By Laura Edwards-Orr, Executive Director
When I applied for the job of Marketing Associate at Red Tomato, I was drawn to the tangible nature of the organization. My background was in working with farmers in moments of crisis as staff for Farm Aid’s national hotline, and in national promotion of the benefits of good food. I was ready to roll up my sleeves and break a sweat over the details of food systems change in a more intimate way. At Red Tomato there were nuts and bolts to be examined – actual cases, dollars and pounds to be sold. A real thermometer to track progress towards systems change. I wanted in.
Seeing the RT team in action surpassed my expectations. “I think I could work at Red Tomato forever,” I said to my then fiancé Vance, two weeks into my Tomato tenure. It was strawberry season, a delicious and perilous way to kick off the trade season. Despite the chaos, the staff came together each day to review strawberry logistics. It was the first time I witnessed Angel Mendez at work. He outlined his plan: ready-to eat strawberries from 2-3 farms were booked to ride on a three-legged logistical journey, alongside romaine hearts, directly to dozens of stores by way of a sprout truck. It was a quality-intensive and cost-effective logistics solution for an incredibly perishable product. AKA magic. Honest-to-goodness food systems magic. I was hooked.
The years flew by. As many do in small organizations, I acquired new responsibilities ranging from strategic planning, fundraising and sales. When Michael asked me if I would consider taking over the role of Executive Director, I was struck simultaneously by excitement and overwhelm. We talked about the critical role Angel would play as the Director of Operations through the transition. We talked a bit about process – a multi-year implementation plan in partnership with our Management Team, Board of Trustees and some trusted external advisors. And, I went home to perform the 24-hour test. Upon waking, all of the doubts and details fell away. There could be no better opportunity to play a critical role in the evolution of the regional food system than at the helm of Red Tomato. It was time to double down.
My first initiative as Executive Director will be to lead our team through the process of writing a new strategic plan to take us into the 2020’s. As I look out over the next five years, I see increasing competition in several directions: for the supply of local product; for retail market-share in an ever price sensitive climate; and between the need for better returns to farmers and widespread food insecurity. I see the Good Food Movement struggling to understand its role in the national conversation on race and equity. These aren’t simple times. In fact, many of these challenges are downright daunting.
But, I believe in Red Tomato’s ability to ask difficult questions, think outside the box and innovate towards a more sustainable food system and a better future. I am tremendously excited to work in partnership with Michael, Angel and the entire team as we explore and define our new roles. Most of all, I am humbled and honored by the opportunity to play a leadership role at this unique organization.
My thanks to all of you – your support and commitment to Red Tomato over the years has given us the support and security to take risks, learn, document, revise and repeat. Over and over again. Together, we are righteous produce.