MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Among the many aspects of daily life that changed for people this year because of the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic were grocery shopping and cooking. Though often the groceries were shopped for remotely, most people found themselves doing more of both. With restaurants closed and lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus keeping everyone but essential workers at home, Maplewood native Danielle Schwab decided to put her own spin on the grocery-delivery model. In April, she launched Illuminate Food, which delivers food from local farms to residents in the area.
“The core idea was to get locally grown food to people,” Schwab said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Dec. 27. “I wanted to help smaller farms who can’t be at farmers markets anymore and who aren’t supplying restaurants now.”
Illuminate delivers reusable crates of seasonal fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs, yogurt and cheese, as well as fresh bread from Liv Breads in Millburn. Residents can get a single box or a weekly delivery. Schwab works with Zone 7, a distributor that partners with small-scale and local farms.
“I thought, if I could make boxes that are all the same rather than customizable, it could be more of a grocery service,” she said. “Our community is so supportive of local businesses and sustainability.”
Launching a business in the middle of a pandemic wasn’t easy, but Schwab, who has a background in global trade and economics, has made it work for the last eight months. Eventually, though, she wants to build something that will be successful when the COVID-19 crisis is finally over. Dinners and events are possibilities; the boxes already include weekly recipes, and, in Schwab’s Facebook group, which is more than 200 members strong, people share photos, recipes and cooking advice.
Schwab’s biggest goal, though, is education.
“There are a lot of supply-chain issues that mean tomatoes in grocery stores come from Canada, when they’re growing 20 miles away from here,” she said. “But most people are not aware of that. They’re not sure where their food is growing. That’s the educational part of what I’m doing.”
Eating from local farms is more sustainable, too, according to Schwab. It means trucks have to travel less distance to make deliveries, and vegetables aren’t sprayed with as much pesticide.
“As much as I support global trade, when it comes to food that’s not what I want,” said Schwab, who is relatively new to the food industry. “It became endlessly fascinating to me where food grows. I’m not a cook, but that’s not why I’m doing this. I’m right there learning with them.”
Aside from being more sustainable and, in today’s pandemic-riddled society, more convenient, Schwab said, buying food from local growers provides more variety as well. Out-of-season fruits and vegetables are shipped in from other places, when residents could be replacing them with alternatives. When berries are out of season in the colder months, apples and different types of squash can be given a chance to shine at the table.
“I’m amazed at the seasonal things,” Schwab said. “We’re out of sync with what grows when. We get the same things every time we go to the grocery store. Once people see that, they appreciate it. They won’t have to rely on those same things.”
Illuminate currently delivers to Maplewood, South Orange, Millburn, Montclair, Bloomfield, West Orange, Livingston, Summit, Jersey City, Chatham and Madison. More information, including how to sign up, can be found at www.illuminate-food.com.
“I’m certainly not the only one,” Schwab said about the food delivery service. “There should be more, it’s just about connecting them to the more densely populated areas. I absolutely hope to see it grow. It’s not just about convenience, it’s the why.”
Photos Courtesy of Danielle Schwab