The 2nd Anniversary of the Harvie box

Big things start small. As we are launching a set of improvements I’m thinking of as “Harvie Pittsburgh 2.0” over the coming weeks and months, I’ve been thinking back to our first delivery on March 14th, 2020 – almost two years to the current date.

Harvie Pittsburgh 2.0

We are launching a host of improvements to the member experience as well as expanding our ability to deliver a wider product line and support member growth. Some of the big changes include:

  • We will launch a whole new shopping experience for Harvie that is faster, works better on mobile devices, is much easier to navigate, increases transparency, and allows us to tell the stories of our producers
  • A new box filling algorithm we call staple products that suggests a weekly order based on your Harvie order history, so you have a better box to start and have less work to do
  • Opening a new distribution center to support growth 
  • More products available each week – in our current space, we are limited in the number of products we can carry, the new space will allow us to keep growing the product line.
Simon on a Harvie delivery.
The First Harvie Delivery

I’ve been reflecting on our first delivery two years ago and my mindset at the time.

All of us remember March 2020 in our own personal ways. For me, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is completely tied up with the work at Harvie and it is hard to separate the two things in my head.

Through the Fall of 2019, I was struggling with the fact that local food had not grown in market share since I started working in the space in 2005. I could see that home delivery and full grocery was the future of local food. We were a software-only company at that time, so I spent that Fall trying to convince the farms that use our software to start developing a home delivery business. I learned that they were not in the position to take a huge risk on developing what amounted to a completely new business.

To be honest, I was feeling pretty defeated because I could see what needed to be done but I could see that Harvie would not be able to get there as it was currently constituted.

At the same time, another path was becoming clear: we could do it ourselves. I started to have conversations with partners, farmers, and employees about how we could launch our own distribution business in the Pittsburgh area after almost 15 years of being a software company. A local food distribution cooperative called Penns Corner Farm Alliance was going out of business and it seemed like there was an opening in the market to bring Harvie directly to Pittsburghers using our own warehouse and drivers.

After months of indecision, by late January 2020 I decided we needed to launch Harvie Pittsburgh as a pilot project, if only to show the other farms and distributors on our platform that it could be done! Neil Stuaffer, who has extensive experience in the food business in the region, came on as our general manager. We started signing up members for Harvie Pittsburgh and planned to do our first deliveries in May 2020.

We planned on attending the Home & Garden Show in Downtown Pittsburgh in mid-March to meet prospective Harvie members and thought it would be good practice to do a food delivery as part of the show. As the week of the show progressed, it became clear that the pandemic was going to close the show but we wanted to go ahead with our delivery. Instead of having members pick up boxes at the show as planned, we decided to do home delivery on that Saturday, March 14, 2020.

A bag from the first Harvie delivery.

The first Harvie Pittsburgh delivery was frozen meat from Jubilee Hilltop Farm, a few dozen eggs, and some cheese from Goat Rodeo. Neil and I spent the morning on that Saturday packing up the 37 delivery bags (this was before we had boxes made) awkwardly on the floor of the warehouse – definitely not the efficient box packing operation that we have today. This took us a few hours of work ;now a Harive box comes off the line every 45 seconds!

We had hired a courier company to deliver the orders but when a driver finally showed up that Saturday, he refused to do the deliveries because the company was trying to charge him $10 to install the driver app. Eventually he stormed off leaving us with 37 bags of food and no obvious way to get them delivered.

After regrouping, I decided we needed to find a way to get deliveries done that day so I manually routed the deliveries using a spreadsheet into 6-7 different routes. Employees from our software business that were available showed up on a Saturday to go out and deliver the boxes. Not the most auspicious way to start a new business, but getting started is never pretty.

The next 12 months were a whirlwind of trying to support the growth on the software side of the business (the pandemic drove huge sales volume increases across our network of farms and distributors outside of Pittsburgh), starting this new food distribution business, and keeping track of two grade school boys at home.

At the time, it felt good to be busy, still in business, and delivering healthy food to people at such an uncertain time. I didn’t have much time to focus on the virus, so I just focused on what I could control: do good work and be a good father to my boys.

Now two years later, we have completely shifted the focus of the company from software licensing for farms and distributors across the country – though we are now looking at ways to allow that part of our business to continue to flourish – to a distribution company serving the Pittsburgh-region.

The reticence to embrace this new distribution model was well placed. It requires complete focus and attention to every detail as well as a heavy investment in people, process, and software. However, I believe Harvie is a game-changer for both producers and consumers in our region. What was 37 bags of food for the first delivery is now 2500+ members and almost 1500 deliveries per week.

Together, we are changing the way the region produces and consumes food.

We won’t stop here – there’s so much left to do. I look forward to seeing what we can do over the next two years together!

We are what we eat,