I first met Michael Geller, founder of Mike’s Organic Delivery, when he walked into my daughter’s school with a big box of fresh apples. He came to speak to the parents about his service and shared his enthusiasm about all the great farms that he works with. Mike goes to local farms and selects the best seasonal fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs and cheese, and then delivers them to clients, schools and other organizations in Greenwich, Connecticut. I spoke to Michael about his business and about his hopes for the future.
Rachel Khanna: What prompted you to start Mike’s Organic Delivery?
Michael Geller: It’s an interesting story…I grew up here, in Greenwich. I have lived here since I was 10 and went to school here. I am a lifelong outdoorsman, fisherman, bow hunter, gardener, and I cook. I really grew up in backcountry Greenwich, running around the woods, catching bullfrogs. After college, I went out into the world, worked on big celebrity events, ran a hip-hop studio in Atlanta, and worked in advertising. However, I never really felt connected or passionate about what I was doing. Being in an office was like slow torture for me.
When I was 29, I spent 3 months in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, helping to build a photographic safari camp there. During my time in Botswana, I completely reconnected with nature, food, cooking — all those things that can get lost when you are rushing through life. I came home and knew I wanted to do — something with food, where I could be outside. Before I had the idea for my business, I volunteered at the farm at Stone Barns for 6 months and learned about farming. I also attended a young farmers’ conference with 350 farmers under the age of 35 from the Northeast. I went there to meet farmers to start my business. I just decided that this (delivery service) is what I want to do. I learned so much about our food system. I felt that this is something that I would love and enjoy, and it would allow me to help the local food movement.
RK: What would you like to accomplish, ultimately?
MG: Many things…First and foremost, the goal is to educate adults and children about our food system. Our objective as consumers should be to obtain as much information as possible about our food system (where it comes from, who grows it) and then do what works for us, convenience-wise or financially.
My second goal is to support local farmers because, related to the first point, large companies are doing things that are extraordinarily bad for human beings, animals, and the environment so there is an even greater need to support local farms. Personally, I want to be able to bring great food to as many people as possible. In 1980 there were about 100,000 farms, in 2002 there were 20,000 and now there are about 30,000. We’ve seen a resurgence in small, local farmers. My belief is that, in the next 15 years, we will see a steady continual growth in the demand for local food, as consumers become more aware and educated about what they’re eating.
RK: How many farms do you work with?
MG: I probably work with 12-13 different farms. That number is going up and we put a lot of time and effort into identifying our partners. My role is to connect people with their food and to allow them to feel very confident about what they’re eating.
RK: Are all the farms organic?
MG: Not all the farms are organic. Our food system has changed so much and the word organic has become very important. Wal-Mart is now the largest seller of organic food in the US. To me, the word “Certified Organic” does not mean that much. There are different third party regulation groups and not all of them hold farmers to the same standards. At its core, certified organic is great, but I’ve learned to become much more aware of farming practices. All the farms that I work with are sustainable, local, and support the Farmer’s Pledge (a commitment to farming, marketing and farm management in accordance with sound ecological and economic principles), use no antibiotics, hormones, or carcinogenic sprays. Certification is expensive and some farmers don’t think that they need to because their practices are as good or better. I look for farms where the produce is grown the right way!
RK: What do farmers use instead of pesticides?
MG: For example, for conventional fruit farming, farmers are spraying every 3 days with 28 different kinds of chemicals. They are killing everything and they spray up until the day they pick so consumers are getting tons of chemicals in their fruit. Most of the farms that we work with use Integrated Pest Management techniques. With IPM, if there are aphids eating the leaves on trees, they will release ladybugs to eat the aphids or they will use a non-chemical fungicide or mineral oil. They reserve the right to spray if they really need to, but it rarely comes down to that. Essentially, the farmers we work with use every method available to them without unilaterally spraying everything with chemicals. In addition, all the chemical fertilizers are petrochemicals made from oil, so they contribute to our carbon footprint. It’s really a double-edged sword because they are putting bad things into the ground and depleting resources that we should be moving away from in the first place (petrochemicals). Regarding farming practices, it’s about the right way.
RK: What’s the best part of your job?
