Tri-County produce distributor The Berry Man is now in its second week of helping families in need amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The distributor is providing produce boxes available through food banks in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo County. On May 15, The Berry Man started delivering 38-pound boxes filled with fresh fruits and vegetables to the three counties and will continue distribution through June 30, by which time it will have delivered 100,000 boxes total.
When business as usual became disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak two months ago, The Berry Man saw a dramatic drop in business, approximately an 80 percent overnight plummet on March 14, according to President Les Clark.
If it weren’t for the pandemic, the company would have been on track to sell around $60 million worth of produce this year.
Though Mr. Clark said the situation at hand has “wiped out” the possibility of doing that kind of business by year’s end, delivering produce boxes has brought the company back up to 80 percent of the business it was handling before COVID-19.
The Berry Man began sending the boxes to food banks after it became one of the companies chosen by the USDA after the agency sought agricultural businesses to provide food to families during the health crisis.
The USDA approved $1.2 billion for bids from companies, some of which would distribute boxes of dairy products, others dried meat, and others produce. After submitting a bid and getting selected for delivering fruits and vegetables, The Berry Man’s idle delivery fleet sprung back into action.
“We had trucks and vehicles just sitting, so we were just perfect for this bid,” Mr. Clark told the News-Press.
Pleased with how the deliveries have gone thus far, the president called distributing produce for the USDA a “win-win all around,” as it gets food to locals who need it during this difficult time, money to the farmers who grow the produce, and allows The Berry Man’s mostly furloughed staff to get back to work. Mr. Clark spoke highly of his employees for their work in making this endeavor happen.
“I’m so proud of my employees who have been working their tails off. Assembly line work is not easy work,” he said.
Each of the 100,000 boxes The Berry Man will deliver to the food banks by June 30 contain between 12 and 15 produce items like apples, oranges, pears, berries, cauliflower, celery, cabbage, romaine lettuce, and a 10-pound bag of potatoes. The number of boxes that go to each of the three food banks depends on its county’s population size.
As per the USDA’s bid qualification requirements, all of the produce in the boxes is grown in the United States, much of it in the Tri-County area.
Though the company’s distribution period ends at the end of next month, its bid also allows for three additional option periods, each eight weeks in duration.
Mr. Clark remarked that he expects The Berry Man’s first option period to be approved. If it is, it would begin on July 1 and lead to the distribution of an additional 100,000 boxes of produce.