When 18-year-old Alexander Cymerman was a junior in high school (just last year), he competed in an entrepreneurial program called DECA. His mock business, Farm to Fork, was a middleman service between local farms and consumers, delivering fresh farm products directly to customers' doorsteps.
His business wasn't real. But when teachers at Orchard Park High School started telling him that they would subscribe to a service like that, he decided to make the business a reality.
“Have you seen the documentary ‘Food Inc.?’ ” Cymerman asked, while we met for coffee with his 17-year-old business partner Zach Graulich. The 2008 exposé about industrial farming, which he watched in health class, led Cymerman to the idea. He found the way big farms treat their livestock and harm the environment, as depicted in the documentary, to be "disgusting."
Farm to Fork Delivery is in its early stages. They have a website. They've done a few trial runs, though just to their high school. They're figuring out postal rates and logistics, the kinds of products their customers want, and how to deliver packages in the most sustainable way possible. But they are still working to get other farms on board and so far only carry White Cow Dairy products.
They're not the first farm-to-kitchen-table subscription service, and it's not all that far off from a CSA farm share yet, but they have ambitious goals of gathering more farms and more products, as well as operating all-year-round.
So far, they're toying with the idea of having a couple of different sizes and price points for subscription boxes, with options for customers to request more of a certain kind of product and less of another. They also want to use reusable packaging, like reusable bags and boxes, that the customer would ship back for the next round of groceries, sort of like how a milkman would deliver glass bottles of milk while removing the empties. They plan to do an "institution-based" delivery, primarily delivering to businesses where they have multiple customers.
The teenagers support the hypothesis that Generation Z cares a lot about sustainability and the environment.
The Harvard Public Opinion Project found that 70% of Generation Z believes climate change is a problem and 66% of them believe it is an urgent "crisis." Fifty-seven percent of 18- to 24-year-olds polled believe that protecting the environment is the most important priority for American foreign policy, compared to 43% of participants ages 25 to 29, the HPOP poll found. The L.A. Times recently reported that fashion industry leaders are changing their practices to be more inclusive, sustainable and humane, to reportedly reach out to a Generation Z consumer.
“It’s just something we need,” Cymerman said, explaining that the kind of clientele they're attracting – the type of consumer who wants to invest in a hyperlocal, 20-mile radius online farmers market subscription service – is looking for a "responsible" company, one that uses sustainable packaging.
[Related: A guide to local farm stores]
At the same time, Bloomberg reports that Generation Z is frugal, saying "they’re attracted to thrift stores, sustainable brands, and saving for a rainy day — even when they have steady jobs and rising wages," and that they're "cautious about excessive consumption."
Cymerman and Graulich may not exactly reach out to a Generation Z-aged consumer yet, as the oldest in that age bracket is currently about 23 years old (the youngest can't legally work for a few more years) and perhaps only now reaching an age where a sustainable subscription box service is within financial means. But the two men fall into Generation Z, and as business owners, it shows.
As teenagers, the two men have a lot to balance.
Cymerman graduated from Orchard Park in May and plans to work on his business while taking classes at Erie County Community College in the fall. Graulich is entering his senior year at Orchard Park and will balance the business with school, soccer and tennis.
“A lot of kids just go home and waste their time," Graulich said. "But we’re trying to be productive with our time."