The Business of Food Hubs

Red Tomato Featured in Stateline Publication

Our Director of Marketing, Sue Futrell, was featured in a recent article from Stateline, a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Sue Futrell red tomatoWhat’s more, midsize farmers are typically too large to rely on those channels alone to sell all their food, and lack the volume and distribution resources to sell at a wholesale level or on their own the way big producers can.

“From the beginning, Red Tomato’s goal was to give the farmers a place and a voice in the market,” said Susan Futrell, the hub’s marketing director…“At a certain point, you have to figure out, [how] are you going to get higher volumes of food to more people?”


Eco Apple Featured in Fruit Growers News

Eco Apple, a program of Red Tomato, was featured in the December 2016 edition of the Fruit Growers News.

Eco Apple Certified Orchard and Red TomatoProgram seeks to reward ecological practices

More than a dozen apple growers in the Northeast are using a third-party certification program called Eco Apple. Not as strict as organic certification, it’s a way for the growers to show they’re using the “most progressive and environmentally responsible growing practices for tree fruit in the Northeast,” according to Red Tomato, the Massachusetts nonprofit that manages Eco Apple. You can read more at the Fruit Growers News.


2016 Year End Reflections

As the days get shorter and our layers more numerous, the change of season helps us all look up from the day to day and reflect. We celebrate the harvest. And we prepare the soil for rest and rejuvenation. Parents often live by the mantra “the days are long but the years are short,” reminding us to keep our perspective rooted in a long view. It’s a sentiment that carries over to the seasons here at Red Tomato.

Cabbage At Plainville Farm (C) Red Tomato

 

This was a difficult one for anyone involved in agriculture in the Northeast. Warm winter temperatures followed by shocking freezes decimated the peach crop across the region. Another freeze slowed the apple crop and meant a later than average start for many of our early season fruits and vegetables. Drought forced farmers to irrigate relentlessly or plow under parched crops. There were low prices due to abundance elsewhere. We watched as a corporate merger consolidated two of the largest retail chains in our region, closing some stores and selling off others. Buyers, and the business we’ve built with them, came and went.

And yet, dry weather and controlled irrigation meant high quality and low disease on vegetable crops. Immaculate, glossy peppers and enormous heads of cauliflower flowed from farms to shelves without interruption. Sugar levels in fruit crops soared – yielding some of the best flavor in years for grapes and apples. Our first-time booth at a regional trade show generated strong interest for local and Eco certified produce from several prospective new customers. By the numbers, 2016 will be a fine year for Red Tomato – not the record-breaking season we had last year but solid results to show for the hard work of our growers and dedicated staff. These seeming contradictions offer us evidence of the strength inherent in our regional food system.

We in the Good Food Movement have achieved our successes by elevating the origins of our food, the farm and the soil, and its destination – our local shopping experience or expertly prepared meal. It makes sense to start with these most relatable touch points. But these snapshots only tell part of the story. The day to day mechanics of our regional food system remain a mystery to most. The majority of the people employed by our regional food system remain largely invisible.

In 2017, we will celebrate our 20th anniversary. In a ‘know your farmer, know your food’ decade, it’s easy to forget how much has changed over these 20 years. Not so long ago, ‘buy local’ was a new but unifying rallying cry. Years later, harvest after harvest, article after article and eventually Tweet after Tweet, ‘local and sustainably grown’ are now part of our mainstream lexicon. Red Tomato is part of a movement that has helped to make farmers more present in our grocery stores, cafeterias and kitchens than they were 20 years ago. Since our founding, our team has worked to develop relationships with people in all parts of the supply chain and it’s these relationships that allow us to build on the strengths of our local food systems, to invest today, so we can count on continuous supply tomorrow.

Behind every apple, squash or carrot are farm workers, truck drivers, mechanics, buyers, quality control inspectors, food safety managers, warehouse pickers, bookkeepers, shelf stockers, cashiers, cafeteria chefs and dishwashers. Connecting high-quality, local, safe, sustainably-produced and farm-identified produce to mainstream markets requires that each person be an expert in their field and committed to the quality of their work. These critical members of our food system who work in the background, before the sun has risen or after it sets, are often absent from our good food narrative. These are the very people who bring resilience to an incredibly complex system.

