What started as a family farm and a roadside fruit n’ veg stand in the 70s has become one of Essex-County’s most successful produce delivery services and on-farm markets. Shopping and eating local is all the rage these days and this next generation of owners are working hard to make ‘farm to table’ eating as easy as possible. Their fully-stocked market and delivery bins are chock-full of goodies from local farmers but they also import select items, like bananas and citrus, making them a stop shop for all your produce needs.
The original owners, Lee and Maria, are Kathy Black, Jennifer Perciballi and Michael Mastronardi’s parents who bought the property in 1977. The two sisters grew up on the family farm but had never planned on taking over the business – they grew into their own successful careers in ad sales and lab technology but eventually found themselves wanting more from life. Becoming tired of the grind and commute, they partnered with Kathy’s husband Kevin and their brother Mike to create the faming dream team and purchased the farm from their parents two years ago.
Kathy and Jen’s brother Michael is the talented, operations manager of another greenhouse in town, and naturally he takes care of all the planning and work in the Lee & Maria’s field. When the option came up, Kathy’s husband Kevin, was surprisingly stoked on the idea of switching gears and running the operations at the family farm. Kevin’s background is in journalism and communications but funnily enough his very first gig was produce related. The 10-year-old entrepreneur sold corn at the end of his driveway, up north in Peterborough, then started working in a grocery store, which he eventually purchased from the owner at the young age of 19. It was so successful that A&P got word, opened up across the street, and eventually put him out of business. He then went on to work his first job in Leamington (where he met Kathy). Now he takes care of all the graphic design, website and communications for the farm. Seems like it all worked out for the best!
Kevin and Jen are the masterminds behind their popular delivery service. They started working on the idea part-time, while Lee and Maria still owned the farm. Kevin was doing the morning news at Blackburn Radio, he’d be finished by noon, then and the two would head to the farm, buy the extra veg and go to find people to sell it to. Back then, they were the packers and delivery drivers with 75 customers, but have now grown to over 1100 stops with 5 full time drivers with deliveries as far as Chatham and Ridgetown. Their customizable boxes that come in different shapes and sizes are the most convenient solution for busy singles, elderly or big families.
For any business, it’s important to innovate and adapt in order to grow. Their business has evolved from printed pages of Mapquest directions to navigation apps on tablets – their team have figured out how to most efficiently get their product out there. Kathy, who’s manages the market and wholesale orders, takes care of big players in the hospitality industry such as Caesars Windsor. Buying local isn’t usually cheaper but luckily more and more customers are starting to expect local produce at the restaurants they choose to eat at, not only in their home cooking.
Lee & Maria‘s approach to produce is something we can get behind. As one of the only farms that still grow their tomatoes in the ground, they understand the importance of flavour and variety when it comes to eating a plant-based diet. They’re one of our favourite local companies on social media too – follow them for exciting recipes, for more information on their events, cooking classes and exciting upcoming announcements on their technological advances.
*Contest instructions: Like the post here, tag 2 friends who you think should know about Lee & Maria’s and tell us which veggie must be in your delivery box, should you win it!*