New business pedals produce to your door

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July 19, 2010
By: Brent Renneke
Brent Renneke
The Mill City Farmers Market was still five minutes shy of opening when Randall Dietel started browsing through tables being stocked with locally grown vegetables, fruit and other produce.

 “I just bought some strawberries that were picked at 5:30 this morning,” Dietel said, clearly excited about the score.

But the strawberries were not for him. In fact, they were a short bike ride away from reaching the doorstep of one of his customers.

Dietel, a former bicycle mechanic, launched a business called VeloVeggies this spring with the idea of bringing produce from local farmers markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) sites to customer’s homes through a zero carbon-emission delivery service — his bicycle, or “velo” in French.

Dietel will pedal his homebuilt bike, hooked to a covered trailer, from a market or CSA site to a customer’s home with whatever produce they desire. Fresh produce from the market is offered in boxes that vary in price from $18 for a single person to a $40 box with enough produce to feed a family. For delivery from a CSA site, customers pay for the fruit and vegetables in addition to the delivery cost of $6 to $8.  

VeloVeggies’ goal is to bring farm-fresh fruits and vegetables to the tables across Minneapolis, but at the same time, making a conscious effort to minimize the environmental impact of the process. To accomplish this, the delivery process of VeloVeggies uses carefully chosen supplies.

“I use a recycled box for your produce that will be bicycled to your house,” Dietel said. “There is no waste in sending me to the market.”

The market Dietel referred to is the Mill City Farmers Market, which he has frequently visited since it opened for the year in early May. Dietel said he would soon be frequenting farmer’s markets all over Minneapolis in search of quality vendors.

“All the markets are going to have a great selection of local produce available,” Dietel said. “It is the relationships that you can build with local vendors that are important.” For example, Dietel said he has absolute confidence in the freshness of his recently purchased strawberries because of his familiarity with the vendor.

Dietel said establishing these kinds of relationships with local farmers is tough for people with the many farmer’s markets taking place on Saturday mornings. With VeloVeggies, he hopes to bring fresh local to families unable to attend a market.

“Now you can spend the morning with your kids or working on your own garden instead of having to make it out to the market,” Dietel said.

In the near future, Dietel said he hopes to frequent the Kingfield Farmers Market, so he can better service the Southwest neighborhoods where a large amount of his customers are from.

Dietel’s idea for VeloVeggies did not start at the farmer’s market.

It began with a friend of Dietel’s who works at a CSA drop site, a location where people can pick up produce ordered from local farmers. Last summer, one share was never picked up, so Dietel’s friend offered him the box of fresh fruit and vegetables.

After picking up the box, the idea came to him on his bike ride home. “I started to wonder why it didn’t get picked up,” Dietel said. “I realized that I should just be biking this to their house.”

Starting last March, Dietel started putting together VeloVeggies to reduce this kind of vegetable abandonment by offering to pick up and deliver a CSA subscriber’s share.

Although VeloVeggies goal is to limit local produce going to waste, the ultimate aim is to reduce the emissions caused by people picking up their fruit and vegetables using vehicles.

“I want to provide a sustainable, environmentally friendly service,” Dietel said.

Dietel’s attachment to bikes as a mode of transportation is something that started on his grandparent’s farm and translated to his time at the University of Minnesota where he graduated with a degree in applied economics in 2007. After selling his car in January 2009, Dietel said he has been able to reduce his environmental impact by using his bike as a primary mode of transportation year round.

“I don’t have a family right now, I am young and I am willing to make concessions in my life to do this,” Dietel said.

Growing up on his grandparent’s farm and spending much of his time on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus known for its work in agriculture, the field has been an important part of his life since he could remember. His affection for the fresh and local produce he delivers is evident.

“It is really the freshest way to get fruits and vegetables,” Dietel said. “Spinach that was just picked yesterday will last for awhile.”

 “I am now combining local agriculture and bicycle delivery — two things that have been pretty big in my life,” he said.

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