DINUBA, Calif. â The longtime dream is beginning to take shape. A fleet of refrigerated delivery trucks â each emblazoned with a Fruit Fairy Delivers logo and loaded with fresh organic produce â rolls out of a Dinuba packinghouse headed to homes and delivery centers throughout the San Joaquin Valley and beyond.
Thatâs the vision Debi Qualls has been nurturing for several years, and she hopes it will be reality in five years. The vision is already gaining form.
| Don Schrack
Mike Naylor, owner of Naylor Organic Farms, Dinuba, Calif., checks the maturity of his nectarine crop. Naylor, an organic grower for 25 years, is a supplier of peaches and nectarines for Fruit Fairy Delivers.
Fruit Fairy Delivers began operating in May and it has customers from Fresno, south to metropolitan Los Angeles.
It would not have happened without the prodding of her mentor, Mike Naylor.
Qualls worked through college as an inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After graduating, she was a quality control inspector of imported produce for Giumarra Bros. Fruit Co. Inc., Los Angeles. Then, it was six years in marketing â mostly to customers in Asia â with Primavera Marketing Inc., Linden, until illness forced her to abandon her career, and her dream, temporarily.
âI missed the selling. I missed the person-to-person contact,â she said.
Qualls telephoned Naylor, a grower of organic peaches and nectarines for 25 years. Among his long-term customers, he said, is Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Markets Inc. Qualls proposed taking some of the volume from his 95 acres to farmers markets â and eventually creating Fruit Fairy Delivers. He put her to work on the spot.
In short order, Qualls and Naylor were forced to add employees as they grew to seven-days-a-week appearances at nearly 20 farmers markets in Southern California. The Naylor Organics label has become a favorite among shoppers at the farmers markets because the fruit has outstanding flavor, Qualls said. A case in point, she said, came as she was setting up early one recent morning and the company banners had not yet been hung.
âI knew it was you as soon as I tasted the sample,â a woman shopper told her, Qualls said.
Fruit Fairy Delivers finally emerged when Naylor gave Qualls a âno time like the presentâ lecture early this year. But there was a caveat.
âIf you canât deliver an exceptional product, donât deliver,â Naylor warned.
Fruit Fairy Delivers operates weekdays and offers commodities that are in season, Qualls said. Organic green beans, snow peas, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, several varieties of squash and satsumas from valley growers have been added to the inventory.
Ordering and paying is done online, Qualls said, and acceptance has come quickly. Deliveries are going to homes and offices from greater Fresno south to Visalia, Bakersfield, Mettler and Frazier Park, more than 125 miles from Dinuba, she said.
âHome and office deliveries go to a different breed of shoppers,â Naylor said.
They are often professionals whose jobs require them to work many hours and prevent them from visiting farmers markets, he said, while others are homebound because of disabilities or long-term illness.
Neither Qualls nor Naylor was willing to discuss volume.
âWe sell enough to make some money, but not enough to make us rich,â Naylor said.
Another dimension of Fruit Fairy Delivers targets youth. Qualls said she is working with schools and church affiliated groups to set up regional distribution centers and to help teach respect and responsibility. By partnering with her company, the young people are able to provide a service to their communities and to earn commissions for their efforts, she said.
Fruit Fairy Delivers has attracted a partner in the G2 Gallery in the Los Angeles suburb of Venice. The gallery, which bills itself as a supporter of art and the environment, serves as a Southern California delivery center for the west Los Angeles area.
To further complicate an already busy life, Qualls has leased 15 acres of peaches, plums, watermelons and mandarins. Acquiring another 17 acres of mandarins, table grapes, cherries and apriums is in the works, she said.
âIf you love what you do, you will always do it well,â Qualls said. âAnd we love what we do.â