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Harvestly distributes food from SLO County growers and makers to local consumers

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The timing was good. Not many businesses can say that about the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Harvestly can.

Founded about 10 months ago, the website/app connects SLO County farmers with local consumers, who can order what they need from 115 different vendors and get those products delivered to their front door. The site, harvestly.co, hit the internet just before food delivery practically became a necessity due to the stay-at-home orders issued in March.

"As far as Harvestly with traction, it's been kind of crazy as far as sales and growth," founder Walter Lafky said. "We've actually paid out $70,000 in the last five months to local vendors. So that's the amount of money we've injected in SLO County, which is kind of cool."

Mustard, honey, produce, bread, cookie dough, eggs, cheese, meat, seafood, flowers, oil, seeds and starters, herbs, beverages, snacks, drinks—Harvestly is basically an online grocery store that ensures all of its featured products were made in your backyard and all of your hard-earned dollars remain in your backyard.

TEAM HARVESTLY (left to right, front to back): Lars Schildernik (vendor relations and logistics), Walter Lafky (founder and CEO), Perrie Lundstrom (operations and marketing), and Madi Peterson (logistics) are the Harvestly team, bringing true local products to your front door. - PHOTO COURTESY OF HARVESTLY
  • Photo Courtesy Of Harvestly
  • TEAM HARVESTLY (left to right, front to back): Lars Schildernik (vendor relations and logistics), Walter Lafky (founder and CEO), Perrie Lundstrom (operations and marketing), and Madi Peterson (logistics) are the Harvestly team, bringing true local products to your front door.

Lafky started Harvestly when he was 19 years old (he's now 20). A third-year agricultural business student at Cal Poly, he's originally from Bend, Oregon. The idea for Harvestly has been floating around in his head for quite a while now, due to what Lafky sees as issues with the food distribution system.

"Why do you go to Whole Foods here in San Luis Obispo, and the apples are from Washington or wherever?" Lafky said. "They're not from here. ... It would be better if they were from here."

For myriad reasons, it would be better if said apples came from someplace like, say, See Canyon. Fuel costs, for one. Freshness, for two. But there's also the food storage system, how produce is grown, and where dollars go. With a few big companies controlling the food chain, pricing, and where food comes from, Lafky said most people have no idea where their food came from or who picked it.

"You go to the grocery store and you buy what's there at whatever price," he said. "Everywhere I looked, I saw issues. ... From a consumer standpoint, there's no real easy way to support all local businesses."

Unless you go to a farmers' market, that is. But even then, those can be notoriously hard to break into—especially for new farms—and they're only held at certain times in certain places.

ALL LOCAL You can order anything from Whalebird Kombucha to Central Coast Creamery cheese to Pepper Family Farms produce every week from Harvestly. - PHOTO COURTESY OF HARVESTLY
  • Photo Courtesy Of Harvestly
  • ALL LOCAL You can order anything from Whalebird Kombucha to Central Coast Creamery cheese to Pepper Family Farms produce every week from Harvestly.

As a tomato grower in Oregon, Lafky learned firsthand some of the issues small-time producers can have with the food system. He was 14 years old when his dad gave him $50 to get a garden in the ground and kept the business—Wally's Tomatoes—going until he left for Cal Poly. He sold to a farmers' market and high-end restaurants.

"I walked in the front door and always asked for the chef and gave them some tomatoes," Lafky said. "I didn't have any friends who were doing it, but it was actually a really good learning experience. I don't know if people bought from me because I was only 14 or 15 or if they were actually really good tomatoes. I'll never know."

If he sold his tomatoes through a distributor, as many farmers do, Lafky said he would make 50 cents on the dollar because the middleman also has to make a margin on each tomato—and they have connections with grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses.

But, Lafky said, the distributor that connects local produce directly with local consumers is hard to come by. Tomatoes from Wally's Tomatoes, for instance, might be combined with tomatoes from out of the country in the grocery store—or get sold out of state.

Harvestly aims to be more direct.

Vendors each have their own page on the website where they can manage products and inventory, while Harvestly handles the sales, tracking, and delivery. With hubs throughout the county, vendors drop their products off and Harvestly packages each order together, delivering via the gig-style economy.

Grandpa Rossi's Garden was one of Harvestly's first five vendors. The Atascadero-based "market garden" is a little more than a year old. On a 100-acre parcel that's been in the family for many moons, wife and husband Gabba and Jordan Rossi started small—gardening 1/4 to 1/2 acre of land.

Before Harvestly, Gabba Rossi said, she sold to a few people in North County. But now they have customers all over SLO County. She called the relationship a win-win.

"I could sell as little as I want or as much as I want to Harvestly, basically, because the customer base is there," she said. "I have a lot of repeat customers who have been buying from Harvestly for months and months now."

Without the built-in customer base from Harvestly, Rossi said she'd have to do a lot more footwork to put Grandpa Rossi's name out there—build up their social media presence and try to connect with potential consumers.

Currently growing lettuces, kale, chard, collard greens, radishes (winter veggies), and also eggs, Grandpa Rossi's harvests on demand. Harvestly delivers once a week on Thursdays. So whatever gets ordered is harvested Wednesday or Thursday morning before it gets delivered to Harvestly. Every week, Grandpa Rossi's takes an inventory of what's left and what's currently growing and updates the website.

DELIVERED BOUNTY Harvestly is looking to be the connection between local producers and local consumers. - IMAGE COURTESY OF HARVESTLY
  • Image Courtesy Of Harvestly
  • DELIVERED BOUNTY Harvestly is looking to be the connection between local producers and local consumers.

Rossi said Harvestly has shown them what they're capable of producing and what their goals should be for the farm.

"We're definitely planning on growing a lot. We're planning on probably quadrupling our gardening area and doing 2 acres," she said. "The customer base through Harvestly just grew so huge, it's kind of crazy. And obviously, it's probably because of coronavirus, I think, because everyone wants to shop online."

Lafky, Rossi said, is moving Harvestly in the right direction.

Harvestly is a prototype for a bigger app that Lafky is launching in early 2021 called Bloom. He said the goal is to enable local producers to sell to local consumers all over the nation.

"Consumers can't figure out how to support local vendors, and vendors can't figure out how to be supported in that way," Lafky said. "We have the solution, so now it's just a matter of deployment and getting it perfect."

Don't worry, though, he added that Harvestly is going to stick around for SLO County. Δ

Editor Camillia Lanham is waiting for her doorbell to ring. Send food tips to clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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