Photo: Andrew McMurtrie Lacey Morris, left and Stephanie Black, center pack up organic produce for Emaily Goodwin and her son Micah Goodwin last week at the Big Organic Garden in Dacula. Big Organic Garden is a box program that serves nearly 55 members with locally and nationaly grown fresh organic produce, meets and dairy products.
DACULA -- Every Wednesday, Big Organic Garden's founder Melinda Hicks and her assistant Stephanie Black organize, count and display the week's lot of locally grown organic produce, while waiting for the first round of customers to pick up their boxes. The business is run out of Hicks' garage in Dacula, where she sells and delivers a variety of 100 percent certified organic foods to residents of Gwinnett County.
"Many people in our neck of the woods don't have access to really good produce. We've reached a lot of people who had been driving far distances looking for organics," Hicks said. "We have people that drive from Snellville to us. What's nice about all of our stuff is they know what they're getting; they're not spending time in the grocery stores wandering around and they won't spend as much money."
Each week, Hicks works as a middleman with an organic distributor to collect the freshest local produce possible to offer to her customers. She creates a list of fruits and vegetables for the week and emails it to all of her customers, who have a choice between three boxes: mixed, mostly vegetables and mostly fruits in small ($20), medium ($37) and large ($50) sizes. They then have the option to swap out some items, but most people keep the list as is.
"Whatever comes, we're going to eat it," Heather Floyd of Lawrenceville said. "If it's something I've never used before, I go online and research it for different recipes. I make sure we eat everything in the box. It's been pretty good for my family."
Many customers claim they will never go back to traditional grocery shopping again.
"I love my box. I can't eat from the grocery store anymore," Chelsea Wallis of Buford said. "All of the fruits look waxy. The oranges are really large and you know they didn't get that ginormous on its own. I love to support local businesses, too."
Wallis started buying from Big Organic Garden back in October when her friend Emily Goodwin of Lawrenceville told her about the business, which started in 2009.
"It's amazing and more affordable because you get it at the co-op prices. It tastes better, too," Goodwin said. "I hardly buy anything at the grocery store. Once you eat this stuff, you won't eat that other stuff again. It tastes so much better and it's a higher quality because its fresh and new."
For a few extra dollars a week, there is delivery available for those who cannot make it out for the pickup times. Delivery is limited between Lilburn to Buford. There are stops at both cities, plus in Lawrenceville, Snellville, Dacula and some parts of Loganville.
Besides offering fruits and vegetables, the Big Organic Garden sells organic honey, coffee and garlic, as well as grass-fed beef, pastured chicken and eggs, and natural pork. The business even offers local hormone-free milk and yogurt.
What Hicks can't find locally in Georgia or the Southeast, she seeks at farms in California, Wisconsin and other states. She wants to make sure that she and her customers are getting the best quality, which is very important to her.
"I want to be as much of an organic produce distributor as well as a teacher -- talk about the nutritional elements and the importance of organics," Hicks said. "This is my passion. Any time I have a chance to educate people to make them healthier, I do."
For more information about Big Organic Garden, visit bigorganicgarden.com.