Berkshire Organics: Top “Right to Know Grocer”
By Arianne Pfoutz
Published: October 3, 2013
Category: Non-GMO Company Profile
Aleisha Gibbons was simply looking for steady access to reasonably priced, year-round, local, organic food. She was on a waiting list for a CSA and without the money to buy in advance for the entire season. The weekly farmers’ market would run out of produce before she got there. And searching for “clean” food at the grocery store was an exercise in confusion and doubt.
Knowing there had to be a better way to connect to local food, in 2007 she started calling local farmers. Her idea: collect produce weekly from local growers, basket it, and sell it to customers who wanted fresh, healthy produce. In 2008, she quit her full-time job to focus on developing Berkshire Organics in Dalton, MA. She picked up the produce, packed it in her living room, and delivered it herself. The initial 35 delivery customers grew to 100 by summer’s end.
Now, five years later, Berkshire Organics operates from a 4,000 square-foot facility and delivers to 300 residential and business customers in a 50-mile radius, in Berkshire County and southern Vermont. It also operates a full natural foods and products market, along with a deli, carrying close to 5,000 food items and personal care and cleaning products.
“Top Right to Know Grocer”
The Organic Consumers Association chose Berskshire as Number One in its “Top Right to Know Grocer” competition. The award acknowledges the care Berkshire Organics takes in providing organic produce, carefully vetting all its products, labeling them, and requiring signed affidavits that all are GMO-free.
“It’s labor intensive, but our patrons appreciate the lengths that we go to, to ensure the cleanest, freshest offerings possible,” Aleisha said.
A customer-driven strategy for success
Basket deliveries are the heart of Berkshire Organics. Nothing is stored—it’s all received and delivered within 72 hours of picking. Though not every fruit or vegetable is organic, all are locally raised with organic practices.
No membership or prepayment is required; one-time purchases are fine. Prices are kept down by eliminating the middleman.
The company works with 50 or so small farms. In the winter, it receives produce from the Southeast and from greenhouses. Organic distributors from New England also provide year-round food.
“Our farmers love the year-round delivery,” Aleisha said. “They can extend their growing season. Most farmers just want to grow food—not spend lots of time on marketing and selling.”
The company has zero waste, selling any remainders at a discount and donating to local food pantries. They also deliver local produce to several school systems in Berkshire County, through a program called SEEDS: Sustainable Education Every Day for Students.
GMO – In the Know
A “GMO expert” on the staff examines all ingredients in potential store items, looking for GMOs. Berkshire Organics prides itself on being more discerning than a lot of natural foods markets. Everything is certified organic or Non-GMO Project verified, except a dozen or so products. Customers are warned with labels if the status of an item can’t be confirmed. As a Non-GMO Project Supporting Retailer, the seal is visible in the store.
October is Non-GMO Month, and Berkshire Organics is renting a movie theatre in Pittsfield to show the new film, GMO OMG. On October 12, National Monsanto Day, they’ll donate 5% of sales to the Non-GMO Project. They are co-sponsoring a GMO rally on October 24. In September, they supported labeling efforts by making 60 non-GMO lunches for MA Right to Know members at Boston’s Statehouse.
© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report, October 2013