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Memo: Pick up fresh produce in the conference room

Memo: Pick up fresh produce, right down the hall in the conference room. This farm-to-workplace trend is so efficient, so relaxing.

Kathy Walsh, a Radian employee, picks out a box of blackberries from Lancaster. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
Kathy Walsh, a Radian employee, picks out a box of blackberries from Lancaster. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)Read more

Karla Ruksys says her weekends are more relaxed now that she can do her farmer's-marketing at the office.

She doesn't run out at lunchtime or stop on the way home to Mount Ephraim.

Instead, Ruksys and her colleagues at Radian, a private mortgage insurance provider with offices in Center City, joined Farm to Office.

This new kind of farm share was developed by the Common Market, a local produce wholesaler, in partnership with Farm to City, and yes, it is a trend.

Workplace deliveries of fresh fruit and produce are the latest and fastest-growing strategy for people who want to eat more fresh, local produce and for employers who want to keep staff happy and healthy.

In addition to the Common Market, at least two other companies, the Fruit Guys and Harvest Local Foods, offer produce deliveries to the workplace.

All of them include fliers with information on the specific farms they buy from, the growing methods used, and recipes for making the most of that week's harvest.

But each service has its own twist.

Radian considered having an on-site farmer's market. But Common Market's Farm to Office program proved more flexible and inexpensive, said Laura Brown in employee benefits and wellness.

"We do it because we're committed to building a culture of health and community," Brown says. "We started a wellness initiative a few years back, with yoga and zumba classes, and this is an extension of that."

About two dozen employees participate, paying $20 each for six to eight different fruits or vegetables in quantities that will feed three to four people, plus a dozen fresh eggs.

On delivery day, every other Wednesday, Common Market puts boxes of just-harvested tomatoes, squash, thyme, or strawberries in a common room. Employee-members get a list of how many of each piece of produce to pick, and then they go from box to box, selecting the particular peaches or plums they prefer.

"The response has been phenomenal," Brown says. "They give you a good amount of things you're familiar with but they also throw in one item you're not so familiar with."

There's even a swap box where workers can exchange their dislikes for something they like better.

On a recent Wednesday, Peter Taylor, who works in data migration at Radian and lives just outside Morristown, N.J., was pleased to see that eggplant and fresh basil were among that week's harvest - along with a recipe for ratatouille.

"I'll make it this weekend for my wife," Taylor said. "It's her favorite."

Kathy Walsh, who lives in Queen Village, said the program saved her a trip to the Reading Terminal Market. She looked at the pints of blackberries from Abram Stolzfus farm in Lancaster and said, "I'm likely to eat these at my desk before even going home."

Shire Pharmaceuticals in Wayne is another Common Market customer. Here, the number of participating employees jumped from 20 to 40 when word spread about the quality of the produce.

Shire decided to limit participation in this first year but expects to open the June-to-October program to more of its 1,000 employees next year.

"Employees are very much loving it," says spokeswoman Emily Gajan. "A lot of people do go to farmer's markets but still join this because it decreases their stress on the weekends."

Razorfish Health, which does digital marketing and brand building for health-related companies, gets deliveries from the Fruit Guys for its 120 workers.

Razorfish pays for the fruit deliveries as an office perk; the fruit is not meant to be taken home.

Boxes of fresh fruit are delivered every Monday morning and are gone by Tuesday, says Tanya Dakin, Razorfish office manager.

The company's office is in the Wanamaker Building now, but Razorfish started getting these weekly deliveries from the Fruit Guys about two years ago, when its offices were near Seventh and Spring Garden Streets, which was not a cafe-centric 'hood.

"Part of the reason we started ordering from the Fruit Guys is that we were in a pretty desolate area," Dakin said. "Now we're smack dab over by City Hall. And even though we have plenty of food options here, we still like to offer the fruit."

The Fruit Guys have other options in which individual employees can buy a "box" of fruit (or fruit and vegetables) that is delivered to the office in a briefcase-like container, convenient for toting home.

The "guys" are actually a brother-and-sister team originally from Wayne.

Chris Mittelstaedt and his sister Erin started the Fruit Guys in 1998 in San Francisco. Their "harvest" boxes feature specialty produce (bananas, pineapple) from more far-flung locales, while produce in the "regional" package is grown within 200 miles of the company's new food hub in Sharon Hill.

