Local Roots supports mingling, but its founder loves her quiet time

April 29th, 2019  |  Published in New York Sits Down to Dinner 2019, Uncategorized

Wen-Jay Ying founded Local Roots in 2011 to bring a “social element” to what she considered the “boring business strategy” of CSAs. Photo: We Are Bird.

It’s just before 5:00 and in around a half hour, subscribers will come shuffling into various bars and coffee shops across Manhattan and Brooklyn—not for a drink or cup of coffee but for produce from the NYC-based CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Local Roots.

Wen-Jay Ying, the owner of Local Roots, sits alone in a back corner of the bar 61 Local, grazing on a homemade dinner of ground pork marinated in pineapple vinegar alongside fresh sweet potatoes, carrots, and hydroponic lettuce. The 34-year-old Garden City native has spent the day coordinating with markets, visiting farmers, and handling the data of their weekly shipments. Her work life is built on friendly relationships she’s made with bar owners and farmers who help let Local Roots thrive in Manhattan and Brooklyn – but sometimes she needs to check out for a few minutes.

“I think it’s okay to have a meal by yourself and be alone with your thoughts. Sometimes it’s good for business strategy and if not it’s just good to have a little bit of time to sit and unwind by yourself,” said Ying. “Heck, sometimes I might even run errands while I eat. If I have to go home to Long Island then my main meal of the day might be consumed while I’m sitting in my car on the Belt Parkway.”

When Local Roots was established in 2011, Ying’s idea was to give the CSA’s subscribers the opportunity to collect their weekly meat and produce in a social place like a bar, coffee shop, or wine store which would allow them to interact.

“I had worked for a non-profit that was helping to build informational resources for CSAs and I really enjoyed the grassroots style of the markets, but I wanted CSAs to have a more vibrant and social vibe. So, I knew I could make the business different by making it fun,” said Ying. “The idea is you come and pick up your meat, eggs, and veggies and then you can chill and sit and have a drink or coffee and talk to us about what’s going on and what products we have. I believe it is incredibly relaxing for everyone.”

Currently, the CSA has 14 collection points across Manhattan and Brooklyn. There’s the CrossFit gym at Lincoln Center where dozens of exercise enthusiasts grab fresh eggs, pork, and turnips upon completion of their deadlifts, there’s the Coffee Roasters located in Gramercy where couples will sit down for a quick latte or Americano after picking up their tomatoes and shitake mushrooms, and there’s agastro pub in Boerum Hill, where subscribers enjoy a pint after finishing up a conversation with Ying about seasonal produce.

Local Roots employee’s like Zoni Rockoff (center) have embraced Ying’s model. Photo: Julian Coltre.

Local Roots’ employees like Ying’s social approach as well.

“I’m in law school and working all day, so having the opportunity to come to a bar to manage the market is such a welcome release from routine,” said Zoni Rockoff, a market leader at several locations, who is in charge of distributing the food to Local Root’s subscribers. “I’ve been doing this on and off for a number of years and it’s honestly the best part of my week. It’s just great local food.”

Ying credits her relationship with farmers, “the real shareholders,” for the CSA’s success.

We have relationships with farms in Upstate NY, Pennsylvania, and Brooklyn. It’s a big undertaking for these farmers to trust me and know I’m going to treat them right,” she said. “I really have to give them my word and if I screw up that will impact our relationship. I spend a lot of my free time talking to our farms, visiting the farms, seeing the product. I feel like the respect I’ve given them is the reason we’ve had success. I treat them as my equal.”

Ying credits the “shareholder” relationship she’s cultivated with the farmers who supply to Local Roots as one of the reasons for its success.
Photo: Local Roots.

So she sits at a bar which in a half hour will be filled with the subscribers she loves, just waiting for conversation. The ground pork in the dinner she cooked this morning and brought from home is from Stryker farms, one of local roots’ meat providers, as arethe sweet potatoes and hydroponic lettuce. That’s when the realization comes. Even with Ying is getting her alone time, she isn’t really cut off from work.

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