Toby and Brandon Tull are ecstatic. Their words bounce off each other like dueling guitars at a rock concert as the thirtysomething siblings take the phone to tell me about The Home Grown Farm, the diversified 100-acre operation in Gholson, Texas, that they started with their mom and younger sister five years ago. Toby, a former IT consultant, and Brandon, who worked in financial services, have increased the family business’s revenue nearly tenfold in a single year, thanks primarily to an app that allows CSA subscribers to customize the contents (vegetables, cow’s milk, and chicken meat and eggs) of their weekly deliveries. But at this particular moment, late last May, the Tull brothers were most excited about a recent order for cucumbers.
Those cucumbers – approximately 20,000 pounds of a cultivar called ‘Salt and Pepper’ – represent Home Grown’s first sale to Blue Apron, the start-up that’s pioneering a new way to put dinner on the table and, therefore, a new way for farmers to move their goods. Launched in 2012, the New York City”“based company ships more than eight million meals a month, each packed in boxes with premeasured ingredients and step-by-step instructions for, say, Seared Cod and Udon Noodles with Shiitake Broth and Togarashi-Spiced Cucumber.
Fans of the service point to such factors as convenience (no grocery store runs, no measuring, almost no room for error); cost (at $10 per serving, cheaper than most restaurants); quality (sophisticated recipes that incorporate farm-fresh ingredients); and waste reduction (very little in the way of landfill-bound leftovers).
The desire to deliver a consistent menu nationwide has forced Blue Apron to stretch the definitions of “local” and “seasonal” pretty far.
Detractors lament the plastic packaging and cardboard boxes that contain all those ingredients, not to mention the lack of culinary spontaneity. FXX’s hit series You’re the Worst parodied the problem this season: When the acerbic sitcom’s boring- husband character presented his wife with a “Red Napkin” subscription and promised “no surprises, ever,” she stabbed him with a kitchen knife.