Sweet Pea brings in organic winter produce

Store open weekly, offers hand-selected fruits, vegetables

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People interested in getting produce from Sweet Pea may contact Jonathon Hieb at 846-1907 or jonathonhieb@yaho.... A single box is $20, small is $23, medium is $39 and large is $51. Boxes specifically for juicing also are available.

— Sweet Pea Market's latest venture might be a step toward year-round operations for the natural foods store.

Owners Jonathon Hieb and Katherine Zambrana have started a weekly organic produce pick-up service. Customers order different-sized boxes, and Hieb goes to the Front Range and hand-selects fruits and vegetables each week. When customers pick up the boxes from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays at Sweet Pea, they can switch out items or buy other produce on hand, Hieb said.

The first delivery was Dec. 16. Locally produced meat, cider, eggs, honey and produce were available this week.

"Kind of what it's turned into, we call it winter at Sweet Pea," Hieb said. "It's turned from a boxed pick-up service to shopping at Sweet Pea once a week - a very condensed version of Sweet Pea, albeit, but Sweet Pea."

Antonio Marxuach signed onto the program early.

"I'm a big believer in local produce," he said as he grabbed some beef Tuesday at Sweet Pea. He also was picking up an extra box to feed family members during the holidays.

"I'm psyched to see they're doing this," Marxuach said. "It's a big question we could solve - locally available food through winter."

Hieb said the program has been in the works for a while. Now that he has developed relationships with suppliers, he said, he's ready to go.

"I wanted to do this for a couple of years, but I was always real concerned about produce in winter and boxed produce," Hieb said. "I was always afraid you take what you could get."

The program is an experiment, he said - one that could help move Sweet Pea from a seasonal to an all-year market.

Beth Banning was poking around the shop while picking up her produce box Tuesday. She tried Door to Door Organics, which recently started an organic produce delivery service in Northwest Colorado, and decided to sample Sweet Pea's offering, as well. She hasn't decided which one she'll stick with.

One thing is certain: "I'm not satisfied with the organic produce options at the grocery stores," Banning said.

Hieb and Zambrana aren't trying to make big bucks off the extra produce, Hieb said. Organic apples were selling for 99 cents a pound this week, he said, and winter squash was selling for 99 cents to $1.99 a pound.

"The disadvantage to getting a box of produce is : you're kind of stuck with what you have; there's not a lot of choice," he said. "So what it turns into is, I have this great recipe for winter squash, and I only have enough for two people, and I need enough for four people."

With Sweet Pea's program, customers can pick up extra when they grab their box, he said. The weekly program can handle 75 customers, he estimated, and already has 50. The key component for Hieb is that he personally selects the food.

"I don't have to rely on anyone else, and that's the way I like to do it," he said. "I think that's what sets up apart, to be honest. : We use a really simple motto: If we're not going to eat it, we wouldn't sell it."

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