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Former Malibuite teaches food literacy with farm boxes

Pictured is one of Jennifer Piette’s Out of the Box Collective’s farm boxes.
Ashleigh Fryer, Senior Editor
1:31 pm PDT September 11, 2014

Jennifer Piette’s 11-year-old daughter hunted around the kitchen in search of an after-school snack. There wasn’t a potato chip or cookie to be found. 

“She said, ‘I want chicken fingers,’” Piette recalled, laughing.

So Piette went to her refrigerator and took out a chicken breast from a local farmer in Santa Ynez. Then she walked over to her pantry and pulled out a bag of Sonora Wheat flour grown in Hollister, California, a dozen eggs from Dare 2 Dream Farms in Lompoc, California and a crusted loaf of artisan bread. 

“We went through the process together — first the egg, then flour, then the bread crumbs,” Piette said. “She made them herself and I know that’s imprinted on her now. That’s how you develop food literacy.”

The chicken fingers Piette and her daughter made together were far from the fast food variety. As the founder of the Out of the Box Collective, a sustainable, local food distribution service, each item included in their simple dish was one that met a few basic but crucial requirements — freshness, vibrance and proximity.

“It’s quite an exciting time for this kind of food revolution, because it’s more viable than it was when people were beginning to try it 10 or 15 years ago,” Piette said. “People have a passion for local, quality ingredients. People have a passion for the art of cooking. But the challenge is getting them to move away from just looking at it and move toward engaging in it and trying it for themselves.”

Although Piette had made a tentative business plan for a company that would create and deliver farm boxes while she was living abroad in England with her family, it wasn’t until the family moved to Malibu in 2008 that the wheels really began turning.  

“I started to discover the farmer’s markets out here and the whole food movement that was coming about,” Piette said. “So I had this sort of epiphany: what would it look like if one outlet covered all the bases for all your food needs and all the products were sourced locally? And I was suddenly in this great climate that was perfect for agriculture year round.”

By the summer of 2010, Piette had started delivering her first round of weekly farm boxes filled with fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy in sizes that accommodate up to five people. Now Piette said she’s delivering more than 100 boxes per week to Malibu and other surrounding areas, and has even teamed up with Amazon Fresh, a move which she says has increased her reach considerably. Customers are able to choose from a wide variety of pre-arranged boxes — which include meal plans and recipes — or customize their own box to their specific needs. 

The unifying factor in all of the ingredients, though, is to bring her customers closer to the source of their food. 

“Having lived in Europe for so many years, the people there have a much closer relationship to their food traditions and culture, which comes from their relationships with the land and the seasons,” Piette said. “In this country, that relationship has been taken over by a supermarket culture and people have lost touch with that. It’s a loss of food identity and a loss of the kinds of skills relating to food that, traditionally, had been passed down through families.” 

With her farm boxes and the other things that she has integrated into the Out of the Box Collective — including the company’s own online magazine, “Forage and Pasture” — Piette hopes to, among other things, create a greater sense of food identity in children and young adults.

“A lot of people are afraid in the kitchen because they have no idea what to do — kids graduate college and still don’t know how to cook anything,” Piette said. “We need to take a step away thinking of cooking as a chore.”

Along with the basic ingredients offered in Piette’s farm boxes, customers also have access to local vintners, cheesemakers and other artisans through the Out of the Box Collective. The majority of the products used in the farm boxes are sourced from Santa Barbara area farms, where Piette hand picks items at the city’s weekly farmer’s market. Other items come from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, and all of the artisans are Los Angeles-based, including Malibu’s own Malibu Honey.

“Good food can be simple — these ingredients speak for themselves,” Piette said. “We want to get people excited to get back into the kitchen.” 

Farm boxes can be delivered to the Malibu area on Wednesday mornings and range in price from $34-$215.

For more information on the Out of the Box Collective, visit http://outofbox.deliverybizpro.com/home.php.