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Innovation & Job News

Local produce delivery company takes on "broken" food system

4P Foods, a produce delivery company founded in April that brings vegetables and fruit from area farms directly to consumers, is adding the I-66 and Rte 267 corridors in Northern Virginia to its delivery area. The District-based enterprise already serves D.C. and several Maryland locations, including Rockville, Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Silver Spring. 

Unlike a traditional CSA, which often requires customers to pay for the entire season upfront and then receive weekly produce "shares" throughout the growing season, 4P Foods clients pay as they go and can choose the size of the share they receive or choose to skip a week. Unlike a grocery delivery service, all 4P's produce comes from one place: food hub Blue Ridge Produce in Elkwood, Va.

Most traditional CSAs also ask shareholders to pick up their shares from a centralized location, an experience that McDougall, a District resident who does not own a car, found challenging. "My fiancée and I participated in a CSA for five years prior to starting 4P," he says. "I had to balance a box of produce on my bike. And then, at the end of the season, I was back to eating crappy produce [from the grocery store] again." Instead of asking customers to come to them, 4P delivers its weekly bags to commercial or residential buildings.

On a larger scale, McDougall is on a mission to change the "many pieces of the food system that are broken." (The four "Ps" in the company's name stand for "purpose, people, planet and prosperity.") One piece is the plight of the small scale family farmer, whose average income was $22,840 in 2012, according to the 2012 USDA census, and average age is 58, up from age 50 in 1982. "There is a whole generation that isn't farming." McDougall thinks that if it were easier to obtain produce like 4P provides, "a lot more people would be able to participate, which would be better for farmers."

McDougall is well aware of the food deserts that exist in urban areas, and the corresponding negative impact processed food can have on health. 4P wants to change that, too. The company works with Martha's Table in the District to bring healthy food to hungry kids, donating one bag to the organization for every ten bags purchased.

4P has applied to be able to take SNAP benefits for its produce bags, and McDougall says he is in conversation with health care providers who might one day write prescriptions for the "good healthy food that 4P offers," to be paid for by health insurance. 

Read more articles by Allyson Jacob.

Allyson Jacob is a writer originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the Innovation and Job News editor for Elevation DC. Her work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati CityBeat. Have a tip about a small business or start-up making waves inside the Beltway? Tell her here.
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