Wegmans, Red Tomato, and Farmers

Beautiful stores, high quality, and great selection. People love Wegmans. We’re proud to announce that we’re working with 6 farms in Massachusetts and Connecticut to bring local produce to their stores in Massachusetts!

Years in the Making

Red Tomato regularly meets with our regions grocery chains to assess interest. We offer source identified local produce, regularly picked to order, delivered either to an individual grocery store or the grocers’ central warehouse. But Wegmans prefers not to work with a middle man, instead preferring to work directly with farmers. Wegmans will identify one or two anchor farms and then together plan crops, provide technical assistance and help with food safety regulations. In turn, farmers deliver produce to each individual store in their area.
 
And so, each time we approached them, we were politely told: “no thank you.” – they prefer to go direct.

Making it easy for farmers

Wegmans first store in MA opened in 2011. 2 more followed in 2014 and they continued to grow. Now operating 6 stores in the state. In 2017 one of our core vegetable growers mentioned that he was servicing 2 of the MA stores. Together we wondered, could Red Tomato help Wally and Plainville Farm deliver to all 6?
 
Our conversation with Bill, the Northeast Produce Division Merchandiser started in 2017. Somewhat skeptical of working with an intermediary, it took several conversations with, including Wally’s urging, before all three partners decided to give it a try. With excitement, we checked with our logistics partners to ensure we could deliver to all 6 stores. We shared our pricing data and worked out margins. We were all set.
 
One small snag. Wally had to pass a more rigorous food safety certification, per Wegmans specifications. Getting a new food safety certificate in season is no easy task, and for a variety of reasons we missed the 2017 produce season – but we were ready for 2018!

Rozie, Wally, and Bill discussing the logistics of delivering to Wegmans in 2018!

Delicious, Unique Produce!

Over the winter our 2017/2018 our work continued. We made sure Wegmans and our systems would work together. We went over pricing and discussed what additional local produce they were interested in sourcing.
 
Wally will continue to be the anchor for the program. Broccoli, winter squash, beets, cabbage – when you see these in stores it’s likely they came from Wally. However, you may also see unique table grapes from Clark Brothers Orchards, green peppers and zucchini and yellow squash from Twin Oaks, or peaches from our growers in Connecticut.
 
All these growers have:
  • outstanding quality, first and foremost.
  • The food safety Wegmans requires
  • Products that are either grown in the same state as the stores or, unique to the region. Those Connecticut peaches are delicious!
We’re excited to be a partner to Wegmans. Making sourcing local food from multiple locations easy, and delivering some of the best produce our region has to offer. You can find this local produce in stores now, and available so long as it’s in season. Stop by today!

Michael Rozyne Keynote – What are We Collaborating For?

At the 2018 NGFN Food Hub Conference, a national gathering of organizations similar to Red Tomato, our founder Michael Rozyne presented the keynote, What are we Collaborating For?

The hour-long address detailed the importance of an inclusive narrative, and not an organic OR conventional approach to agriculture. Grab the popcorn and settle in!

Don’t have time for the full keynote? Check out the six-minute segment explaining Integrated Pest Management in spoken word!


IPM Explained

At the 2018 NGFN Food Hub Conference, a national gathering of organizations similar to Red Tomato, Michael Rozyne presented the keynote ‘What are we Collaborating For?’, which included 3 spoken word segments. An audience favorite was IPM Explained.

Put simply?

What is Integrated Pest Management?

 


Ask a Farmer: What does the Farm Bill mean to you?

What is the Farm Bill?

The Farm Bill touches almost every aspect of what is grown and consumed in the United States. Reauthorized every 5 years the farm bill is a near trillion dollar Federal funding package that affects the environment, local economies, and public health. In the 2014 farm bill there were 12 sections ranging from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) to conservation programs to funding for research and infrastructure for specialty crops.

In the 2014  the overwhelming majority of farm bill funding went to SNAP and nutrition programs. The Washington Post in January of 2014 broke down the funding.

pie chart of farm bill spending

What are Specialty Crops?

The fruits and vegetables grown on farms in the Red Tomato network fall under a small category called specialty crops.  In 2015 Modern Farmer published an article  “Specialty Crops” Refer to Weird Things Like…Fruits and Vegetables”. Which is spot on. According to the USDA “Specialty crops are defined in law as ‘fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.’”

The full list of specialty crops can be found on the USDA’s website.

So what are non-specialty crops? The top four crops grown in the country are corn, soybeans, hay, and wheat. And all that corn isn’t showing up on the supermarket shelves as corn on the cob. Instead, it goes towards ethanol production, animal feed, and high-fructose corn syrup.  While these programs get most of the attention in the debate over Farm Bill funding, there are hundreds of smaller programs that benefit both producers and consumers of local foods.

