HAMPTON ROADS — It is five minutes until 7 on a cloudy Thursday morning. Tami Farinholt and Beth Feathers are standing outside their cars in a mostly vacant strip-mall parking lot off Coliseum Drive in Hampton.
They pleasantly shoot the breeze, discussing the weather and schools starting back up. As they talk, seven or eight more cars show up. The occupants get out and open up their trunks and hatchbacks.
What would possess this group to be up at this hour to converge in this parking lot? The unexpected answer is that they are waiting for a farmers market of sorts. To better put, they are waiting to deliver a farmers market to residents around the area.
They are all market managers for Seasonal Roots, an online farmers market based in Richmond that delivers almost anything that one might find if they were strolling through an in-person farmers market.
Before the day is through, Tammy, Beth and their colleagues will have sorted through dozens of 12×15 inch boxes full of fresh produce, baked goods, meats and cheeses, loaded them into their individual cars and delivered them to homes all over the Hampton Road Peninsula.
While most stores that deal in these products emphasize a priority of freshness, Seasonal Roots founder, Duane Slyder means it. “Our whole goal is to be able to pick it on Monday and deliver it Thursday,” he said.
Duane grew up on farms in Nebraska and Virginia. Throughout his youth he helped raise cattle and livestock as well as produce. He said that while growing up he always had access to the freshest food.
“When I grew up and moved to the suburbs, I always wondered why the food did not taste like it did when we were picking it out of the garden,” Duane remembered. “I learned that fresh local produce is just better for you and it tastes better. So I created a system that could get food from local farmers so they could get food that has been harvested within a few days.”
The company started operations in 2011, serving Richmond and the surrounding area. By 2014 they had expanded to Fredericksburg and then to Hampton Roads shortly afterwards. To date they serve a customer base that reaches from the Southside up into Maryland.
Back in Hampton, promptly at 7 a.m., a large box truck lumbers into the parking lot and backs up to the building’s overhang. Once the back of the truck opens, what had been a sleepy gathering of a dozen or so people is now a bustling group of professionals. They work calmly yet efficiently; checking the contents of dozens of boxes against a printed spreadsheet on a clipboard.
Quality control is paramount to this team; making sure the right item goes in the right box. Trading out any damaged goods from a box of spare produce next to the pallet jack.
In the rare circumstance that an order is wrong, customers only have to reach out to the person who delivered their box to get it sorted out and done so quickly.
From there, the market managers begin to load their cars. Through feats of engineering sorcery, Tami, the area manager for the Peninsula, and her team will fit a dozen or more boxes into single cars ranging in size from minivans to SUVs to four-door sedans.
As the company name might suggest, the Seasonal Roots’ menu is ever changing. There are products that can only be sold during certain months and the forty farms and dozens of artisans that the company works with are on the smaller end of the scale.
From week to week, end of season fruits and vegetables and artisanal products like empanadas or avocado cream cheese will sell out quickly. The “the first come, first serve” nature encourages customers to continually monitor the company website to make sure they get first crack at their favorite products.
For market managers, this is a special kind of gig work, because all of them are customers too. The one day a week job comes with free membership and a discount on products, but that is not the main reason a lot of them do it, they see it as a community service.
“I love what I do,” Beth said. “It’s one day a week, going out there and doing stuff. Especially when COVID-19 hit we were considered essential. It was really important that get out there and do our thing. It was also really nice to get out of the house during that time. Even if we were not seeing anybody. Oh, and the roads were clear.”
For more information on the company or how to sign up for deliveries, checkout their website.