Resilience might seem like an overused word in our field. We see it so often in conference taglines and article headlines. But as we emerge from our homes to frost covered fields still dotted with brilliant color from sunflowers and zinnias; set out to plant garlic in soon-to-be freezing soil; or pack thousands of bushels of apples into controlled atmosphere storage, to emerge crunchy and sweet in June; we should never take this core concept for granted.

As part of a year long celebration of our twenty years, we will take on the challenge of making the invisible visible – sharing the depth of experience inside our regional food system. In the coming months we will launch ‘Righteous Produce: Behind the Scenes of Local’ where we will share stories and day to day local food logistics through photographs, videos, and more. In doing so, we will appreciate and honor those inspiring and enduring relationships that have helped us weather the ups and downs and make our work possible. You can follow the story through our newsletter and Facebook to be part of the celebration all year long.

Photoshoot @ Lyman Orchards (C) Red Tomato

 

Food has a unique capacity to unite people whose paths might not otherwise cross. Our work together is deeply rooted in the belief that all people deserve a seat at our communal table. Today more than ever, please join me in giving back and building increasing resilience into our regional food system. Whether it be a donation to help celebrate our twenty years, planting a cover crop on your garden or farm, or taking your own steps to honor the people who grow, harvest and deliver your local bounty, together our work will bring freshness and flavor from thriving mid-sized farms for decades to come!



Red Tomato Receives USDA Award to Innovate Local Food with Integrity

Red Tomato, a Massachusetts based non-profit local food distributor that connects mid-sized Northeast farmers to wholesale markets, has received $492,000 through the United States Department of Agriculture Local Foods Promotion Program for a 3 year project to bring increased scale and value to Northeast farmers.

USDA LFPP Local FoodAs one of 9 recipients in the Northeast, and only 3 in Massachusetts, Red Tomato will build on its 20 years of experience to develop logistical solutions that enable mid-sized farms in New England to reach local wholesale markets. In addition to logistics support, the grant will support an ambitious plan for Red Tomato – in partnership with a network of orchards and farms – to focus on collaborative solutions involving workers and farm managers through training in product quality management, communications and food safety. While these activities are not usually visible to shoppers, the grant will enable Red Tomato to provide marketing support to convey the work of everyone in the food system to the final customer.

As one of the pioneers in local food marketing and distribution, Red Tomato has always valued fairness and equity throughout our supply chains. This support will enable us to expand our services to farmers and tell those stories to people where they shop and eat every day commented Executive Director, Laura Edwards-Orr.

Over the next three years, Red Tomato will work with regional wholesale and trucking partners to innovate cost effective solutions to double the volume of local produce in their direct store delivery program, which allows Red Tomato to bring high quality local produce to mainstream shoppers at an affordable price. Work is already underway with retail partners including Hannaford Supermarkets and Whole Foods to increase trucking efficiency for farmers and develop programs that improve working conditions, pesticide management and food safety for farm workers and consumers.

Click here to learn more about the USDA Local Food Promotion Program.

Additional Media Coverage in The Packer.


Northeast Farmer Partnership Expands Production of Ecologically Grown Apples

A network of farmers dedicated to finding the most ecological way to grow fruit in the Northeast have achieved an increase of over 50% in certified Eco Apple® acres for the 2016 season. The partnership aims to provide the region’s consumers with just-picked local apples that have been grown with the health of humans and bees in mind.

Rodgers Orchard Certified Eco Apple

John Rogers, Greg Parzych and Peter Rogers

Fifteen orchards have earned Eco Apple® certification for the 2016 season, representing a combined 1436 acres, a 53% increase over previous years. “The Eco Apple program aligns with our philosophy perfectly. Our decision to expand our Eco Apple acreage to 100% of the farm reflects our desire to implement progressive growing practices on a commercial level,” noted Greg Parzych, Vice President of Rogers Orchards in Southington, CT. Rogers Orchards, founded in 1809 is one of the largest in Connecticut and a longtime participant in the program. “As stewards of the land, we strive to raise a viable and high quality crop in the most ecologically responsible way.” added Parzych.

The Eco Apple® program is a third party growing and certification program, a partnership between farmers and scientific advisors, to advance the most progressive and environmentally responsible growing practices for tree fruit in the Northeast. Orchards are certified annually by the IPM Institute of North America, based on a rigorous protocol, verified by an annual audit and regular on-farm inspections. The protocol is reviewed annually by both growers and scientists to stay abreast of current research and best practices.