How does the farm bill affect specialty crop farmers in the Northeast?

We asked Ben Wenk, of Three Springs Fruit Farm in PA., A new member of our Eco Fruit network, the team markets fruit and vegetables to both wholesale customers and farmers markets. He notes several areas in which the programs in the farm bill are important, if not crucial to their farm.

 

ben wenk

Photo Courtesy Fair Food Philly

 

  • First off, the bulk of the Farm Bill budget concerns benefit programs like WIC. As a farm market grower, we need these programs funded. The last 4-5 years have shown sales at farmers markets in the Mid-Atlantic stagnating. One of the few areas of growth at markets during this period has been with those eligible for these benefits who have been directed towards farmers markets. Cooperation between community organizations and health care providers have provided programs to help those benefit checks go farther when spent at farmers markets through “double dollars” programs or similar “match funds” programs.
  • We don’t want to see funds cut to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Grants (SARE) (https://www.sare.org/. It’s their research that helps us be confident that we’re doing our work in the field in the most responsible way – that we’re being good stewards of our farm ecosystems. We all want to leave our farms in better shape than when we started by the time our bodies are no longer able to do the job. It takes programs like SARE to make that happen. [Note: many farms in the RT network, as well as many of the scientists we work with, have participated in SARE research and on-farm demonstrations all across our region.]
  • We’ve seen many great examples of Specialty Crop Block Grants that have benefitted our local fruit growing community in Adams County and regionally here in PA. When we’ve been successful in our grant application for these funds, we’ve been able to add innovation and technology that keeps the entire East Coast industry competitive. Today’s successful farmers have to be successful marketers. In commodity agriculture where people’s crops are commingled and priced identically, the importance of marketing is often overlooked. Here in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, where we engage our neighboring communities by selling at farmers markets or selling directly to retailers who use our name as a single farm source, access to programs like the Value-Added Producer grants can be a sea change opportunity for farms who are looking to take advantage of their proximity to urban populations where fresh produce can be scarce or inaccessible.

Red Tomato has also benefited directly from Farm Bill programs throughout our 20+ years. In 2016 RT received a 3 year Local Food Promotion Program grant to help bridge the gap between store level purchasing and scaling local supply into a grocery chains distribution center. This includes work to help local farmers meet chaotic food safety requirements, marketing support, and figuring out the logistics of moving local food at scale. This program, part of the Community Food Project grant program (CFP), is one of many smaller Farm Bill programs in danger of being cut or eliminated in this round of authorization.

How Can You Influence The Bill?

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) have both established tools to make it easy to contact your elected representatives about certain issue areas. The NYFC offers links and info to contact your representatives about these programs.

NSAC has proposed 5 initiatives that support equity and stewardship for farmers across the size/location spectrum:

  • The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act
  • Local FARMS Act
  • Two bills advancing on farm conservation
  • A bill protecting seed diversity for future generations
  • Improving crop insurance for farmers

You can learn more and write your representatives from their website.

How does the farm bill become law?

Again, from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition;

The Farm Bill is passed every 5 years. Some parts of the bill have mandatory funding, while others are appropriations – meaning Congress must fund these programs as part of the annual budget cycle. The Reauthorization phase, which we’re currently in, follows the below steps.  The resulting bill will change many times as it works its way through the process before becoming final:


Angel Joins the Wallace Center Food Systems Leadership Network

We’re excited to share that our Director of Operations Angel joins the Wallace Center Food Systems Leadership Network as a mentor to help build capacity across the movement!

food systems leadership network logo

1.What is the Food Systems Leadership Network?

The Food Systems Leadership Network is a national Community of Practice to support leaders and staff of community-based organizations working on food systems change. With a focus on systems leadership development, sharing and adapt ing cutting-edge program strategies, and building operational and management capacity, the Food Systems Leadership Network aims to support, celebrate, connect, and invest in the individuals and organizations working tirelessly to transform their communities through food.

2.What is the role of the mentors within the network?

Mentors will dedicate a total of 30 hours over a four-month period (Feb – May 2018) to provide 8 hours of coating to 3 organizations. There is a long list of the types of support buy we prioritized organizations supporting people of color and the what I can help them with, including logistics, finances and budgeting and general leadership. It was really tough which organizations to choose to work with, if you know me, I would like to work with all of them! 

3. What are you most looking forward to?

I am looking forward to helping grass roots organizations avoid reinventing the wheel by sharing lessons learned, systems thinking, & effective non-asset based distribution/supply chain management.  I am also looking forward to help build myself up to do more mentorship and consulting work in the good food movement.

