Farm to Table, Doorganics Delivers

Though immersed in the benefits of making healthy choices through their professions, the busy schedules of Kortne and Todd Custer don’t permit much time for the couple to practice what they preach at home -- especially when it comes to putting food on the table for themselves and their four-month-old daughter.

“We’re both very health conscious, but there just aren’t a lot of good organic options at the grocery store, which is about all I have time for,” says Kortne, who works part-time at a physician’s office, while husband Todd is director of sales at Custer HealthWorks. “But organic is important to us, especially with a newborn.”

Enter Doorganics, West Michigan’s newest addition to the organic food movement.

Doorganics is a local fresh produce delivery service, connecting health-conscious but time-strapped consumers with fresh eats from Ingraberg Farm and Vertical Paradise Farms. Entrepreneur Mike Hughes, 31, founded Doorganics in July 2011 after facing time constraints similar to those experienced by the Custers.
“I always wanted to go to the farmers' market, but had trouble getting there due to work and family obligations,” says Hughes. “Lots of big cities have produce delivery services, but Grand Rapids didn’t have anything like it so I thought it could be a great opportunity.”

Hughes and the Custers are clearly not the only ones facing the time versus health predicament, as Doorganics has expanded from 15 to 145 subscribing households in its first month of operation. Customers run the gamut from college roommates to couples to large families to older individuals who don’t have the ability to make frequent trips to the grocery store.

Produce is picked fresh from the farms, transported to Doorganics’ warehouse in Comstock Park, then sorted and delivered to households in the Greater Grand Rapids area. Customers register for weekly or biweekly deliveries on the Doorganics website, paying $29 per week for a small bin or $49 per week for a delivery better suited to fill the bellies of four to five people.

“It forces us to eat healthy, and we eat more of a variety because we want to use it all,” says Kortne, who receives a small bin of produce every other week. “It’s a perfect amount for two people.”

The bin is insulated with ice packs and holds an assortment of eight to ten of the farm’s freshest produce items, with a recent delivery including heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, onions, basil, cucumbers, peaches, pears and grapes. Customers, along with Chef Tommy Fitzgerald of Café Stella, have posted recipes to the Doorganics website and the Facebook page, which comes in handy when faced with an unfamiliar item like Swiss chard or kohlrabi.

“Not only is Doorganics a convenient way for us to get local food and support local farmers, but we get things we wouldn’t normally get, so we get to try new recipes,” says Kortne.

Hughes says he has learned a lot about the benefits of eating organic, locally produced foods over the past year, which is when he began creating a business plan for Doorganics. “I want to provide recipes and education so people are aware of what’s grown locally and what they can do with it,” he says.

Deliveries have been requested in every corner of town, with higher interest generated in Rockford, Cascade and East Grand Rapids, where Hughes currently resides.

Hughes was raised locally, attending Forest Hills Northern High School before getting his communications degree from Michigan State University. Attending the “go green” university originally founded as an agricultural college may have planted the seed for Doorganics, though it took nearly a decade to germinate.

Hughes worked in commercial property after graduation, growing into his current position as employee benefits consultant for Coleman & Hughes. In addition to juggling two full-time jobs, Hughes serves as president of the MSU Club of West Michigan, one of the university’s top fundraising alumni groups.

“It has definitely been challenging starting a new business while maintaining my current responsibilities, but luckily I’ve had enough flexibility and support to manage everything,” says Hughes.

Hughes sees Doorganics as a complement to his day job, with better food choices leading to healthier people, thus contributing to lower medical insurance costs.

“My hope is that this will not only teach people how to eat healthily, but that employers will embrace it as a business perk and offer it to their employees,” he says.

Doorganics launched with just two employees and additional assistance from Hughes’ friends, but he says he will hire additional operational help as the business continues to blossom.

To aid with the growing number of deliveries, Doorganics recently began a partnership with Zipments, the Grand Rapids-based delivery service that uses freelance couriers to transport items locally. Members of the company’s courier workforce now serve as neighborhood captains and Doorganics ambassadors in their own communities, fulfilling a 10-15 home delivery route.?

“We’ll expand as much as we need to,” says Hughes, who would like to develop a lakeshore market. “If we get 1,000 subscribers, we’ll scale to accommodate.”

Plans for the future include an online store that will allow customers to add cheeses, meats and specialty goods to orders, which is also an area that could help fuel year-round growth.

“When local produce is scarce in the winter, we will have to rely on meats, cheeses and dairy, or source produce from other organic farms throughout the country,” says Hughes. “It depends on the interests of our customers.”  

Hughes says right now he is focused on doing what he can to strengthen the local food system by making it easier for farmers’ products to reach local doorsteps. “It’s a win-win because we’re promoting what’s grown locally by West Michigan farmers while delivering it to people who want healthier, convenient options.”

Kelly Quintanilla spends her days managing PR and social media for Just Drive Media, taking frequent breaks to lobby Doorganics to deliver to her new home in Royal Oak.
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