As an Alabamian, it’s nothing new for me to be surrounded by bucolic landscapes (I literally used to live across the street from a cow pasture). It’s one of the things that made it easier for me to transition to the Saratoga area, specifically Wilton, which, when I first looked it up on my GPS, looked like it might as well be part of Canada. Surrounded by woods, wild critters, farms and cow pastures, I feel at home here. Just as in Alabama, Upstate New York has its fair share of pick-your-own farms, apple orchards and CSAs (farmer-to-consumer services), and just outside of Saratoga, 9 Miles East Farm has gotten creative with how it’s offering its produce to the Capital Region and beyond.
Just (you guessed it!) nine miles east of Saratoga in the town of Northumberland, 9 Miles East has been breaking ground with its diversified farm and food business. “We don’t want healthy food to be a luxury product. I can put a healthy vegan meal in anyone’s hands for $8.41,” says Gordon Sacks Founder and CEO of 9 Miles East. Established in 2004 by Sacks and his wife, Mary, what sets 9 Miles East apart from your average farm-to-front-door-business is that it has hybridized the CSA model with that of fast-food delivery. By utilizing a commercial kitchen, 9 Miles East can offer, instead of boxes of raw food, prepared meals with high-quality ingredients sourced directly from its own farm or from partner providers. “What we’re trying to do is make the healthy option the easy option,” says Sacks. “Usually it doesn’t work that way: The healthy choice is expensive and inconvenient and time consuming, because people are busy.”
But that’s slowly changing for local residents thanks to Sacks and his now 33 employees. The company has made it as easy to obtain fresh, local food at an affordable price as it is to get greasy, fattening takeout. 9 Miles East doesn’t just pick and bring the fresh food to your door; they also prepare and cook it into delicious meals for you. And we’re talking a diverse, creative menu, including everything from Thai green curry over whole-grain rice and watermelon gazpacho (both currently available) to the ever popular and refreshingly delicious GO Boxes, ready-to-eat meals that can be ordered vegan, vegetarian or with chicken or paleo options. GO Boxes also include international fare such as Vietnamese or Irish food, and you can order them for delivery or even pick them up at local YMCAs (I’ll get to that in a minute). At around $9 a box, Sacks tells me that they sell thousands on a weekly basis. The company even has its own farm-fresh, home-delivered pizzas with locally sourced ingredients. (Take that, Pizza Hut!) “You could also just order a bag of cucumbers from our farm,” adds Sacks. “Or a zucchini basil soup made with ingredients from our farm.” And it’s all just a phone call away.
Now, you’re most likely saying this is all fine and dandy, but 9 Miles East is probably outside of my delivery range. Think again. Unlike your average CSA food business, 9 Miles East has a wide delivery range, even making regular deliveries as far away as Boston. (They also deliver to Saratoga Springs, Troy, Delmar, Albany, Schenectady and Queensbury, as well as a number of points in between. The pizza delivery, however, has a smaller delivery radius closer to the farm: Saratoga, Wilton, Schuylerville, village of Greenwich.) “I was super surprised when I found out they delivered to Boston,” says Isabel Blumenthal, an environmental studies major at Skidmore College, interning at 9 Miles East this summer. Demand in Boston for this kind of super-fresh food delivery service more than pays for the gas and time, she says. (Presently, only Sacks makes these long drives to Boston, usually three to four times a week—though there are employees in the west Boston area who help Sacks deliver once he reaches the city.) “It’s a bigger city and the offices and workplaces in the suburbs are where 9 Miles aims to deliver meals—where there aren’t as many healthy options for food around,” Blumenthal says. As part of her internship, Blumenthal has been making food deliveries to the Saratoga and Albany area. But it’s entirely possible that a future crop of interns could be making the trip Southeast to Boston. “We’re considering putting a commissary kitchen somewhere in the Boston metro area to support the continued growth there,” says Sacks about his plans for the future.
Originally, I discovered 9 Miles East while writing about another local farm-based innovator: Saratoga Apple. As you might remember, 9 Miles East has teamed up with Saratoga Apple to offer unique pop-up dinners every weekend at their popular apple orchard just outside of Downtown Schuylerville (this weekend’s menu has a corn theme, which includes sweet corn chowder and corn tortillas, with Mexican-style vegetables and/or chicken with sweet corn salsa). As I mentioned earlier, you can pick up 9 Miles East’s GO Boxes at your local YMCA. But the Sackses take things a step further, offering workplace wellness meal programs to a host of local businesses, for those that have busy workweeks that don’t allow for time to hit the gym. 9 Miles East also creates nutrition plans for people with different health concerns (these meals are tailored to the specific needs of each patient). The company even tries to encourage the young collegiate crowd to eat local by including Skidmore in its popular Saratoga CSA each fall (it’s just $350 for three months’ worth of freshly harvested vegetables, delivered weekly). “Our mission has always been to make it easy for busy people to eat healthy, local food,” Sacks says. “I discovered you should make it really convenient and easy for people. It’s got to be the path of least resistance.” Hmm, path of least resistance you say? I think I know what I’m ordering for dinner tonight.