Actual farms in Santa Monica are few and far between but farm fresh produce is a way of life for many residents. While Santa Monica’s farmers’ markets are abundant and world-class, there are residents who are unable to make it to the markets on a regular basis and local entrepreneur Giles Donavan has found a niche catering to those customers.
Donovan’s business, Santa Monica Merchant, is a cross between a CSA, Amazon Direct and the local farmers market. Customers order fruits, vegetables, meats and baked goods from an online menu. Those items are sourced from local farmers, ranchers and bakers then delivered to the customer’s home once a week.
The merchant stores have a one time set up fee of $40, a minimum delivery of $25 plus a $6.99 delivery fee. Donavan said the club model allows him to leverage economies of scale to secure competitive pricing from farmers that offsets the delivery fee and puts the business on a similar price point to high-end grocers.
“You won’t spend that much more on peaches with us, but that peach will be so much better,” he said.
Fruits and vegetables are delivered within two days of their harvest and Donavan said the short travel times guaranteed quality. He said his model caters to the way humans evolved to eat and offsets some of the compromises required by modern agribusiness.
Industrial agriculture requires produce to be picked and shipped to stores before it’s ripe to prevent bruising and lengthen shelf life. According to Donovan, fruits and vegetables can be ripened off the vine but doing so deprives them of the sunlight, nutrients and minerals present on the tree. Donavan said humans didn’t evolve to eat unripe fruit and that we are genetically engineered to value the taste, texture and nutrition of fresh fruits and vegetables. The 48-hour shipping window, and commitment to local farmers, allows customers to receive that peak produce.
He said the service also helps support local farmers who want to continue their family traditions of farming but who may not want to adhere to the dictates of huge corporate customers.
“We get something that tastes good and we give back to the farmers a way to feel good about what they do,” he said.
He is working on as much specialization as he can and that includes providing baked goods from area-specific bakeries and when possible, sourcing honey from with a customer’s specific delivery area. He said it’s all part of the goal of connecting people to where they live through what they eat.
Donavan acknowledged that Santa Monica has a strong farmers market culture and said he considers his business to be a kindred spirit to the farmers market. Both businesses connect residents to their food in a more meaningful way and as the Merchant has a weekly delivery, he said customers often supplement their orders with market purchases.
He said his goal isn’t to compete with other food providers but to help individuals change the way they think about food and where it comes from.
“What we’re trying to put in place is a new food system,” he said. “We’re trying to awaken people to what we aught to be eating.”
Jennifer Taylor, Economic Development Administrator with City of Santa Monica said the business is complementary to farmers markets as it increases the number of people who can access farm fresh products and helps boosts awareness of local farmers.
“Santa Monica is blessed to have some of the best farmers markets in the country, if not the world,” she said. “Santa Monica Merchant is a perfect solution for people who want to shop at our Santa Monica Farmers Market and support California farmers but might not have the time to do so each week due to busy schedules. Santa Monica Merchant curates a weekly (or monthly) farmers market box bringing the farm to your kitchen, helping our residents and local businesses access the best in seasonal, fresh, organic and local ingredients. It also supports our Farmers Market farmers so it’s a win-win.”
She said the business meets a need in the City while also supporting Santa Monica’s efforts to encourage shopping locally.
“The Buy Local Santa Monica campaign is all about supporting our community and our local businesses,” she said. “Santa Monica Merchant is all about supporting local farmers and food producers and championing local purchasing.”
Donavan said the business grew out of a personal desire to feed his children quality food. At first, the club was just a gathering of friends who split the purchase of whole animals but he said it quickly became apparent there was a desire for direct access to farm sourced food. The business now has about 800 customers taking a regular delivery and is active in several neighboring communities.
Santa Monica Merchant has a physical location on the third floor of the Santa Monica Place Mall. Donavan uses the space to assembly delivery boxes but he said the space isn’t designed to feel or function like a traditional shop.
“There’s no shelves in here, no store,” he said. “When members place an order, we order it from the farm and they bring it into town. We supply food within 48 hours.”
He said the club creates a sense of community among members outside the retail experience and members often gather in their homes or during club sponsored meals.
Taylor said business like Santa Monica Merchant are a valuable parts of the City’s economic ecosystem as they promote partnerships and connections.
“The shop they opened at The Market at Santa Monica Place has also helped the mall in attracting more locals to the mall and particularly to the third floor (where The Market is located) where we have some other great Buy Local Santa Monica businesses located, as well, including Curious Palate and The Gourmandise Cooking School,” she dais. “Co-location of like-minded businesses helps put Santa Monica Place on the map for our local foodie fans. We’re also starting to see some fun synergies among these businesses. Santa Monica Merchant is partnering with The Gourmandise School to introduce proper British sausage rolls to Santa Monica, featuring organic ingredients … These synergies are what we love to encourage as part of the Buy Local SM campaign where not only our residents are supporting Santa Monica businesses, also our local businesses are actively supporting one another and in doing so, providing new products and services to the community.”
Visit santamonicamerchant.com for more information.