MG: The kids and the dogs! The best part is supporting people who are working so hard to grow good food and bringing it to good people who really want good food. As a matter of fact, there are a few farms that we work with which would not exist without us because the cards are stacked so heavily against small, local farmers! It’s also about the connection between people and their food. I have so many moms who come up to me now and tell me that their kids are eating cherry tomatoes instead of Sour Patch Kids, or carrots instead of Oreos. The myth is that kids don’t eat vegetables. Kids eat vegetables—they just don’t like bad vegetables.
RK: What do you think is the problem with food in America?
MG: There is a great quote; “There is nothing Americans fear more than inconvenience” and I think that is the problem. We are a country of supply and demand. And we demand cheap, fast food, so what we have been given is cheap, fast food. We’ve figured out ways to make a chicken grow in 28 days instead of 60 by giving it lots of bad stuff. I think that the biggest problem is a lack of awareness and an insistence upon cheap, fast food. Additionally, what needs to be factored in is the fact that there is an enormous amount of money being pumped into companies that manufacture processed foods. In 1994, there was not one acre of genetically modified food in America. Now there are 175 million acres out of the 950 million total acres of farmland. 80% of the corn, 94% of the canola, 90% of the cottonseed, and 94% of the sugar beets are genetically modified—and those are the main things that are being used in all of our food! In short, big business, a lack of education, and an insistence upon cheap, fast food are the biggest problems with food in America.
RK: Where would you like to see your business in the next 5-10 years?
MG: I grew up playing sports and I am a very goal-oriented, competitive person. I have specific goals of what I would like to accomplish with my business. In 5 years, I would like to be doing 1,000 deliveries a week, which would mean that we will be supporting tons of farmers. We will be starting another delivery service in a few weeks to deliver specialty items from Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Eventually, I would like to sell prepared foods from local and sustainable vendors. I love food — growing and hunting food — so I really want to be able to bring good food to more people.
The exciting thing about this experience is that I’ve been able to find something that I really love and am passionate about, and it is something that is growing (the local food movement) and I get to watch it grow even more. I have always wanted to make a positive contribution and do something meaningful. This business has allowed me to do that. I believe this is the past and the future. This is the way we used to eat and the way we need to eat again. I am now an expert on local food!
Check out Michael’s website: www.mikesorganicdelivery.com
Salt, Sugar, Fat:
How the Food Giants Hooked Us
I am not a big fan of processed foods—in particular candy bars, or chips and other salty snacks—and limit my family’s consumption of these foods. However, when I watch my kids beg and please for the occasional bag of chips or a chocolate bar, I wonder what is it about these foods that makes them so much more appealing than a fruit or a handful of nuts? It became very clear to me why this was happening as I read Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss.
Michael Moss examines how the companies that create our favorite processed foods do a lot of research into the composition of sugar, fat and salt of these products in order to make them so enticing. In addition, these companies spend large sums of money marketing these products to our children and adults. As Moss notes in his prologue, “But there is nothing subtle about the products themselves. They are knowingly designed – engineered is the better word – to maximize their allure. Their packaging is tailored to excite our kids. Their advertising uses every psychological trick to overcome any logical arguments we might have for passing the product by. Their taste is so powerful, we remember it from the last time we walked down the aisle and succumbed, snatching them up. And above all else, their formulas are calculated and perfected by scientists who know very well what they are doing. The most crucial point to know is that there is nothing accidental in the grocery store. All of this is done with a purpose.” (p.346-347) As a result of this, we are a nation that is getting increasingly sick. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2010 , over one-third of children and adolescents in the US were overweight or obese, and over 72 million adults were obese. This puts them at increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and a whole host of other health conditions. Read More
What I gathered by the time I reached the end of Moss’s book is that it will not be the food companies—in their endless quest for profits—that will take action in removing these products from supermarket shelves. Nor will it be the government who will prevent these companies from marketing to us. The responsibility lies with us to take our health into our own hands and to ensure that we are not supporting this industry that is so detrimental to our health.
For a review of the book, read How Sweet It Is by Michael Kamp and published in the Sunday Book Review of the New York Times. Read More