Ecology-based practices benefit wild pollinators

Eco-certified orchards are also participating in a study of wild pollinators by Professor of Entomology Dr. Bryan Danforth at Cornell University. “We surveyed bees in conventional and Eco Apple® orchards and found a striking difference between the two in terms of wild bee species richness and abundance. The Eco Apple orchards host many more species and many more individual wild bees than the conventional orchards. I think the Eco Apple protocol does a very good job of protecting the beneficial insects, including pollinators.”

Apple growers in the eastern US face intense insect and disease pressures compared to the drier climates in the Pacific Northwest: more than sixty species of damaging insects, and twice as many diseases as growers in western states. While over 93% of the certified organic apples grown in the US come from eastern Washington, Eco-certified fruit offers a reliable source of sustainably grown local fruit for the Northeast.

Red Tomato, the non-profit that launched the Eco program in 2005, recently received a grant from The Cedar Tree Foundation to help analyze 11 years of pest management data from certified orchards. In partnership with the IPM Institute of North America, analysis of the data will provide insights into advances in orchard management practices, trends in pesticide usage, and pollinator health.

The Eco Apple® program began in 2005 with six orchards on 400 acres. Today, 15 orchards and over 1400 acres are certified for the 2016 growing season. Eco-certified orchards in the Northeast have a good crop this year in spite of challenging drought in part of the region. They produce varieties like Honeycrisp, and Gala, as well as popular and sometimes harder-to-find regional specialties like McIntosh, Macoun, Cortland, and Empire. Heirloom varieties, all with unique history, shapes, colors and flavors, are also available.

2016 Certified Eco Apple® producers are:

Blue Hills Orchard – Wallingford, CT               Clark Brothers Orchard – Ashfield, MA

Lyman Orchards – Middlefield, CT                    Davidian Brothers Farm – Northborough, MA

Rogers Orchard – Southington, CT                    Schlegel Fruit Farm – Dalmatia, PA

 

Fishkill Farms – Hopewell Junction, NY          Champlain Orchards – Shoreham, VT

Indian Ladder Farms – Altamont, NY               Scott Farm – Dummerston, VT

Klein’s Kill Fruit Farms – Germantown, NY     Sunrise Orchards – Cornwall, VT

Mead Orchards – Tivoli, NY

Orbaker’s Fruit Farm – Williamson, NY

Sullivan Orchard – Peru, NY

Additional Media Coverage

Brattleboro Reformer

The Altamont Enterprise

The Packer

PerishableNews.com


The 2016 DSD Season Has Started!

https://youtu.be/c4nDggMAYDs

Click to watch the action!

Today, the first deliveries of local produce were delivered through our direct store delivery program hit stores, but the work to get the trucks moving started on Monday.

Top quality fruits and vegetables from farms around New England will be delivered three times a week to Hannaford Supermarkets in Massachusetts, select Chartwells managed foodservice kitchens, including Northeastern University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Roche Brothers Supermarkets, and other independent grocers and universities throughout the region.

Red Tomato’s innovative non-asset delivery model brings produce from farms to store shelves within 72 hours of harvest, giving shoppers the benefit of local produce without having to make an extra trip. Red Tomato works with a network of small and mid-sized family farms and coordinates with existing distribution companies to ensure that local produce remains affordable for shoppers and that farmers receive a fair price.

Western Massachusetts grower Wally Czajkowski of Plainville Farm is an important part of the process, consolidating product from several other farms and preparing orders to be shipped. Wally and his employees are enthusiastic about the partnership and the growing amount of local produce they are able to supply. They’ve named a section of their packing shed the “Red Tomato Room” to accommodate the local squash, beans, and other products will move across their dock each week throughout the season. “When we’re in full swing every minute is valuable and we are so happy that the folks at Red Tomato can help us in marketing our crops” remarks Wally.

Deliveries of over 200 different varieties of produce will continue until mid-November. Items will vary seasonally; summer staples such as lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, squash, strawberries, and apples will be available.

Last year Red Tomato marketed over $5 million of fresh produce from local farms, and Executive Director Laura Edwards-Orr says “we’re hoping to support more farms and reach more consumers this year. Nothing is as fresh and great tasting as just-picked produce.”

