One year into building this business, and every day I am learning something new. What started as a crazy idea at the beginning of a pandemic might still be a crazy idea as we approach the end of a pandemic.
After a year of delivery service--shuffling employees, partnering with local businesses, trying to find new customers, buying a cargo van, finding a warehouse, and learning each seasonal produce item, we have come full circle back to April when I started the business in 2020.
What I find most unique about Illuminate is that I don’t feel like I built a company that is merely a reflection of me and my vision for a better future. I truly feel like Illuminate is a reflection of the powerful community supporting it and the passionate and dedicated people who have somehow sought out what I am doing to be a part of it. What started as an experiment to distribute local food has become so much more.
It’s become clear to me that what we are doing at Illuminate is about so much more than food. I have observed a strong desire to feel connected to our surroundings and each other, which we are not getting at the grocery store or shopping online.
In our second year, I hope to continue to see this business morph and grow. For those who have made Illuminate a consistent part of their lives, I hope you are savoring the rewards of knowing where your food comes from and cooking more from fresh and seasonal ingredients.
Watching my parents incorporate a box into their lives has been interesting as they had never put too much thought into their food buying before. These are the biggest changes I have observed in them:
My dad now appreciates the joys of eating fresh bread almost every day, and once he figured out he can freeze bread, he’ll never go back. He has literally stopped buying bread in the supermarket.
They have gone outside their comfort zone when it comes to cooking and made dishes they would have never attempted before using Mole, delicata squash; cauliflower mash; fresh scallops, homemade pizza; exotic mushrooms and spices, local apples, fresh local hummus, fresh local pasta, local tomatoes, blue potatoes, fairytale eggplant, ugly carrots, pestos, authentic buffalo mozzarella, pumpkin butter, unique cheeses…the list goes on.
They are now reluctant to buy chicken from the grocery store anymore, and if they do they will opt for better quality chicken, and buy much less of it. My dad has virtually stopped buying red meat at the supermarket, opting instead for high-quality cuts from local providers as a periodic treat rather than as a staple of his diet.
Every Wednesday night, after a long day that begins at dawn at our warehouse and ends when all the boxes have been delivered, we cook something fresh from the box. My dad always says “Thank you Illuminate Food and local providers!” Always makes me smile.
I am curious to hear from anyone about how Illuminate has changed some of your habits around food and shopping. Please share with us!
What I have learned about myself:
You can’t do it all. Even as a small business, managing every aspect of a business from the ordering to the finances to the customer service is more than one person can handle. I learned this the hard way when I forgot to order the advertised pasta one Sunday. I realized I had too much on my plate. Finding and hiring Emily to help me was one of the best decisions of the last year.
Some people overthink things and others just run with it. I’m convinced that the only reason Illuminate got off the ground is that I tend to be someone who just goes for things rather than thinking them all the way through. If I hadn’t taken all the risks I did and decided to wing it, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
About Running a Business
Learn how to problem solve on the fly. There have been curve balls every week. Between the snow storms and downpours, our deliveries being short, car trouble, wrong addresses, late deliveries, you name it, we are always trying to figure out how to get our boxes packed and out to you no matter what.
About Customer Service
It’s not about serving every customer, it’s about serving the right customers.
Fresh food is HARD. At the end of the day, we are creating new supply chains. Our heroes are drivers and food workers, and the tools of their trade are big trucks and large refrigerators.
My original goal was to convince people to buy local food because it’s the right thing to do, but turns out it also tastes better, so overall it’s a win/win. As someone who does not always cook her own meals, I know it can be hard to align your values with what you’re eating. So we try to make the box usable for all levels of cooks. I absolutely underestimated the culinary skills it takes to go through a lot of vegetables and make them taste delicious. Chefs and home cooks are also our heroes, with time-tested recipes the tools of their trade.
If you are a customer, we hope you continue to support us and stick with us as we grow. If you are watching from afar, we hope we can inspire you to find your local farms and support them too.