Fourteen-Carrot Gold

Gina Verdugo Will Deliver Great Produce To Your Front Door.
By Rebecca Cook

IN THE SMALL town in northeastern Washington where my parents live, a Saturday morning Farmer's Market is a local happening.

Chow Local growers, both large and small, gather to sell a seasonal selection of fruits and vegetables unlike any usually found in grocery store produce aisles. Here the tomatoes are large, ripe and fully red, heads of lettuce are crisp and leafy, and peaches radiate an aroma demanding serious pie consideration.

The selection of produce varies from week to week depending on what's ready to harvest. Everything is grown organically--without the use of any kind of chemicals--and it all tastes distinctly delicious.

When fruits and vegetables are this good it becomes considerably easier to meet that recommended five to six servings per day.

Although Tucson does have its share of markets and stores selling fresh organic produce, it's often been hard for consumers to pull the disparate pieces together. Food shopping takes time, a commodity of which most of us have precious little.

To accommodate the corresponding and often conflicting needs for quality produce and time conservation, Gina Verdugo launched Boxed Greens, a local business that delivers boxes of organically grown produce right to your front door.

It doesn't get much easier, or tastier, than this.

For years, Verdugo has dabbled in the wonderful world of organic produce: She's always had a substantial garden of her own and she's made a habit of supporting small growers who offer chemical-free food.

"Maybe it sounds flaky, but organic farming has always seemed to me such a good thing to do," says Verdugo. "It's good for our planet and it's good for us. Why not support it?"

Even with her commitment to small organic farmers, Verdugo often found herself occasionally down at the neighborhood grocery store buying produce, where the poor quality and exorbitant prices began to grate on her nerves.

Eventually Verdugo considered starting up her own cooperative. When her husband suggested she consider a business instead, she came up with the idea of Boxed Greens.

"I started calling around to different farmers to see what kind of prices I could get and soon realized I could do this without a lot of markup. I already knew there was an obvious market for this kind of thing," Verdugo says. "Interest in organic food is not a fad, it's a definite trend and it's here to stay."

Although it was hard to gather all the produce at first, Verdugo plowed ahead with her plan, establishing rapport and credibility with a wide range of growers.

When she was finally ready to begin, she faced the challenge of how to get the word out, and was discouraged to find the cost of advertising might swallow any potential profit.

Shrewdly choosing to advertise only in one small paper and a locally published fitness magazine, Verdugo sat back to see what would happen.

She didn't wait long.

"I was amazed," she says. "I was flooded with calls just from those few advertisements. I had something people seemed to want--good produce and full service all in one package."

People who initially received Boxed Greens were so pleased they began telling their friends, and Verdugo calls the volume of referrals "staggering."

Boxed Greens offers three kinds of produce boxes: the "Essential," an assortment of familiar fruits and vegetables with a few seasonal surprises tossed in from time to time; the "Succulent," with produce selected for its "juice-able" potential; and the "Gourmand," with the same goodies you'd find in the Essential box along with a few exotic additions you've probably never even seen before, let alone tasted.

Sensitive to the perplexity some of these unusual items might engender, Verdugo often includes sample recipes featuring that particular kind of produce.

Prices vary depending on the size--individual, medium and family boxes are available--and range from $23 to $63. If you'd like to set up regular delivery, a one-time registration fee of $25 is also included.

What can you expect to find in your deluxe food box?

I ordered a medium Gourmand and found the following inside: celery, portabello mushrooms, white mushrooms, an English cucumber, cherry and pear tomatoes (red and yellow), salad tomatoes, turnips, artichokes, broccoli, carrots, one gargantuan leek, radishes, mixed leafy greens (washed and bagged, mind you), an avocado, kiwis, zucchini, ginger root, baby corn, green beans, cauliflower, cabbage, pears, tangelos, a fascinating variety of squash, a bulb of garlic, yams, one enormous white potato and a few small red potatoes, a yellow onion, some gala apples and a handful of pansies.

Even with concerted healthful eating, this will keep my family supplied in roughage and beta-carotene for at least a couple of weeks.

Things are going well for Verdugo. She'll soon quit the part-time job at the law firm where she's worked for the last 13 years and devote herself full-time to her burgeoning business. Most importantly, as far as she's concerned, is the fact that she's doing something she loves.

"This has been an incredibly exciting time for me," she says. "I've met some really neat people and things are opening up to me all the time. It's been wonderful."

Boxed Greens, home-delivered organic fruits and vegetables, range from $23 to $60. Call 629-0555 to order. TW

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