4. How can people get involved?

One can get involved by becoming a member of the Food Systems Leadership Network which will open up access to:

  • Connecting with individuals and organizations
  • Resources access
  • Community Knowledge
  • Developing systems leadership skills
  • Sharing and adapting cutting-edge program strategies
  • Building operational and management capacity of non-profit sector of the good food movement

The Disappearing East Coast Apple

Walking through the produce section of a grocery store in the Northeast in the past month and you’re likely to have noticed something strange. Despite a good harvest and plenty of supply, Macoun, McIntosh, Empire, Gala, Pink Lady, and Evercrisp apples from the Northeast are difficult, if not impossible to find, having all but disappeared from store shelves. One could easily conclude that the local apple season is over.

And the apples you could find? Varieties from the massive west coast producers, and if there was an apple from the northeast, it was likely a specialty variety intentionally restricted to a few producers in an attempt to keep quality, demand, and prices higher.

oranges on display (more…)


5 Questions About the National Farm to School Network

Laura, our Executive Director was recently named to the Advisory Board of the National Farm to School Network. We paused for 5 questions to learn more about the Networks work and how Luara and Red Tomato can contribute!

national farm to school network

1. What does the National Farm to School Network do?

The National Farm to School Network increases access to local food and nutrition education to improve children’s health, strengthen family farms, and cultivate vibrant communities. They do this by collaborating with partner organizations in all 50 dates, Washington DC and several US territories, to inform public policy, share resources, ideas, and strategies, and engage in creative problem-solving. They also put on a world-class conference!

2.What does being on the advisory board mean?

The advisory board at NSFN is the caretaker of the mission and is responsible for strategic planning, program oversight, fundraising, outreach and management and review of the Executive Director. We meet regularly, either as a group or in smaller committees, to offer insights and guidance to the Network’s leadership. This board also offers members a front row seat on cutting-edge farm to school programming and policy work that can help inform their own work.

3.What do you hope to accomplish in your time on the board?

I helped to organize the second National Farm to School conference at Kenyon College in 2005. At that time, most the conversation at the conference was: “Can we do this?” “Is it legal?”  “How does food get into schools today?” Today, farm to school is a proven strategy for engaging kids in their food system and healthy eating. We’ve come SO far! And, even so, institutional remains one of the most complex parts of our food system. Over my term, I look forward learning more about what is working on the ground and how organizations like Red Tomato can further strengthen the work of our farm to school colleagues.

4. Red Tomato is known mostly for distributing to grocery stores, joining a farm to school network seems a little strange! What does Red Tomato contribute to the network? 

It takes an incredible amount of knowledge to navigate corporate procurement contracts and purchasing. Likewise, it takes a savvy chef to match local products with cost-effective and tasty meals that kids will eat. Just as important to the conversation is the expertise that Red Tomato brings to the table – the perspective of wholesale growers and 20 years of logistical know-how. Between the staff, Advisory board and partner organizations the National Farm to School Network brings together all the voices needed to develop and implement programming that works across the entire supply chain. I’m excited to contribute insights from what I’ve learned at Red Tomato and I am very excited to bring their wisdom back to Red Tomato so that we can continually expand our ability to meet the needs of institutional chefs in our own sales work.

5.What are you most excited for!?

NFSN is one of those organizations that attracts some of the smartest thinkers in our movement. I’m humbled to be part of this team and very excited to learn from everyone around the table. I’m also thrilled to be able to prioritize the conference once again and experience all the energy and enthusiasm that this network harnesses when everyone is all in one place. And on a personal note, maybe this gig will help me figure out how to get my kids to eat their veggies at home!

You can learn more about the Network by visiting their website, and the 2018 conference at farmtocafeteriaconference.org –  or if you’ve got a question for us – shoot us an email; info@redtomato.org!


Rozie Joins the Rhode Island Food Policy Council

Our Supply Chain Associate Rozie, who happens to live in Providence was recently named to the advisory board of the Rhode Island Food Policy Council. Curious what the food policy council is, and what it does? Read On!

1. What is a food policy council? (thinking national in scope here)

Food Policy councils exist on local, state, and regional levels to influence and improve food systems. These councils are made up of stakeholders from different backgrounds and interests representing the area served by the food policy council. This brings more voices to the table to affect policy covering topics from farming to food security to distribution. No two food policy councils are the same- they are often a forum to bring otherwise disparate groups together to address the governmental, economic, environmental, health, and social aspects of a sustainable food system from production to waste recycling.