Another company with a farm-to-office program is Harvest Local Foods in Lansdowne, which delivers year-round to homes as well.

Owners Mary Ann Flaherty and Pam Nelson structure their service as part farmer's market, part farm share with maximum flexibility.

Instead of being on the receiving end of a box of whatever area farmers harvested that week, customers order only what they want, in the quantities they want, from that week's offerings.

Harvest Local works with 60-plus area farmers and food artisans and offers about 250 items, including meats, eggs, cheeses, and pantry staples.

"Flexibility and customizing are our main advantages," Nelson said. "Customers aren't locked into ordering every week."

Delivery to addresses in most of Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs ranges from $5 to $10. There are no joining or membership fees, but there is a $20 refundable fee for the company's insulated coolers.

Amy Leyva, an editor at Elsevier, global publishers of health and science material, said a handful of staffers in her Center City office started ordering from Harvest Local in spring and are loving it.

As at many offices, Elsevier has a "green team" of volunteer employees who consult with one another and the company about ways to reduce the company's energy use and to support the health and well-being of workers. A green team member discovered Harvest Local.

It's a pilot program for now, involving just a handful of Elsevier's hundreds of staffers, Leyva said.

"We haven't opened it up to the others yet because somebody would need to devote a bit of time each week to take the orders."

"I like it because I get to see exactly what farm the produce is from and how it is grown," said Leyva, who commutes by bus from South Philadelphia.

With Harvest Local, Leyva says, she actually has more choices at the office than at her local farmer's market.

"Farmer's markets are great and there is one near me, but you can't get everything you want at one of those."

Green Beans and Zucchini With Shallots

Makes 3 to 4 servings


1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups green beans, washed, trimmed, and cut into bite-size pieces

2 to 3 shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise and then into 1/2-inch slices

 1/2 cup vegetable broth

Salt (start with a couple of pinches and add more to taste)

Long hot peppers, finely chopped, from 1/2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon, depending on how hot  you like it (you can also remove seeds to reduce heat)

Optional garnishes:

1 tablespoon grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts


1. Heat olive oil in a skillet to medium-high, and add the green beans, shallots, and garlic. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes, then add zucchini and vegetable broth.

2. Season with salt and long hot peppers, then cover and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, or until green beans and zucchini are just tender, but not soft.

3. Transfer to serving platter and garnish with grated cheese and/or pine nuts.

Note: Red pepper flakes may be substituted for long hot peppers, but reduce quantity to a pinch up to 1/2 teaspoon.

Per serving (based on 4): 75 calories, 3 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 4 grams fat, no cholesterol, 110 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.EndText

Blueberry Zucchini Bread

Makes 4-8 servings


3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup vegetable oil (see note)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups sugar

2 cups zucchini, shredded

1 pint fresh blueberries

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 4 mini-loaf pans.

2. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar. Fold in the zucchini.

3. Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Fold into the wet ingredients, then gently fold in the blueberries. Transfer to the prepared mini-loaf pans.

4. Bake 50 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes in pans, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

Note: For a lower-fat version, use 1/2 cup of vegetable oil with 1/2 cup of applesauce.

Per serving (based on 8): 669 calories, 8 grams protein, 95 grams carbohydrates, 56 grams sugar, 30 grams fat, 70 milligrams cholesterol, 357 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.EndText

Summer Ratatouille

Makes 2 to 4 servings


1 large eggplant, unpeeled and ends trimmed

4 small tomatoes, sliced

1/2 pound mozzarella, thinly sliced

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

and/or 2 tablespoons fresh thyme

Salt and black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons oil

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Bake whole eggplant 10 to 15 minutes or until fork tender. Let cool and then peel.

3. Oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Slice eggplant thinly and place a slice of eggplant in the dish, top with a slice of tomato and a slice of mozzarella. Repeat with remaining slices of eggplant, overlapping eggplant slices to fit into the pan.

4. Sprinkle with basil and/or thyme, plus salt and pepper to taste and 2 tablespoons of oil.

5. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Top with cheese and bread crumbs and bake 10 minutes more, until cheese bubbles and bread crumbs are toasted.

Per serving (based on 4): 392 calories, 24 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 23 grams fat, 42 milligrams cholesterol, 597 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber.

Harvest Local Foods, 484-461-7884;;

The Fruit Guys, 877-378-4863;;

Common Market, 215-275-3435 Ext. 1;;