By Jamie Lynn Connors
Do you feel like your quarantine diet has been missing farm-grown blackberries and raspberries from New Jersey, eggplant and green kale from Pennsylvania, and tomatoes from Delaware?
Danielle Schwab has felt that way, too.
For the past three years, Schwab, 32, has been fascinated by agriculture and farming practices. After extensive reading, research and visits to farms across the country, she started her own small business.
As the pandemic lockdown took hold in early March, Schwab created Illuminate Food, a delivery service for freshly-grown produce.
This produce is organized in a Farm Box, with weekly specials for about $75. Items typically include cheese or yogurt, eggs, fresh bread, seasonal fruits and vegetables, grains, and something from a featured local maker. Dairy-free options are available.
Home delivery is available every Wednesday to Chatham, Madison, Montclair and Summit. Schwab is extending this service to Morristown on July 22, 2020.
“The Garden State is the Garden State for a reason, and I think people in New Jersey forget it,” the Maplewood native said.
As the face of the small business, Schwab sees herself as a liaison between farmers and consumers.
Farming “is an extremely difficult job and beyond a full-time job. So what happens is, most farmers spend their time on their land, and there’s no time for them to speak and connect with consumers about what they do,” she explained.
“For me, it’s just creating a new market, to have another way to get that local food directly to people.”
Schwab said she hopes the pandemic encourages a transition from cheap food to locally grown food.
“It’s really easy to want to go for that really cheap produce or those really cheap processed goods, but there is a cost…to your health,” she said. “Cheap food is cheap for a reason.”
To further connect people with produce, Schwab has created a Facebook group for fellow farm-lovers to share products and recipes. Upon purchasing a Farm Box, customers are granted access to the group.
Following her grandmother’s mantra, “Life is with people,” she said her favorite part of the job is connecting with others.
“I really love fostering communities for people. Historically people have always connected over food, and this is a great business to be in because as we learned during the pandemic, the one thing people need is food, and it’s a great thing to bring people together,” said Schwab, who majored in political studies at Bard College and earned a master’s degree in economics from Johns Hopkins University.
Although her business still is in its early stages, Schwab plans on expanding her delivery service and contributing more to the farming community.
The Black Lives Matter movement also has inspired her to seek ways to make these products more accessible to low-income families, and to increase diversity in farming.
“People are working on these issues every day, so over time I would like to do my part and…aid the larger food system change that needs to happen.”