Local Farmer Praises The Produce Box for Help During COVID

Glen Lang, in one of the greenhouses at LL Urban Farms, says he's grateful that The Produce Box was able to buy his lettuce last summer. "We would have been hurting, if they hadn't really helped us out here.”

When restaurants and other businesses shut down because of COVID-19 last March, small farmers like Glen Lang at LL Urban Farms in Raleigh faced immediate and extensive losses.

“Last year, about half of our business went away in a week because the restaurants shut down,” Lang said. “When the restaurants shut down, the distributors stopped ordering, and all of a sudden, we had twice as much lettuce as we had customers.”

Hydroponic lettuce flourishes at LL Urban Farms. Roughly half of the farm’s crop is distributed through The Produce Box.

Facing an unprecedented problem that afflicted farmers across the state and nation, Lang turned to The Produce Box to help his business. Lang has worked with the Raleigh-based company that delivers fresh fruits, vegetables and other grocery items for eight years, in a partnership that usually represents about 10% of his usual business.

Recently, that partnership became much more important to the health of his business. Just as Lang’s supply lines to restaurants and food distributors were disrupted, the demand for The Produce Box’s convenient food delivery skyrocketed. As more families were staying home, a recurring delivery right to your door appealed to many over a trek to the grocery store.

Founder and CEO Courney Tellefsen said business has tripled for The Produce Box during the pandemic, a jump unlike anything in the company’s 13-year history. By now, most of that growth has settled, but the company is still outpacing its February 2020 numbers by more than 50%.

“Our current members started ordering more and our previous members came back, and then a bunch of new members,” Tellefsen said. “At one point, we were on a 1,000 person waitlist, so that was crazy.”

For LL Urban Farms, that meant orders from The Produce Box have increased four-fold to keep up with the demand. Today, the company represents about half of Lang’s average business, a crucial help as sales remain 15-20% below average, despite Department of Agricultural assistance and a loan from the Payroll Protection Program.

“The Produce Box is really good for us,” Lang said. “I mean, we’re a local farm; we’re not very big. We have three employees, but we would have been hurting, if they hadn’t really helped us out here.”

Lang says he has heard similar stories from other local farmers who also work with The Produce Box. Many of these stories have gotten back to Tellefsen, who partners with a network of more than 120 small farmers and artisan vendors. She credits customers rather than the company for its impact on these local businesses.

“The words they use are, ‘We appreciate The Produce Box continuing to buy from us,’” Tellefsen said. “But really what they’re saying is they appreciate members, because The Produce Box isn’t really buying from them. It’s our members who are doing it. It’s that community that I was talking about again; it’s that mutual appreciation.”

Bibb lettuce grows at LL Urban Farms.

Farmers like Lang are looking toward the summer, in hopes that restaurant business and supply lines will return to some sense of normalcy. While the agricultural industry looks forward to putting COVID-19 struggles behind it, Lang won’t soon forget how much The Produce Box helped his own business through a difficult time.

“A lot of farmers went out of business, but between the programs and home delivery and grocery stores, we’re still here,” Lang said. “We think by June, July or August, we should be back to whatever normal is.”

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