In October, 26-year-old Eric Furleigh opened the door to a fruit and vegetable storage and packing facility for the last time this year. He and his family operate Furleigh Farms near Clear Lake which is the aggregation center for a young program called Bounty Box.
“So all the producers bring their vegetables and fruits and things to us, even meat and we organize it here, we pack it all up and distribute it to the community and personally I am also the delivery driver,” he said.
Sarah Tweeten oversees the arrival of products from the producers and sets up an assembly line of four or five people to pack the boxes each week. This last run had 69 containers filled to the brim.
“Usually there’s about 8 to 10 items in a box, obviously in the first part of the season it’s pretty heavy on the greens, asparagus, rhubarb, some of those early season crops, then we kind of hit our peak season and so we had a lot of peppers and tomatoes and all kinds of things," she said. “Now we’ve moved into the fall, so it’s the storage type crops, potatoes, onions, squash and so on."
The Bounty Box program is the latest project for North Iowa Fresh, a group of farm partners providing produce for 20 weeks starting in May. Jan Libbey is a founding member of that group and explained the Bounty Box is ideal for families and individuals who find it difficult to get to a farmer’s market.
“This year we really built out we had established last year, expanded the number of worksites and added more public pickup sites as well,” she said. “So somebody’s who’s heard about it and wants to support it and use that convenience factor, there’s a couple of spots in most of our communities that are also serving as a public pickup.”
Andrea Evelsizer is the manager and broker for North Iowa Fresh. She said the Bounty Box idea is in its second year. Evelsizer said it’s unique not only to this part of the state but also to the region because it offers flexible options including being able to order online.
“A lot of times I tell people it’s a subscription to vegetables and it’s sort of like a farmer’s market in a box,” she said. "But we’re doing all the work and we’re bringing it to you and you just pay ahead because our farmers then know you are going to buy that box and they are growing those products specifically for those boxes that you’ve already prepaid.”
The idea has been catching on in the Mason City, Clear Lake and surrounding areas with several businesses encouraging employees to participate as part of their wellness plans.
One of those businesses is Metalcraft, which employs 110 people in the Mason City industrial park.
“We also this year did a Bounty Box just to share through the whole plant," said Sarah Heinz, the company's wellness team leader. "So people were really excited about that because they could just try little things, so I feel like next year more people will be willing to do it because they got to try it out a little bit this year."
Just down the street, a number of boxes were delivered throughout the season to Smithfield Foods.
“We had about eleven people participate this year and after it went forward through the year, we had people say they were interested in it," said Mark LaCroix, the plan's HR manager. “People like the options available, the fruits and vegetables and then the ability to do things later in the year as well."
He said he is eager to participate in the program again next year.
Now that the season has wrapped up, producers and members of North Iowa Fresh will get together in the winter months to plan for year three. Manager Andrea Everlsizer believes they’re on the right path.
“The building of the boxes and being able to predict what’s ready the next week or two weeks ahead was way easier this year,” she said.
There were 12 businesses and worksites that participated in 2019. Evelsizer says they’re hoping to grow that number in 2020.