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Saturday, Aug 18, 2018
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Whole Foods becomes produce pickup site for organic farm customers

A green pickup truck pulled up in front of the Tampa Whole Foods Market and Kaitlin Hennessey and Casey Frosch started unloading box after box of veggies straight from the farm. Turnips, radishes, a variety of lettuce called Mizuna.

The food wasn’t for Whole Foods, however, not exactly.

Hennessey is a program coordinator and Frosch is a farm manager for the Sweetwater Organic Farm in Tampa, which just cut a partnership deal with Whole Foods to make that store a drop-off and pick-up location for Sweetwater’s own customers

Those customers pay between $475 and $849 a year to “subscribe” to the farm’s periodic boxes of veggies (twice a month or once a week). But before now, those customers had to drive to the far west Tampa farm itself for pickup.

“Delivering here allows us to access people in a far more convenient way,” Hennessey said. “And they can pick up other groceries while they’re here.

Generally, Whole Foods stocks stores with items that are organic or health-conscious or artificial ingredient free or upper-tier gourmet, making them relatively more expensive to shop than Publix or Walmart. Though Whole Foods has locations nationwide, the company has made a big priority of sourcing some inventory from producers near its stores.

Sweetwater Organic Farm ranks as one of Florida’s largest organic producers, and is a popular destination for health-conscious customers and school field trips. Part of their business involves selling subscriptions to members who can either harvest at the farm or receive bunches of veggies, depending on what is in season. This week, the “Veggie Share” package contained one bunch of turnips, one bunch of radishes, cucumbers, eggplant or green beans, basil or cilantro, among other items.

Whole Foods and Sweetwater have cooperated before, including days when part of the grocery store’s proceeds go to support the farm’s operations.

The new pickup service will operate every Thursday, starting at about 4 p.m., and for now, the only pickup location is the store at 1548 N. Dale Mabry Hwy. It’s free to users, and in that regard, the project could benefit both organizations: Sweetwater potentially gaining more subscribers for their veggies and Whole Foods potentially gaining more customer foot-traffic in their stores.

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