Talking Fresh Produce with Mike Geller of Mike’s Organic
As we've all been doing a lot more cooking these days, it makes sense we're also going to start thinking more about the food we put in our mouths. After all, if we're going to spend hours whipping up BBQ recipes without a grill or even our own at-home pizza, it makes sense that we're going to want the ingredients in those dishes to be as fresh and as high quality as possible.
No one knows that better than Mike Gellar, founder of Mike's Organic Delivery, which sources fresh produce, pastured meats and eggs, grass-fed dairy, wild fish, and organic pantry selections from hundreds of local farms in the tri-state area. Not only does Mike's Organic deliver these groceries to his lucky customers (including none other than Martha Stewart), he also offers a marketplace and hub for food education in Stamford, Connecticut. Mike is delivering exclusively to Related residents in New York City; check the Related Connect App to find out if the delivery service is available in your building.
We sat down with Mike to talk about why he started his marketplace, how he convinced farmers to get on board with him, and why maybe you don't need to obsess quite so much about eating seasonal fruit as you think you do.
Can you talk about your background and how you became interested in farming?
In 2009, frustrated working in advertising in NYC, I quit my job and went off to live and work in the Kalahari Desert. It was there in Botswana that I discovered something incredible: all the food at the supermarket looked and tasted better than almost anything you could buy at a grocery store in the U.S. It took time away from “civilization” to start questioning not only what I was eating, but how it was grown and where it was coming from. During my trip I was charged by a leopard, almost bitten by a cobra and was in a plane that lost an engine. In every sense of the expression, it was a life-altering experience. When I returned home I was 20 pounds lighter, in the best shape of my life, and committed to sharing what I had learned. I became a student of how food was grown, where the seeds come from, how they were cared for, raised, packaged, shipped, and displayed, and fully immersed myself in local sustainable farming and agriculture culture. I consumed books, attended lectures, and volunteered at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. These learning experiences and a lifetime of cooking, gardening, fine dining, hunting and fishing were the foundation for Mike’s Organic. Fast forward to today and we are a cornerstone in the community, providing the finest, farm fresh food and helping people live and eat well.
How long did it take you to build your network of organic farms? What was that process like? What are your criteria for the farmers you work with?
It has taken us over a decade to build our network of small farmers and artisans. When I started the service in 2009, I assumed that all farmers would want to sell to me, but in actuality that was not the case. I quickly discovered that small farmers carefully plan their crops based off of the expected outlets of sale and that it would take time to not only gain their trust but also become part of their yearly plans. We focus much more on the methods of the farmers than the label. Organic is always important to us, but we want to know what the chickens are eating and what's being sprayed on the plants. Connection and transparency are much more important to us than just being "Certified Organic."
You are a gardener as well – do you sell the produce you make or is it just for your family?
I love to garden! For years I've maintained a large home garden, started all my plants from seeds, had a compost heap and more. It's given me invaluable insight into not only how much work it takes to grow organically but also the best methods of harvesting, storing and preparing delicious organic produce! All the produce I grow is either consumed fresh by my wife and two little boys or is canned/blanched and frozen for future use.
How has your business grown during quarantine?
The last few months have been a very unusual time for everyone and we are certainly no exception. People are prioritizing their health more than ever and also want to know that their food is coming from safe, reliable sources and handled by as few people as possible. The fact that we deliver food of the absolute highest quality has been a true lifeline for many of our customers throughout the pandemic and has in turn allowed us to support our small local farmers in the process.
What advice do you have for people wanting to buy fruit that’s in season? What research should they be doing?
Knowing the seasons is your main ally if you want to try and eat seasonally. That may sound overly simplistic, but if you don't know when things are available locally it's a lot harder to make food decisions. Fruit in the Northeast is a very fickle being. The weather and pests play such a large role in what's available to us and when. My advice is always to "know thy farmer" and try to connect with the people growing your food. For us that means having a constant dialogue with the farmers. Strawberry season is only three weeks long in early June, Stone Fruit is typically end of June-July. Learn when things are in season and you'll always be eating fresh!
On the flip side, is buying fruit that’s out of season really as bad as we’re told?
I've never believed in absolutes. You need to do what works best for you and your family, not what people tell you to do. If you have a child who only likes blueberries, then you're probably going to buy blueberries all year long. Many of my farmers have told me that if you're eating fresh organic produce, that's the most important thing. I do believe that eating seasonally and from local farms is the pinnacle of healthy eating and will offer you more taste and nutrition. However, life is a balance and sometimes you might just want to eat a peach in December. That's totally fine, but it might be coming from Peru!
The Related Life is written and produced by Related Luxury Rentals. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest events, news and announcements in your area, and tag us for a chance to be featured @therelatedlife and #therelatedlife.