Coverage on the PerishableNew.com


Why Supermarkets Are Still Around

Almost weekly we see a media story or food blog proclaiming that “The Supermarket is Dead,” and furthermore, tech is the new grocery store. A recent example is this from Wired: “The Supermarket Must Die. App-Fueled Services Can Kill It“. Red Tomato Founder and Evangelist Michael Rozyne sees a different story between the lines:

What’s curious about this perspective that “tech solutions” like apps and meal delivery services are changing the food system, is that it makes you think this non-supermarket food world of the future is antithetical and even a replacement for industrial agriculture,  instead of a new way of relying on it. And that it solves problems of global proportions, such as food waste and the inefficiencies of small-scale production and distribution (which all of us in the local food movement struggle with). The tech world is driven by venture capital; venture capital seeks investment in companies that can scale fast and disrupt whatever industry they are in; and VCs expect a high return in a short period of time (SHORT, that is, by farming standards).

The hype in this kind of story asks us to believe that the models at hand (Fresh Direct, Farmigo, Instacart, Quinciple, etc.) are part of some other world. And that they can behave in relation to growers exactly as they choose, simply because their business models are unique. It’s not that these companies are evil or corrupt or without values—in fact many of them share a vision of a more sustainable, local food supply–but they are under severe pressure to scale and provide returns, meaning they will have to seek efficiencies and increasingly lower costs. The pressure dictates what they pay farmers and what they pay their own employees, for example–and what they must charge their customers in order to compete against, well… supermarkets, and one another. For more than 100 years, that kind of economic pressure has tended to travel upstream to the source of all fresh produce—to the growers–who number in the tens of thousands, while facing a highly concentrated market of just a small number of buyers.

Supermarkets have been losing market share for decades. In 1992, supermarkets accounted for 82% of retail grocery sales (produce, meat, packaged food, etc.) in the U.S. By 2007 it was down to 62%. In that period their biggest loss went to warehouse clubs and supercenters. Now, the internet threatens to push supermarkets further toward the edge. But it’s not the likes of Farmigo, Good Eggs or Quiciple that pose the biggest threat. It’s the larger and more conventional players like Amazon Fresh. And those more conventional players are not planning for social impact that improves farming practices or provides food access for all people. Their investors won’t tolerate results that come at the expense of their return. In addition, rural areas are expensive to serve efficiently. Even major cities have been a tough efficiency challenge for home delivery services as they expanded beyond hyper-dense New York City, let alone sparsely populated rural areas which simply don’t figure in this Wired model of the future.

I continue to be provoked by the arrogance of the tech world as it enters the food “space.” It underestimates the centrality of logistics. It overestimates its ability to use technology to solve basic food industry challenges around inefficiency, perishability and waste, especially in relation to smaller scale producers. As the article states, the supermarket “with its bins of megafarmed produce” operates at a scale that requires “a vast supply chain, with goods transported to multiple distribution centers before they arrive at stores. This comes with costs, most notably in food loss,” as if, somehow, the likes of Fresh Direct and Farmigo will be able to operate efficiently, competitively, and at a scale and level of profitability that satisfies their investors, without relying on that same vast supply chain and multiple distribution centers.

Like so many things, tech itself isn’t the game changer. It’s the values and practices of users of tech that can make the difference. If it’s sustainable farming, regional farms, and good food for everyone that you care about, it’s not time yet to throw out supermarkets and turn food distribution over to apps. Red Tomato is itself a great example of a mission driven organization bringing fresh, local produce to markets including Whole Foods, Hannaford Supermarkets, bfresh, Roche Bros AND even a few food-tech purveyors like Purple Carrot.

Read those accounts of supermarket demise with a grain of salt.


Red Tomato Receives 2016 Whole Foods Supplier of the Year Global V.P. Integrity

Red Tomato, a nonprofit marketer of fresh produce for a network of Northeast family farms, has been named a Whole Foods Market Supplier of the Year. The organization received the Global V.P. Integrity Award, as part of the retailer’s annual commitment to recognize and celebrate the company’s partners who best embody its mission and core values. Red Tomato was chosen from thousands of suppliers, joining fewer than 100 that have been recognized to date.

