The doorbell rings at about 7 p.m. Thursday evening. The smell of fresh fruits and veggies hangs over a San Luis Obispo resident’s porch. It is a weekly bag of locally-grown produce, straight from the farm to the front door. The man behind the conveniently delivered sack of goodies is LocalsOwn owner Joey Lyman.
LocalsOwn, a self-described “anytime farmers’ market,” is simply Cal Poly biomedical engineering graduate Lyman picking up fresh produce from the San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market and hand delivering it to the community every Thursday evening.
From biomedical engineer to organic entrepreneur
During his time at Cal Poly, Lyman explored his biomedical career options. He shadowed doctors and their surgeries, researched cures for spinal cord injuries for the University of Washington, and worked with St. Jude Medical on implantable electronics, such as pacemakers and spinal stimulators.
He was not satisfied and felt there was something else he could do to prevent disease.
In the summer of 2014, before he graduated, Lyman traveled to Ecuador to assist a mobile medical clinic for a couple of months. While there, he noticed a faulty food system was causing some people to develop diseases that were otherwise preventable.
“We were treating diabetes because [Ecuadorians] were selling their avocados and quinoa internationally and feeding their families soda and potato chips,” Lyman said. “The broken food system and broken healthcare system in other parts of the world rang at home for our system here as well.”
In order to directly connect people to healthier food, he traded his medical scrubs for a business suit.
Lyman, who does not have a business background, wanted to increase farmers’ sales, provide a more direct connection between buyer and seller, and encourage a healthier relationship with nature.
“[I] want to add a marketplace for local food to make it easier for customers to find local food,” Lyman said.
Even though he has an advisory board he meets with monthly, Lyman is a one-man-band grocery deliverer.
Straight from the farm to your front door
Lyman received a grant to work with Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the SLO HotHouse for his project.
He worked diligently for two years in the center’s Business Incubator program, where he learned about the fundamentals of marketing and business.
Lyman received his business license fairly recently and has now taken his business to the streets.
The LocalsOwn website provides pictures and descriptions of the produce that will be sold each week at farmers’ market. Every week, Lyman takes photos of the fruits and vegetables that will be featured and uploads them to the website himself.
All customers have to do is fill up their online cart before 6 p.m. on the day of Farmers’ Market in order to have their groceries delivered that evening. Any orders past 6 p.m. are delivered the following week.
As produce goes in and out of season, Lyman constantly checks in with the farmers to accurately update the website with the current market selection.
Victoria Ross, agricultural communication junior and Cal Poly Organic Farm volunteer, sells some of the produce at Farmers’ Market every Thursday. Even though the organic farm has only done a few deliveries with LocalsOwn, Ross appreciates what Lyman is doing.
“[It] just speeds up the process of getting [produce] from the farm to the table as quick as possible, so you are really getting a fresh product that wasn’t shipped anywhere or pumped up with chemicals,” Ross said. “It’s very fresh and probably harvested the same day.”
Another producer, Jay Serrano, who sells eggs from JCVBC Egg Farms, believes LocalsOwn is a great alternative for people who cannot make it to farmers’ market.
“I hope it really takes off,” Serrano said. “It would be another outlet where I can expand my brand and sell more of the product.”
Cal Poly agribusiness professor Tim Delbridge believes Lyman’s delivery system is a great way to provide locals with food they could not normally find at a supermarket.
“I think this could be a really good thing for growers if it expands the direct marketing opportunities,” Delbridge said. “Farms that are already selling at the Farmers’ Market can find this a convenient way to add a little bit of predictability to their growing and ordering process.”
On the other hand, Delbridge had concerns about the distribution aspect of the business.
“It’s really hard to order fresh produce sight unseen and have confidence in that,” Delbridge said. “And it’s really hard to transport a ton of fresh produce, sort it into packages into a truck without your bananas getting all squished.”
Graphic by Lindsay Mann
According to Lyman, there are less regulations when you are selling a service rather than selling food. However, as he looks to expand the team, he said he will definitely implement quality control standards.
“I try to find the absolute best produce there is,” Lyman said. He laughed as he added, “I wash my hands. I don’t pick my nose before I pick the produce.”
Industrial engineering senior Logan Barr said quality control can be an issue no matter where you purchase your fruits and vegetables.
“I always end up throwing away a couple of carrots whether I buy them at the store or the Farmer’s Market,” Barr said.
In the end, convenience and time are the most important things to Barr.
Another customer and farmers’ market fanatic, Jeff Small, was temporarily relocated from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo by his employer. Having experienced many Bay Area farmers’ markets, Small was blown away by the lively atmosphere and size of San Luis Obispo’s street market.
He was disappointed he could not make it each week or transport all of his produce on his bike, until he met Lyman.
“San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market is a real jewel, but what [Lyman’s] business does is it allows me to participate in it whether I’m there or not,” Small said.
Lyman believes it is possible for everyone to have access to healthy and affordable produce. He hopes his direct delivery system can benefit people who rely on government subsidies and even be used in relation to President Donald Trump’s “America’s Harvest Box” program.
“One of the biggest things they emphasize in engineering is to solve the root of the problem,” Lyman said. “I thought it would be more fundamental to solve our agriculture problem to make it easier for people to buy healthy food, to buy local.”