What if USPS delivered local produce in the mail?

A 12 months in the past, as COVID-19 unfold and states requested folks to shelter in place, the meals system began to disintegrate. With eating places and faculties closed, many farmers all of the sudden had no place to promote their produce and needed to throw it out. Concurrently, overrun grocery shops had empty cabinets, and farmers who offered on to shoppers couldn’t sustain with demand. Grocery supply providers had been overwhelmed.

A few of the challenges had been short-term. However the state of affairs additionally highlighted issues that existed lengthy earlier than the pandemic. Meals waste is widespread on farms, partly as a result of it isn’t at all times straightforward to discover a marketplace for extra produce—despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Individuals are meals insecure and in want of healthful meals.

At the World Wildlife Fund’s Market Institute, which appears to be like at market traits and new enterprise alternatives that might impression meals techniques, the pandemic sparked an thought: What if the U.S. Postal Service delivered packing containers of reasonably priced produce from farms to close by houses?

[Image: World Wildlife Fund Market Institute]

The staff began contemplating the thought early in the pandemic. “Farmers all of the sudden had markets disappear,” says Julia Kurnik, director of innovation startups at World Wildlife Fund. “They had been being left with meals that was rotting in fields as a result of they’d nowhere to promote it. They had been dumping milk, they had been plowing onions again into the floor. . . . These had been rising seasons that had been deliberate months in advance and issues which are prepared to reap. You may’t pivot that rapidly.”

Many farms promote CSA (community-supported agriculture) packing containers on to shoppers as one other supply of earnings, and it might probably assist scale back meals waste when farmers select the mixture of fruit and greens to pack in every week’s field. However the techniques take work to arrange—a farm usually must construct and preserve an internet site after which take the time for deliveries. The system doesn’t work for all shoppers, since the packing containers typically can solely be picked up at a specific time and place, and folks normally need to subscribe in advance for a whole season of produce.

The Postal Service might assist fill the hole. The World Wildlife Fund staff envisions that an organization or nonprofit might run an internet site that farmers might use to listing produce for local shoppers to purchase. Farmers would pack commonplace flat-rate USPS packing containers filled with vegetables and fruit and schedule pickups; a mail truck would decide up the packages on its common route and make deliveries to close by prospects the subsequent day. The system, which the staff suggests calling Farmers Submit, could possibly be low cost sufficient, together with postage, that low-income shoppers might afford it.

It may be obtainable anyplace in the nation. “I’m fortunate that I dwell in an space the place I’ve plenty of farms and grocery shops, and there are different providers that ship right here already if I needed to order from them,” Kurnik says. “I feel that’s nice, and we actually aren’t attempting to disrupt these. However the publish workplace is nationwide, and so they’re consultants at last-mile distribution. They’ll attain so many extra locations that different providers wouldn’t essentially go to as a result of they wouldn’t have sufficient market demand, and it wouldn’t make sense from their enterprise mannequin.” For USPS, it could possibly be a much-needed supply of latest income: With 2% to three% adoption, the Postal Service would make $1.5 billion on postage.

The staff mapped out vegetable and fruit farms throughout the nation and located that they had been widespread all over the place, even if the largest producers are situated in states like California. “It means the massive majority of this nation would have the ability to order meals regionally,” Kurnik says.

Proper now, it’s only a idea. “We needed to start out a dialog,” Kurnik says. However she’s hoping that it grows into extra. Freight Farms, an organization that gives modular farms in transport containers, ran just a few trial shipments utilizing USPS with a grower, and is now contemplating a small pilot.