2. What is the RI food policy council working on?

The RI Food Policy Council was launched in 2011 and is now in the process of adjusting itself to reflect the Relish Rhody Rhode Island Food Strategy that was published in 2017. The strategy focuses on five core areas:

      1. Preserve & Grow Agriculture, Fisheries Industries in Rhode Island
      2. Enhance the Climate for Food & Beverage Businesses
      3. Sustain & Create Markets for Rhode Island Food Beverage Products
      4. Ensure Food Security for All Rhode Islanders
      5. Minimize Food Waste & Divert it from the Waste Stream.

While there is ongoing work, such as testifying on state policy legislation and releasing yearly fact sheets on each town in RI, the work groups are still planning their agendas for 2018 and beyond.

3.What in particular do you want to contribute and help the council do? 

Rhode Island has an incredibly rich food scene and history, and the council is made up of such a diversity of backgrounds,  so for my first year I want to do a lot of listening and learning. Ultimately I want to bring my background in regional produce and logistics to help the council support farmers and producers join and grow in the New England market, as well as continue expanding opportunities for access to fresh, and when possible, local or regional, fruits, vegetables, and proteins. I also bring my unwavering enthusiasm for Rhode Island to the council, and a desire to support all Rhode Islanders making the most of this wonderful little state.

4. What are you most excited for?

Food! Community! Using the experience I have gathered over the past 10 years working for farms, food retail, food hubs, and farmers markets to contribute to state I live in. I can’t wait to work with my fellow council members to continue building a stronger food system in Rhode Island. Implementing the Rhode Island Food Strategy is a huge undertaking, and I’m very excited to take an active role.

Learn more about the RI Food Policy Council on their website, or shoot us an e-mail – info@redtomato.org!


Red Tomato Celebrates 20 Years of Supporting Mid-Sized Farms in the Northeast

Over 100 farmers, scientists, funders, advisors and current and former staff and board gathered Saturday, November 4th at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation in Waltham, MA. The diverse crowd celebrated nonprofit Red Tomato’s 20 years of delivering local produce from mid-sized farms in the Northeast to our regions grocery stores and institutions.

The non-profit has marketed more than 1,750,000 cases, or approximately 60,121,010 pounds of fresh, locally grown produce, totaling more than $44 million dollars in sales. Red Tomato serves as a translator between the growers and their challenges and the expectations of the retail and consumer environment.

Founded in 1997, by Equal Exchange Co-Founder Michael Rozyne, Red Tomato is rooted in fair trade, and strives to bring fairness, transparency, and sustainability to every aspect of their work. In coordinating the marketing and logistics for mid-sized farms in the Northeast, Red Tomato continues to develop nationally recognized systems that allow seasonal local produce to be delivered to grocery stores and institutions year round.

Red Tomato’s accomplishments were lauded by Governor Charlie Baker in a Governor’s Citation presented by Commissioner of Agriculture John Lebeaux at Saturday’s event.

“For 20 years, Red Tomato has helped connect farmers and their fresh, healthy produce to residents across the Commonwealth, which is essential to our efforts to keep agriculture in Massachusetts viable and successful,” said Commissioner Lebeaux. “The Baker-Polito Administration is proud to congratulate Red Tomato on their impressive anniversary and wishes them many more successful years to come.”

Red Tomato named Laura Edwards-Orr as Executive Director of the organization in 2015. After starting her career in agriculture with the Cambridge, MA based Farm Aid, Laura worked for 7 years at Red Tomato before assuming her role as the organization’s leader. Edwards-Orr, Rozyne, and a staff of eight manage the organization’s products, sales, logistics and marketing from their office in Plainville, MA.

Comments Edwards-Orr “There are so many uncertainties when we look to our future – from unpredictable weather patterns to the evolution of e-commerce and its impact on the traditional grocery store model. What we, at Red Tomato, know with complete certainty, is that our farmers grow some of the best produce our region has to offer. And people are hungry for it! It’s our job to be at the table. To build the markets and supply chains that ensure farmers and eaters a sustainable future. We look forward to another 20 years of freshness, flavor and righteous produce!”

Coverage of Red Tomato’s 20th Anniversary was included in:

Vegetable Growers News


Why small, local, organic farms aren’t the key to fixing our food system

In general, the experts I talk to about this have a view of sustainability that encompasses all sizes and all crops, with local and organic playing an important, but necessarily small, role.

Michael Rozyne plays that role. He’s the founder of Red Tomato, a Massachusetts food hub that connects midsize regional produce growers to supermarkets, and he wants the push for a better food system to focus on the growers and the practices, not the label. And he’s optimistic that consumers are moving in that direction. “I do sense a real openness to the idea that the story is more complex than they thought, and they don’t have to cling to the one thing they feel safe eating,” he told me.

Read Tamar Haspel’s September 22, 2017 article, and the context around Michael’s quote, in it’s entirety at Washington Post.com