Please join us to celebrate Freshness Farms’ Five Year Jubilee this Saturday, November 2. Drop in anytime between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. at 76 Race Street in San Jose. You’ll see new projects in the works, and more.
Five years ago Nasim Hashemi (pictured above, with a farming friend) launched Freshness Farms. In the early years Nasim and a few friends ran the logistics from her dining room table and a small shed in her bountiful backyard. Today Freshness Farms is a successful business that supplies locally grown vegetables, fruit and more to corporations and individual consumers across Silicon Valley. I recently asked Nasim to answer a few questions about the journey Freshness Farms has travelled and where’s it’s heading next…
How did you get into the business of delivering fresh food?
NH: The idea was hatched by a group of friends—mother’s chatting on a fall day, as we sat and watched our kids play after school. This was back in 2008 during a time of deep cuts in the state education budget. We were a group of environmentally and health conscious women, and shared concerns about traditional school fundraisers, such as gift-wrap and cookie dough. We wondered why there wasn’t a fundraiser that was good for the school, AND also for the local environment and our families. Freshness Farms was our answer.
How did you develop the concept into a working business?
NH: There was plenty of “clean” produce growing around me, and I knew a few small growers in the Watsonville area. Many of these small family farms were barely staying afloat—the owners were working full-time jobs in addition to the farm, in order to make ends meet. They were selling produce at the weekend farmers’ markets, which is especially difficult when you have small children. As I met more farmers dedicated to sustainable farming and healthy food, I set out to find a way to sustain them, too. I began including their wonderful fresh fruits, vegetables, honey and eggs in a package that I delivered weekly to families at my children’s school. Proceeds were donated directly to the school as a fundraiser.
How has Freshness Farms evolved over five years?
NH: We started out small—delivering to a handful of families. Nearly all of our members were people that understood the benefits of eating locally grown food. They liked to cook and wanted to support the local economy and promote sustainable farming systems. Eventually I realized that in order for Freshness Farms to have a significant impact, we would have to reach out to a larger audience—one that wasn’t already eating in a healthy, environmentally responsible manner—and help spread the word about eating sustainably grown food. Working within corporations has allowed us that opportunity—to reach a wide range of people, some of whom knew little about the origins of their food until Freshness Farms showed up at the company wellness fair.
Why is eating locally and sustainably grown food so important?
NH: A lot of food we see in supermarkets is packaged. Packaging is a problem because it goes right into landfills, not to mention the wasteful by-products of its production. But loose produce isn’t necessarily much better. Typical supermarket produce is grown far from where it will be consumed. It is picked before it’s ripe so that it will survive long-distance shipping and have an extended shelf life in the market. Such produce never has a chance to reach its full nutritional potential. By contrast, food that is grown close to where it will be consumed can be harvested when it is fully ripe—when taste and nutrition are at their peaks. Eating local food is important, but ideally food systems should be sustainable as well. Sustainable growing means that land health is maintained and nurtured over time in a way that has a neutral (or even positive) impact on the environment—without the use of harmful chemicals. Sustainable farming often relies on methods that been around for centuries.
How are you committed to giving back to the community?
NH: As I met people in and around the business of farming, and within our local community, it came to my attention that there were kids with even more basic needs than a good education. There were families nearby who were having trouble putting food on the table. Before kids head off to school they need food in their stomachs: healthy food, not the junk food that is often the most affordable. So as school funding became more secure, we shifted our giving to soup kitchens and local families in need.
Where did you gain the expertise and knowledge to run a viable business?
NH: When I started, I didn’t know the first thing about running a business. I was simply a hard-working mother of three young children, a volunteer at their school, and someone who had a dream of giving back. Luckily I had the good fortune to participate in the Women’s Initiative Program. My mentors helped me develop a business plan, as well as the basic knowledge to get started. It was an honor to be chosen by the organization as their “Woman Entrepreneur of the Year”, in 2011.
How has your background influenced the way you approach Freshness Farms?
NH: My parents emigrated to the U.S. from Iran, and they deeply missed so many special foods from their homeland. My mom was delighted to rediscover them in backyards across the Bay Area. Here was fruit that was exotic to Americans, but like gold to us. My mom would knock on doors and ask homeowners if they were willing to share. Most were delighted to offer up unfamiliar produce that would otherwise go to waste. In this way, I was introduced early on to the idea of foraging, and never taking any food for granted. Many of the fruits you see in Freshness Farms deliveries come from a friend or neighbor’s backyard tree or small plot of land. Persimmons, pomegranates, avocados, plums, apples and citrus are all sourced in this way, and grown “cleanly” without the use of harmful chemicals.
What do you see on the horizon for Freshness Farms?
NH: I am excited to collaborate with the California Native Garden Foundation on two special projects: promoting edible California native plants as well as Aquaponics. Both projects take the ultimate environmental approach to farming. Growing food that the original natives (the Ohlones) ate is environmentally sound because native plants don’t require the many resources that foreign plants do, such as abundant water. Aquaponics is intriguing as well: a system for growing food on water with the help of fish. Food can be grown year round, and again, have minimal environmental impact as compared to traditional farming methods. Reintroducing California native foods has been rewarding for Freshness Farms, and exciting for our members. I look forward to showcasing these projects at our celebration this Saturday!
Recipes for this Week:
Green Beans sautéed with Greens (substitute chard for the kale)
This story is inspiring. Thank you for taking on this project. I love that you are fundraising with a healthy product. I have just started a squarefoot garden. It will produce broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, beets, and bunches of other food in the coming winter. How can I get involved? Buy your produce? All the best to you and your work.