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North Carolina Online Food Hub Grows, Matches Sustainability and Profitability

Richard Holcomb and Jamie DeMent, co-owners of Bella Bean Organics, are shown with products from Bella Bean Organics and Coon Rock Farm. Photo courtesy of Cheryl DeMent

Richard Holcomb and Jamie DeMent, co-owners of Bella Bean Organics, are shown with products from Bella Bean Organics and Coon Rock Farm. Photo courtesy of Cheryl DeMent

Durham, North Carolina-based Bella Bean Organics specializes in fresh, locally-grown, sustainable and organic food via an online farmers' market and food hub. The company recently expanded its operations, and is now extending deliveries to customers throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Owned by entrepreneurial farmers Richard Holcomb and Jamie DeMent, Bella Bean Organics supplies its customers with produce, meats, eggs and artisan specialty foods. The duo also owns Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough, North Carolina. The 55-acre farm supplies produce, meat and eggs to Bella Bean, in addition to more than 500 CSA customers, 5 farmers' markets and Piedmont, Holcomb and DeMent's farm-to-table restaurant in downtown Durham.

According to Holcomb, the extension of his company's geographical reach was simply a response to demand for quality food.

"There's a real demand for sustainable, farm-grown food that's also convenient, so extending our service throughout the region is a natural step," says Holcomb.

Holcomb believes there is a general trend toward healthy eating, and that more and more people are becoming converts to locally-produced, sustainable food.

Coon Rock Farm is not the sole supplier for Bella Bean Organics. Approximately 50 local farms are part of the company's network of suppliers, and provide a wide diversity of products, including African collards, oak-grown shiitake mushrooms, bacon, grass-fed beef, heirloom turkeys, sustainably-caught seafood, rbGH-free milk and more. In all, Bella Bean Organics sells over 1,000 products.

"Our goal is to offer such a well-rounded selection, so that you really can do all of your weekly grocery shopping with Bella Bean Organics," says DeMent.

"We're fortunate to have so many small and specialized growers and artisans to work with in North Carolina?from the Piedmont to the mountains and the coast." says Holcomb. "We're able to offer an extensive selection in every category to fulfill customers' needs."

Holcomb says that Bella Bean's proximity to three major research universities (Duke University, University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University), as well as the Research Triangle, has helped fuel local demand and overall interest in locally-produced food.

"Many of our customers are wealthy and highly educated," he says. "Many of our producers are former professors who shifted their career focus."

After four successful years, Holcomb and DeMent saw the need to start a separate business with a national target market. As a result, they recently launched Heirloom Provisions, part of Bella Bean Organics. DeMent says despite desires to keep Bella Bean local, customers from all over the U.S. contacted them, wanting orders shipped.  Heirloom Provisions ships largely the same products that Bella Bean carries, with the exception of fresh produce.

While Bella Bean Organics now caters to a national customer base, DeMent and Holcomb embrace the company's southern roots and are champions of southern food artisans. Through Bella Bean, they sell small-scale items such as farmstead cheeses from Chapel Hill, mustard from Asheville, pasta from Durham and chocolate from Raleigh. They also sell heirloom grains and locally roasted coffee and tea harvested in South Carolina.

Because of robust demand, Bella Bean Organics has not only grown, but consistently turns a profit. Holcomb does not equate profitability with sustainability, but knows that sustainability requires running in the black.

"Success means sustainability and profitability," he says.