Words by Elise Miklich; photos by Mike Martinez
The asphalt outside the Public Market entrance on Railroad Street is warm from soaking in the last of the day’s sunlight, and the street is relatively empty aside from a man sitting on a wooden stool outside an unmarked auto shop. He is slightly hunched, holding a damp dishtowel in his hand to mop a glistening brow.
“Who’re you looking for?” he asks, rising from his seat.
I’m here to write a story on Bluebird Harvest, I say, pointing to the company’s vinyl banner hanging over a neighboring door, and I’m a bit early for my interview with one of the owners, Mike Wilson.
“Ah, Mike!” he exclaims, before I can finish bragging about my rare display of punctuality. “Yeah, yeah, Mike. He’s not here, but if he told you he’d be here, then he’ll be here.”
I turn to retreat to my air-conditioned car, and Mike Wilson – entrepreneur and co-owner of Bluebird Harvest – pulls up. As we meet at the warehouse door, the man from the auto shop shouts to Wilson.
“Hey Mike! You got any grapes today?”
“Grapes? We sold through what we had this week,” Wilson says apologetically. “Check back next week, or I’ll try to bring some over.”
Wilson waves to a few more passersby, adding a quick ‘hello,’ and comments on the progress of the adjacent construction that will soon be home to Glen Edith Coffee’s Boxcar Donuts shop. Wilson’s business partner and company president, Matt Dunn, joins soon after.
This warehouse on 106 Railroad Street is home to Bluebird Harvest, a produce delivery company started by Wilson. The company’s name, inspired by the state bird, is a tribute to New York State farmers and the fertile crops they harvest. BBH’s goal is to make fresh produce affordable and available to those in the Rochester community. The product they offer, dubbed a Harvest Box, is similar to a subscription box: but it’s filled with an ever-changing assortment of local fruits and vegetables.
When his coworkers at the Rochester Regional Health System were seeking a more affordable, convenient way to shop for healthy foods, Wilson, 26, saw an opportunity. He took his time letting the idea grow, discussing it often with those close to him.
“I had so much support from the people around me,” he says, “but it still took about three years to get where we are now.”
During those years, Wilson began to collaborate with a high school friend, Matt Dunn, also 26, who had recently graduated from St. John Fisher College with an MBA. When the idea of an official joint effort was inevitably extended, Dunn accepted, making Bluebird Harvest a business partnership between the two friends. Beginning with a pop-up market outside of the Riedman Campus Wellness Center, Wilson and Dunn began to bring quality, affordable produce directly to the people.
Since then, BBH has established an aggressive business plan and began taking orders for their first Harvest Box deliveries in July. The company offers their produce delivery with no hidden costs, no contracts, and even the ability to put a scheduled delivery on hold. All of this for $10 cheaper than larger leading grocery stores (they showed me side-by-side receipts to prove it). How the pair was both willing and able to provide so much extra value for what is, in essence, a fruit basket became apparent after chatting with them.
“I don’t put the bad peach at the bottom of the basket so you’ll come back to me,” says Wilson. “I’m the guy who will offer to drive out to your house just so you can exchange it.”
Dunn adds that not everyone has the time or ability to get to the grocery store often. Cue BBH’s delivery service model, which spans from Brockport to Williamson and as far south as Honeoye Falls. (You can find the complete list of zip codes that BBH services here.)
Bluebird Harvest only sees continued growth in their future. Goals like partnering with corporate and commercial businesses, broadening their delivery routes, and over time, extending Harvest Boxes to those who utilize EBT are all in the works.
For now, you can find Wilson and Dunn filling orders at their warehouse on Railroad Street or working their booth at the Public Market each Saturday morning.
As I depart, Wilson tosses me a gorgeously green Granny Smith apple from a crate out back. It is a gesture of kindness that stays with me as I step out of the warehouse and back onto Railroad Street.