Randall Dietel bikes up to the Mill City Farmers Market in a rush. His workday for Velo Veggies has started later than he likes — though it’s not yet even 9 a.m. on a Saturday, a time many reserve for sleeping in or sipping coffee at home.
Dietel hops off his sturdy commuter bike, takes the produce box from his rack and heads into the market clutching a shopping list. The items he quickly scoops up — spring onions, garlic scapes, lettuce, snap peas and parsley — will soon be delivered to a customer who placed an order through Velo Veggies, the business Dietel started this spring.
“I just love riding, especially in Minneapolis. I think it’s the easiest place to get around,” said Dietel, 25. “I wanted to start delivering something on my bike, and I decided to start with vegetables — because local food is really good in this town, too.”
Phone: 612-321-VELO (8356)
Besides delivering boxes of produce from the farmers market, Dietel picks up his customers’ Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares from places like the Seward Co-op and takes them to their homes. He has a large Bikes at Work flatbed trailer he busts out for big deliveries, and a set of recycled freezer packs he uses to keep his clients’ edibles cool.
Though he only had this one box of market produce to deliver this morning, he’s optimistic that the repuation of his good service and sustainable mission will spread.
“Slowly but surely stuff comes together,” he said. “You can’t rush anything.”
An established tradition
With his Velo Veggies, Dietel joins other hardy souls here who make a living through bike deliveries. Besides being home to a large bike messenger community, the Twin Cities hosts Peace Coffee, which employs two full-time bike delivery people year-round.
While the roaster does do some deliveries by biodiesel-powered vans, the vast majority of its wholesale shipments in the metro area happen by bike, Project Manager Anna Canning said. Peace Coffee is conveniently located off the Greenway, and its tough-bodied bikers hop on the path pulling custom Bikes at Work trailers that hold 350 pounds of beans.
“You picture somebody with a messenger bag and few beans in the back, but it’s not like that,” Canning said. “They have often told stories of how they get passed by squirrels — but they get there.”
Their longest bike deliveries are about 17 miles round-trip, and it often proves more efficient than using a van. Bikers don’t have to worry about getting stuck in freeway traffic jams or running into parking hassles, she said.
Back in the 1980s and before Peace Coffee took to the streets, anti-war activist and book distributor Don Olson used a plain 10-speed to deliver radical reading materials.
“I would box them up and get them three stacks high and pedal off to bookstores and co-ops,” said Olson, 66.
His business, Don Olson Distribution, eventually grew to the point where bike delivery — or bus delivery, his choice during inclement weather — became untenable. But Olson fondly remembers his bike delivery days as ones where he was in very good shape.
“It’s a satisfying way of doing things,” he said. “It can fit you at a certain time of life.”
Peace Coffee’s bike delivery service, like the company as a whole, tends to attract younger employees, Canning said.
“It takes a certain young enthusiasm,” she said, “to be want to be outside eight hours a day regardless of the weather.”
A successful delivery down
With a wiry frame and organic food-fueled energy to spare, Dietel seems equipped with that “certain young enthusiasm” sported by his Peace Coffee peers.
With his full veggie box now back on his rack, Dietel speeds toward his client’s south Minneapolis residence. Along the way, he talks about the CSA deliveries he’ll do that afternoon, as well as his long-term plans to start a compost pick-up service similar to a pilot project recently started in St. Paul.
He soon reaches the home of first-time customer Catherine Campion, a Los Angeles resident who spends summers here.
He climbs the steps to the front door and knocks several times before the actress, who looks as if she’s just woken from a deep sleep, finally emerges.
Campion’s eyes light up as she opens the box, removes a bunch of curly parsley and samples its fresh green leaves.
“I just buy food, as opposed to boxes and cans of things,” said the vegetarian, who was happy to stay home relaxing while Dietel fetched the fodder for her late-morning brunch.
Dietel was raised on the whole foods of his grandparents’ small family farms. While he regrets that those farms are now gone, Velo Veggies allows him to carry on their spirit in the big city.
“With this new business, it’s easier for me to get real food on family tables,” he said. “And at the same time, I get to ride my bike.”
Catherine Campion, above, enjoys her fresh local parsley.