Dinner from a vending machine usually evokes images of chips, cookies, frozen burritos, and other junk food. But if Farmer's Fridge has its way, meals from a vending machine could mean organic meats and cheeses and healthy salads full of locally grown veggies, fruit, beans, and seeds.
The Farmer's Fridge vending machines offer a selection of salads, including Antioxidant, High Protein, Detox, Thai, Mediterranean, North Napa, and more. The salads, with dressing included, are presented layered in BPA- and phthalate-free plastic jars. Smaller jars of organic meats -- such as lemon pepper chicken, tuna salad, lemon tofu, and salmon salad -- are sold separately.
"We like to think of our salads as a sort of edible vitamin -- a delicious vitamin you eat with a fork from a jar," Farmer's Fridge posted on its Web site. "We research which ingredients promote the health benefits we want from each recipe, then mix and match textures and tastes until we find the salad sweet spot. We do it all while still keeping everything affordable and reasonably low in calories. And since our salads come raw, and unprocessed, they keep all the fiber and nutrients that other foods sometimes have had pulverized out of them."
In addition to meal-size salads, Farmer's Fridge offers snacks, including Greek yogurt with berries, sliced vegetables with hummus, sliced apples with almond butter, cauliflower fried rice, Farmer's Salad with cottage cheese, and more.
"The way I look at it, we are not offering healthy vending machine meals," Farmer's Fridge founder and chef Luke Saunders told Crave. "We are offering healthy, fast casual dining. It just happens to be in a vending machine. The importance of offering healthy food this way is that it makes it more accessible to people, and hopefully that helps them live a happier, healthier life."
Farmer's Fridge is in three locations in Chicago, with 20 more opening next month.
"We compete with restaurants in a food court, and people choose us because we have the best quality," Saunders said. "We don't call our machine a vending machine because that would be insulting to our food; instead, we prefer to call it a 'veggie machine.'"
The "veggie machine" kiosk isn't just full of nutritious meals; it's also environmentally friendly. The kiosk is made from reclaimed barn wood (provided by Modern Urban Woods of West Chicago) and other recycled materials. All of the bags, utensils, salad dressing containers, and packaging for the utensils are biodegradable, corn-based PLA packaging. The napkins are made from 100 percent recycled paper.
Each kiosk is unique and user-friendly, featuring touch screens, bar code scanners for coupons, and e-mail receipts. Power consumption for each machine is less than $10 worth of electricity a month.
Farmer's Fridge makes fresh salads daily in a fully licensed kitchen and then delivers to the kiosks in the morning. It discounts any unsold salads in the evening and removes the unsold salads, which then are donated to a local food bank.
Hopefully, Farmer's Fridge kiosks will start popping up in other cities. In the meantime, the Farmer's Fridge Web site has a Kiosk Request Form for those interested in seeing a "veggie machine" crop up in their neighborhood.