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Nutritious, Delicious and Very New England: A local produce fan responds to coronavirus

In March, when Providence residents began quarantining themselves, Evan McManamy had a major question on his mind: “How can we ensure people get the food they need?” His answer was to create a delivery service called CartwheelRI, which transports local produce and canned goods to your doorstep. As of this writing, 30 households in Providence use CartwheelRI to get vegetables and fruit grown locally by New England farmers. 

McManamy is happy to see his customers’ nutritional needs satisfied and discover their unusual tastes. “I am surprised about the number of people who are excited about pea greens and celeriac,” he says. Not only can CartwheelRI cater to unusual taste buds, it also has the ability to expand and get more fresh, locally grown produce to people in Providence. 

CartwheelRI is a registered state nonprofit organization and is funded by donations. Clients go to cartwheelri.org and order the goods they want. The site tells them how much the goods and the delivery will cost and based on this information, they can make a decision about how much to donate in exchange. Concerned for those who have a limited budget, McManamy says the donation piece of his model is important. “Everyone makes their own decision about how they want to pay.” 

So far, the money has sorted itself out; CartwheelRI has enough for the goods and to pay employees $15/hr to sort and deliver them. “When we trust people,”  says McManamy, “the process becomes simpler.” 

In the time of COVID-19, nothing is simple when it comes to operating a business that deals with the public. It’s nice to get pea greens from a local farm, but it can feel risker than popping frozen tater tots in the oven. McManamy is extremely mindful of people’s worries, though. He says, “We want to help those who are most at risk for the coronavirus, who have to stay home during this time. We follow all CDC documentation. This includes wearing gloves and masks and having employees 6 feet apart. None of our employees are in a high-risk group.” To social distance from clientele, CartwheelRI will put the box on the doorstep, ring the doorbell and leave without having to interact face-to-face with customers. 

In the future, CartwheelRI hopes to serve more of Providence’s population. They have put in the paperwork to accept SNAP benefits as payments and are waiting for the request to be processed. Though the CartwheelRI system was designed specifically around the COVID-19 crisis, they plan to continue after the virus is contained. “As a consumer,” McManamy says about his clients, “this service is very much appreciated.” The most convincing piece of evidence of how much people like Cartwheel’s locally farmed produce is the number of apples they go through. “We go through a bushel or two of apples a week,” says McManamy. That’s 40 to 80 pounds of apples. 

CartwheelRI aims not only to fill the nutritional gap, but also to support local farmers. CartwheelRI receives most of its goods from Farm Fresh, a business that delivers locally farmed goods to restaurants and universities. Because the order minimum is quite high for Farm Fresh, McManamy explains, “Many of Farm Fresh’s Market Mobile customers are restaurants. We wanted to find a way to support them by offering foods on a household scale.” Farm Fresh recently had to lower its minimum requirement for orders.

“Creating a community-level response to the crisis is one of our guiding principles,” says McManamy. “We’re now reaching local farms that aren’t involved with Farm Fresh, and using these same principles, to form partnerships.” Out of necessity and a local love for delicious vegetables, CartwheelRI is making roots in Providence and growing. 

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