As Missoula's farmers markets begin to close down, and Missoulians put their gardens to bed for winter, Stacy Ratliff hopes his fledgling business will see a boost.
Ratliff, a former film editor, and his wife and three teenaged daughters, launched a food-delivery business in the spring called Big Sky Family Foods. Every other Wednesday morning, they drive their Suburban around Missoula delivering mostly organic foods and other grocery goods to their customers' doorsteps.
The business only has about 20 clients, Ratliff says, "but we're growing by about five a week now, and our name's starting to get out, and people are starting to hear about us."
Big Sky Family Foods is somewhat like a CSA (community supported agriculture) subscription, but instead of the food coming from a single farm, the business sources food from many farmers, both locally and from around the region. It also distributes dry and canned goods. That allows the service to operate year-round. In the winter, much of the produce will be sourced from northern California, Washington and Oregon, Ratliff says.
Come next summer, he hopes all the fruit and vegetables his service delivers will be 100-percent local.
"When we first started, we thought that organic would be more important than the local," Ratliff says. "But we've realized that most of our customers really want local. Most of the time you can find local and organic. It may not be certified organic, but a lot of the farmers have a no-spray policy...They're not necessarily certified but they're doing organic practices."
The company sells a $50 "Harvest Share" with 20 to 30 pounds of produce twice a month, and a $35 "Garden Share" with 15 to 20 pounds. Ratliff says it constitutes a savings of at least 30 percent over grocery store prices.
Ratliff, who was born and raised in Billings, and then spent 22 years in Tulsa, Okla., before returning to Montana with his family in 2008, says demand is growing to the point where he'll soon need to hire another driver.
"We're saving [customers] money, and saving them time, and helping them eat healthier," he says.