A Retail Spin on the Food-Truck Model

A 21st Century Farm Stand

There are food trucks and then there are food trucks. Holton Farms, an eighth-generation spread that produces everything from herbs to lamb to eggs in Westminster, Vt., has started what is essentially a farm stand on wheels--a 21st century strategy for catering to urban clients without being limited to competing in a crowded Greenmarket. 

The white truck with bucolic barn scenes painted on the sides is out seven days a week in New York City through November, having just acquired a permit to sell retail. It began by delivering ordered produce and has expanded to sell produce on the spot as well as items such as maple syrup and coffee--"Anything you could find at a farmers market in one place," says Bradley Fleming, one of the young team members helping to run the truck. (Members have no titles, he proudly notes.) 

The farm has been in the same family since the 1700s. But the latest generation--Seth Holton, who took over from his father, and Jurrien Swarts, a cousin who grew up on the farm--decided to go mobile to expand sales beyond local farm stands and restaurants and specialty shops. Their mobile mission is heavily philanthropic, too: Swarts left a finance job in July, wanting to service "food deserts," parts of the city without access to great fresh produce.

The pair partnered with other local farms to source meats, dairy and prepared products like sauerkraut, and found the truck on eBay in Connecticut. Fleming painted the inside. A stereo system to play reggae was installed to add a good vibe, and a small walk-in refrigerator was built in. All told, Fleming says, it cost more than $15,000 to turn the truck into a store on wheels.  

A truck permit and mobile vendor permit were also acquired, the latter with great difficulty because so few food permits are available. The truck parks outside residential buildings in Battery Park City and the Upper West Side as well as on Roosevelt Island, but it travels to office buildings as well, sending to its fans via Twitter information on its location and stock. 

Swarts says this pilot season has been rough, given that one $150 parking ticket can eat a day's profits. But considering "there are so many things going on with a startup, I'm happy, our investor is happy." --R.S.

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Regina Schrambling is a writer in New York City.

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This article was originally published in the November 2010 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Four Wheels and Style to Burn.

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