MarketBox online farmers’ market ceases deliveries as vendors seek direct support for their own businesses from online consumers
It was a rush. In more ways than one. When Jess Davis and Amanda Zollinger Waterman, owners of local plant-based businesses Edible Alchemy, Vegan Kitchen Collective, and Double Batch, heard that San Diego County was going into quarantine due to Covid-19 in March 2020, they joined countless people fretting about neighbors, friends, customers, their companies, employees, and themselves.
How would people get locally produced vegan goods when farmers’ markets were closed? How would vendors pay their bills and keep their businesses alive?
Within 48 hours, Davis and Waterman conceived and launched a delivery service for market vendors called MarketBox.
“Everything was closed, so we couldn't even find boxes,” Davis says. “Friends went out to find them and cut them into the right sizes. We ran out of tape. Everyone was out of stuff.”
Davis, 35, a formulator who develops recipes for all kinds of products for companies, and Waterman, in her 20s, with a background in fashion and graphic design, readily admit they’re not “logistics people.” A native New Yorker, Waterman, moved to San Diego and launched her nut-based cheese company just a few months before the pandemic.
“Amanda’s brilliant,” Davis added. “She created our website.”
Davis and John Pally are co-partners in the Vegan Kitchen Collective in El Cajon. Waterman rents space from them to make cheese. Together, MarketBox operated there, and they credit Dominic Barszcz for managing the team and doing deliveries.
For now, Davis and Waterman have stopped MarketBox and are refocusing their efforts on their own businesses, asking for customers’ support to keep those operations going.
“We had numerous business owners that confided in us that without MarketBox’s customers, they would not have made it through those first 3 months,” Davis says. Within 2 months of conception, the team was representing about 50 vendors and delivering as far as Los Angeles.
They partnered with Kitchens For Good, a nonprofit that provides culinary apprenticeships for people facing barriers to employment, and they donated hundreds of meals to at-risk students. They also provided boxes so customers could take part in the agency’s virtual “Dinners for Good,” and they delivered boxes to thousands of immunocompromised, elderly, and sick customers, who said they didn’t have a way to get fresh food otherwise.
“We raised about $350,000 for local farmers and businesses by selling their products.”
But they weren’t charging vendors enough and they had to make the tough decision in December to cease deliveries. Although there were some layoffs, the MarketBox team was able to keep some of their own employees. Neither Davis nor Waterman has taken a penny from MarketBox. Instead, Davis says, they’ve spent thousands of dollars trying to help, “This has been one of the best things we have ever had the honor of being a part of and we are just so incredibly thankful.”
Davis chuckles and sighs about the surge of adrenalin that kept them all working crazy hours, with little sleep. “Sometimes, we’d just sit down on boxes and cry together. We were so tired that we didn’t even know if we were crying because we were exhausted or sad or hungry.”
Now, Davis is refocusing on her Vegan Kitchen Collective, a culinary space where vegan, gluten-free, and organic companies create, pack, and store products. She also operates Edible Alchemy San Diego out of the same facility, offering mushroom tinctures, cultured vegetables and coconut yogurt.
Lion’s Mane is their most popular tincture, says chief of operations, Eric Raszewski. Davis says she thinks it’s because people are hearing about all the research being done on it. “Also, the calming effects are palpable,” she says, “and that’s something so needed at this time.”
Chaga, the base of another tincture, is reported to be a powerful antioxidant that reduces the effects of some cancers, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses, according to several studies published by the National Institutes for Health.
Plant-based newbies often say cheese is the dairy food they miss the most. In the search for that elusive product with just the right saltiness, creaminess, slice or melt, Waterman’s Double Batch offers a wide range of wholly plant-based products from smoked provolone to Brazilian cheese bread puffs.
Davis and Waterman add that after the MarketBox effort, they need customers’ help keeping their own businesses viable. They aren’t ruling out another MarketBox trial. After all, their first try earned them a customer database of 3,000 contacts, Davis says, but, she’s clear that a second round would need to be profitable.