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Fresh From D'Vine feeds Silicon Valley corporations

Frank Devine is all about high-tech and biotech.

Though he won?t be found in an office cubicle, denizens of Silicon Valley's corporate culture may have him to thank the next time they bite into a piece of fresh produce at work on their lunch hour.

Four years ago, Mr. Devine, who is based in Spreckels, CA, launched Fresh From D'Vine, a business that contracts with corporations to run a farmers? market on their premises. What started as a one-person operation four years ago has grown to include six seasonal employees who run four to six farmers? markets a day in season " May 1 to Nov. 1 " in the Silicon Valley.

In its early days, Fresh From D'Vine delivered boxes of mixed produce to customers in the Silicon Valley, Monterey Peninsula and Salinas area. But that business has largely given way to the corporate farmers? markets.

The 30-year-old Mr. Devine has landed accounts with such Silicon Valley heavy hitters as Cisco Systems, eBay, Intel, AOL, Genentech and Roche Biosciences. The companies don?t pay a fee to Fresh From D'Vine, nor does Fresh From D'Vine pay a fee to peddle its wares. But that may be changing.

For 2005, Mr. Devine is exploring charging a fee to the corporations for his farmers? market. "I hold all the risk at the market," he said, adding that it has happened before that a company?s employees have been away en masse the same day that Fresh From D'Vine " with no advance warning " has set up its farmers? market.

In such instances, Mr. Devine incurred the cost of sending produce, a truck and an employee to run the farmers market, only to find few available customers. "I can't keep the stuff and sell it tomorrow," Mr. Devine said. He can keep items such as potatoes and stone fruit, but the rest he donates to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Silicon Valley.

Fresh From D'Vine's mix is about a 50-50 split between organic and conventionally grown produce, Mr. Devine said.

To date, Fresh From D'Vine's busiest year was 2003 with 26 corporate accounts.

"In some instances, the more successful the business, the more successful the [farmers] market," Mr. Devine said.

A recent issue of Fortune magazine listed the top 100 businesses to work for, and four of those companies use Fresh From D'Vine's service. Adobe Systems gave a plug to the farmers market it offers for its employees, but didn?t mention Fresh From D?Vine by name, Mr. Devine said.

Mr. Devine said he'd like to get to a point where he's supplying corporate cafeterias with fresh produce and sees possibilities of wholesaling with farm-direct fresh produce.

Mr. Devine works mostly with small growers in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties as well as a few farmers in Brentwood who grow grapes and stone fruit. Fresh From D'Vine also supplies fresh herbs to high-end hotels, such as the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

"I like what I do, I'm proud of what we've accomplished," Mr. Devine said. "My favorite things are working with growers and working at the markets. I like seeing the reaction of customers."

Mr. Devine grew up on a sheep farm in Petaluma, CA. His sister works in the produce industry for a Santa Maria, CA-based headhunter.

Mr. Devine is chairman of the Central Coast Young Farmers & Ranchers and an alumnus of Leadership Salinas Valley. He is a 1998 graduate of California Polytechnic Institute at San Luis Obispo, where he studied crop science and agribusiness. For his senior project he helped create a farm stand with Crown Packing in Salinas. "The Farm," as it is known, is still in business today.