Fresno Food Commons’ launch is part of a larger goal to help to create jobs, improve access to local food and developing stronger connections between farmers, buyers and consumers.

“Fresno Food Commons brings together so many things that we are trying to accomplish in our neighborhoods,” Swearengin said.

Kiel Schmidt, business development manager at Fresno Food Commons, said the organization was fortunate that the Willeys, who operated one of the earliest CSAs in the San Joaquin Valley, agreed to sell the service to Fresno Food Commons.

“We will look at strategies to build on what the Willeys have created,” Schmidt said. “It is a great business and we did not want to see it end when they retire.”

600customers are supplied with freshly picked produce by the T&D Willey Farms box service

At its height, the Willey’s CSA had more than 800 customers, who were supplied with freshly picked produce. Fresno Food Commons said the CSA’s customer base is at about 600 today. It will continue to use 22 designated drop-off sites where customers can pick up their boxes.

“We are very excited to hand this off to a community-based organization that has the vision to take this to bigger and higher places,” said farmer Tom Willey.

The Willeys will remain a part of the CSA by contributing a majority of the produce in the box. Other farmers participating include D.E. Boldt in Parlier, Tower Urban Family Farms in Fresno, Sweet Home Ranch in Dinuba and Burroughs Family Farm in Stanislaus County.

Schmidt said Fresno Food Commons is working on getting the approval to make food products, like jams or pies, and adding them as an option to the CSA boxes. Later this summer, the organization plans to deliver boxes to homes in certain areas and will offer customers the chance to customize what goes in their box.

The organization also plans to roll out a mobile food truck that will sell produce in areas without easy access to grocery stores.

Creators of the Food Commons concept were also at Thursday’s event. Larry Yee, a co-founder of the parent organization, said Fresno’s group is a prototype of what it would like to duplicate across the country.

In a way, Yee said, Food Commons is trying to revive a food system that existed years ago where local farmers predominately supplied food to local and regional retailers.

“But we would like to give it a 21st century spin with technology and efficiencies,” Yee said. “And to us, Fresno is an ideal place to launch the first prototype.”

Organizers said the launch of Fresno Food Commons would not be possible without the support of the Fresno Regional Foundation, Fresno Business Council, Fresno Metro Ministry, City of Fresno and the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Robert Rodriguez: (559) 441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

Community Open House

Food Commons Fresno welcomes the public to the launch of its new venture, Ooooby Fresno.

▪ When: Sunday, May 31, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

▪ Where: 504 E. Belmont Ave, corner of Belmont and Roosevelt avenues in central Fresno

▪ Details: www.foodcommonsfresno.org

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