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Thursday, January 27,2011

A mile high and growing

By Chelsea Long
Mile High Organics has a surprising business plan. Get fresh, organic produce, and deliver it to customers in the most sustainable way possible.

“And then we do something nuts and actually sell it at a reasonable cost,” says CEO Michael Joseph.

Joseph founded the company in 2010 to “do things that no one’s doing right now,” and to follow his passions for cooking and educating the public in a healthy way about a healthy environment.

Mile High Organics works like this: Clients go online and order a reusable “bin” of food, which at its least expensive costs $22 and holds eight of the 63 fresh organic items available. Each “item” could be several items, though. For instance, this week, three Braeburn apples make up one item. The client can also “add on” items like coffee beans from Boulder-based Ozo Coffee, tea from Ku Cha Tea House and organic soup by Boulder Soup Works, among others. The bin is then delivered on a specific day, which for Boulder residents is Monday and for Boulder businesses is Wednesday.

The company delivers food from Colorado Springs to Loveland, though its office is located in Boulder.

The food is what Joseph considers “a higher tier” of organics, and customers agree.

“The kale is beautiful,” says client Kate Sciolino.

“All of the vegetables are really great.”

Sciolino, a student who doesn’t have time to visit the grocery store, gets a delivery from Mile High Organics weekly.

“I love using them, because anything to take running errands out of my life helps,” she says. “I don’t have time to run to the grocery store all the time, so I was eating all this unhealthy, unprepared food. Now I always have food in the house, and I don’t have to put in the effort. It’s just around.”

Mile High Organics even helps those who aren’t their clients have healthy options — they deliver their produce scrap to the Emergency Family Assistance Association.

“It helps a lot,” says Kim Rowland, the food bank manager at EFAA. “Our clients love to get fresh food instead of canned food.”

The company donated 500 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables to EFAA in November and 250 pounds in December.

“It averages out to be around 300 pounds a month,” Rowland says.

Donating to local families in need seems to be just one of the ways that Mile High Organics is trying to improve Boulder County and the world outside it. The company refuses to use any air-freighted produce in its selection.

“When you see expensive berries in the winter, those were flown here,” Joseph says. “It’s actually very environmentally destructive to fly food around, so we screen it out.”

They choose to boat items from overseas countries to Colorado instead. “Of the major three ways [to transport food], the least impactful are boats, then trucks, then airplanes. Airplanes are off the charts.”

You can also see where the environmentally transported items come from. Each is labeled on the Mile High Organics website with the city and state of its origin. This touch is likely due to Joseph’s upbringing — his father, Joel Joseph, was one of the founders of the Made in the USA Foundation and helped write the Country of Origin Labeling Act, which requires country of origin labeling on fresh produce, fish, meat and other food products in the United States.

“My first job, when I was 9, was licking envelopes,” he says. “That law was co-authored in my household.”

That experience led him to continue questioning the relationships people have with food and grocery stores, and he took that questioning into founding Mile High Organics.

Customers appreciate the focus on sustainability.

“I think it’s so important,” Sciolino says. “It makes me feel good about being responsible as a consumer. It’s affordable and accessible, so that I can actually make that choice.”

On top of that, Mile High Organics refuses to use any genetically-modified food or products.

“Not supporting genetically engineered crops is big to us,” Joseph says.

“We think that there are unknown things happening throughout the world because of them. That’s sort of frightening, doing that sort of experiment on humanity.”

They also want their customers to know about all the choices Mile High Organics makes — and all the choices that their customers could be making, as well.

“People have a hard time making those decisions if they don’t have all the information pieces in front of them, so we’re trying to put them out there,” Joseph says. “I want to see — if people have this information and it’s not put in front of them in an aggressive way, what changes are going to happen.”

With a growing number of customers, the philosophy seems to be working.

“We have a healthy number of customers. Not just healthy, but growing,” Joseph says.

And that’s exactly what their business is based on — customers growing healthier with each bite.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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