When the pandemic hit American shores in early 2020, grocery stores felt it first. Pantry staples like flour and rice disappeared from shelves as quickly as possible, and shoppers trying to order groceries online often found it next to impossible to secure an open time slot on major platforms like Amazon Fresh and Instacart.
Spurred on by their frustration, two friends, David Pham and Jason Curesco, built and started a database called alwaysand helps customers find small farms that offer supplies. Formerly known as Farms That Are Delivering, Aina now includes 1,384+ producers in all 50 states – each manually added by David and Jason – and links directly to the farms’ websites for purchase, pickup and delivery. By helping shoppers find fresh meat and products, Aina aims to support independent farms and promote the humane rearing practices, transparency and environmental awareness that many of these food producers embrace.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I first became curious about Aina in order to reduce the number of grocery stores and find ingredients that were scarce in my local supermarket. Plus, it was certainly a win that shopping this way would support small farms in the US
Navigating the database is very easy. I entered my address and the search engine came up with farms across the country that offer delivery services to my location (or that allow nearby customers to pick up orders). I narrowed my search further by listing the meat, seafood, produce, dairy, or prepared goods I was looking for. I could also filter by type of purchase (à la carte, in bulk, as CSA, etc.). From this refined list, I was able to peruse a number of farms and visit their websites to place an order or learn more.
I found through Aina Liberty Ducks, a fourth generation family farm in Petaluma, California. My dad had talked about trying a roast duck recipe, and since the farm was offering free shipping to San Francisco Bay Area residents on purchases over $ 50, we ordered two: one for this week’s prep and one for freezing for another time. The order arrived on our doorstep just a day later.
When you buy from farms, you are not just supporting the farmer. They also support the earth.
Aina does not process orders and only directs users to the farms’ websites. For many shoppers, this means placing orders from multiple suppliers to cover all of their food bases. However, during my search, I found that many establishments offer free shipping – sometimes with a minimum purchase requirement – so I didn’t mind arranging multiple deliveries, especially for large batches of items with a relatively long shelf life, like cheese, apples, and squeeze. Hopefully this also saved the shipping costs for the farm.
Although ordering from multiple locations certainly took some time, I still found it faster than shopping in person at the supermarket. I also realized that with multiple small transactions, I was becoming more conscious of purchases. While pointless rummaging around a supermarket – whether physical or virtual – can often lead to overbought and waste, the inherent graduality of farm shopping made me think more about what actually needed to be refilled, one at a time.
For my family, buying groceries from farms has not completely replaced grocery shopping. We maintain and continue to enjoy Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to which we have subscribed for years. Aina will certainly remain a part of our post-pandemic shopping routine, however. This is a great way to help hard-working small business owners stock up on staple groceries – not to mention the time saved on in-store shopping trips. We even discovered some new favorite foods: Walnut butter from central California (a deliciously earthy alternative to peanut butter) and lobster fresh from Maine (for special home birthday dinners and other occasions) to name a few. Aina is also the first place I will look for meat as the database makes it easy to find farmers who are committed to human animal husbandry and share information on traditional breeds. Also, the freshness and quality of the meat we found through Aina (like the duck from Petaluma) was unparalleled.
And many items, like cakes and fruit baskets, are delivered with a warm human touch – tied in a ribbon or sent with a handwritten note – and are therefore ideal as gifts.
“I hope people feel empowered,” says Pham. “When you buy from farms, you are not just supporting the farmer. You are also supporting the earth, you are supporting the animal when you buy from a good farm. They say, “I’ll vote with my wallet that I like the way you treat your animals.”