For seventeen years, our growers have provided local strawberries, blueberries, peaches, apples and mixed vegetables to Whole Foods. Our relationships with their buyers and retail staff especially in the North Atlantic region are long-lived. When we need an ear or need to solve a problem, we can reach a responsive person who actually cares. The leadership at Whole Foods genuinely works at seeing things from the farmer’s perspective. We value their partnership, and we’re honored by this recognition

said Red Tomato Founder and Evangelist, Michael Rozyne.

whole foods supplier awardsIn presenting the award, Matt Rogers, Whole Foods Senior Global Produce Coordinator, credited the small organization with continuing to develop strategies that reduce pesticide application in tree fruit in New England orchards, and for always being at the table to elevate the voice of the grower “This is a partnership in the truest sense of the word.” Gideon Burdick and Maria Mastanduno accepted the award on behalf of Red Tomato.

Red Tomato, founded in 1997, is a team of nine individuals, helping lead the way to a more ethical and sustainable food system. Committed to building trustworthy relationships and delivering fresh, local, ecologically grown produce to consumers where they shop and eat, every day, Red Tomato first partnered with Whole Foods Market in 1999 and continues to supply New England stores with berries and Eco Apple and Eco Peach certified fruit. Eco is a third party certification that supports and rewards farmers for ecological growing methods in the northeast. The program creates a dynamic partnership between farmers and scientific advisors to advance the most progressive and environmentally responsible growing practices and address specific farming challenges in the region, season by season, crop by crop, orchard by orchard.

Red Tomato has worked with Whole Foods since the inception of their Responsibly Grown Produce and Floral Rating system to help their growers complete the rating process for a wide range of growing practices. Dzen Farms, whose Connecticut berries are distributed through Red Tomato, was the first grower in the Whole Foods system to receive a ‘Best’ Rating when the program was launched in 2014. Red Tomato continues to work with the global purchasing team to further develop the program, and appreciates Whole Foods commitment to growers of all sizes.

Additional Coverage:

For information, visit:


Announcing the Food Narrative Project

For nineteen years, we’ve told ourselves that Red Tomato, a small nonprofit with nine employees, is too small to have much impact on the national public conversation around local and sustainable food. We’re too small; our resources are too few.

We emerged from our five year planning process this winter with a revised view: yes, we can! In fact, we are in a unique position in the food system and industry, with close and trusted connections to growers, to business, to NGOs, and to the land grant scientists that advise agriculture. We are often translating amongst these various groups. We are better positioned than most. And so we are poised to invest time and resources, for the first time, to influence that public conversation. Our first stab at it is called The Food Narrative Project.

Our starting point is one particular piece of the public narrative, good farming practices. The average American knows next to nothing about agriculture. I don’t fantasize that the average American will ever know lots about agriculture. But the moment is ripe for a new food narrative. People are paying attention like never before. If people could understand a thing or two about good farming practices, some simple sticky explanatory words that connect them to soil, water, plants, and good farm management (not to be confused with clever sloganeering or a complicated certification)—that would help democratize the food system in two ways:

1. Growers doing innovative things, such as cover cropping, complex rotations, composting, or advanced IPM (integrated pest management), are currently invisible, lumped in with “conventional” and feel left out of the sustainable food discussion. Ideally, they would be more visible and would be rewarded for their innovations and risk.

2. More people would have access to more sustainably-grown produce they could afford. Oversimplified portrayals of agriculture as “all or nothing” —all natural, no pesticides, blemish-free, etc—have limited consumers to either “pure” specialty and premium foods that are expensive and in short supply, or commodities with no transparency about farm source or production practices offered at high volumes and lower prices. More understanding of the wide range of farming practices would open up greater supply and more, better options for eaters.

This is an ‘organic-and’ food narrative. Certified organic is not the only form of sustainably-grown safe produce. There are a lot of innovative farmers out there, and together with the organic movement they represent a larger effort toward a sustainable agriculture for the United States. Our partners in this effort are IPM Voice, a national advocacy network of IPM scientists and practitioners; and Frame Works Institute, the research arm of our project. Frame Works includes a staff of social scientists who practice cognitive science, linguistics, neuroscience, psychology, political science, anthropology, etc. Their work is translating science about how the world works into effective public messages.

We’re only beginning. It took us twenty years to reach the starting line. Patience will serve us well on this one.