In order to introduce himself to the TEDxManhattan audience. Red Tomato’s founder and co-director, Michael Rozyne, answered a few questions about himself and the Red Tomato conversation that we call: The Truth in the Middle.
Enjoy the sneak peak!
1) What’s the topic you’ll be speaking about?
The current food system isn’t built for local, no matter how much consumers demand it. Why not? Logistics!
2) Why is this important?Without the right logistics, our region’s best produce won’t make it to markets where people shop. It won’t be competitive enough. This explains why millions of Northeasterners can’t find or afford a juicy, locally-grown tomato, even at peak season. And it means that a substantial portion of the people wanting locally-grown fruits and vegetables will be unsatisfied, if not frustrated, and will not, collectively, turn into the economic force they might to strengthen farms and cause new ones to be born.
3) Are there other projects you’re also passionate about right now – either yours or someone else’s?
Yes. It’s a subject we refer to at Red Tomato as The Truth of the Middle conversation. I’m paying a lot of attention these days to the extreme language and logic that characterizes the national talk about food, farms, and the environment. For example, the conversations about honey bees and colony collapse disorder, or the health dangers of consuming GMO foods—take place often at the all bad, all good level. Both ends of the discussion use science as their proof, but not always responsibly. And the internet doesn’t help truth or reason emerge—it provides a comfortable skrim for people to hide behind, or stay in a circular conversation only with people who agree with them. I think these difficult conversations are best had eyeball to eyeball. It’s made me very curious about the science of how we learn, listen (if at all), make up our minds, and how brains work. I especially enjoyed reading The Righteous Mind by TED talkster Jonathan Haidt. It’s impacting how I think about communicating, and listening, and collaborating.
4) Which other 2014 TEDxManhattan speakers are you excited about hearing?
Nikki Henderson of Peoples Grocery and Virginia Clarke of SAFSF are colleagues of Red Tomato, and I admire their work. Myra Goodman started and runs a company and brand I’ve watched for many years—I look forward to the Earthbound story. Lance Price’s subject—antibiotic resistance– is of great interest to me. I bet Clint Smith and Martha Redbone will be inspiring too. The whole list looks mighty inspiring!
5) Where can more information about your project be found?
Our website is full of info, profiles and video about our eco programs and the farmers we work with; Facebook and Twitter have all the latest, including blog posts from our staff. We’ve been featured in a number of case studies in the past couple of years, including Harvard Business School; USDA Know Your Farmer Know Your Food; and University of Wisconsin. You can find links to those and more on our website Resources page. In her book Raising Dough, [2011 TEDxManhattan speaker] Elizabeth U talks about our unique non-profit/market-based hybrid model.
If you’ve ever tried finding local, sustainably produced fruit at the grocery store, you know it can be a daunting task. Especially if you live in parts of the country with challenging climate and pest issues, like the Northeast!
You often have to decide: Do I want sustainable or do I want something grown closer to home? We think it should be possible to have both!
To celebrate and spread the Eco message, we worked with our friends at Epipheo to put together this short animated video. Eco is all about happy farmers, happy eaters, and happy trees. This guy is so happy that he’s singing all about it!
Enjoy and share!
“I’ve learned a lot about Brown Marmorated Stinkbugs lately.” I like to drop that sentence into polite conversation whenever someone asks me about my work at Red Tomato. It’s eyes-glaze-over time for many, but to me the BSMB story could be the script for a sci-fi thriller: voracious, invasive pest, wily, destructive and hard to kill, endangers the food supply and creeps out the populace of an entire nation. Plus it smells bad. To the rescue, a bespectacled team of smart, curious, determined bug scientists, and their fearless leader Tracy Leskey, USDA scientist, hard at work in a small research lab tucked away in the mountains of West Virginia.
The end of the story isn’t written yet, but in my version the scientists save not only the food supply, but also the clean water, soil and carefully-nurtured populations of beneficial insects tended by farmers who have worked hard for decades to reduce their use of toxic pesticides, only to be faced with a pest that nearly forces them to choose between their crops and their long-term sustainability. Citizens everywhere urge their government to vastly increase the funding for public science, and a grateful nation once again enjoys the bounty of the season’s local harvest.
Except for that last part—sadly, funding for public science is on the decline and fairly invisible to most folks—the happy ending isn’t looking like sci-fi these days. Two years into a national project led by Leskey, involving coordination among 10 land-grant universities and 50 researchers, the BSMB Project has learned enough about BMSB that a workable IPM strategy is a real possibility. The scientists have made huge progress in understanding the life cycle and behavior of BMSB nymphs and adults in a US environment. They’ve designed effective traps—which has meant figuring out the right shape, color, up or down entry point, placement in orchards or fields, light sources, and the holy grail, a pheromone that will attract stinkbugs but not beneficials.
They’ve tested and narrowed the range and dosage of effective pesticides—after a series of experiments in which some of the bugs appeared dead for up to seven days, only to spring back to life, hungry as ever. The stuff of nightmares, indeed! Monitoring stations throughout the region keep tabs on how quickly it is moving further north and west—sometimes transported unknowingly in shipments of perfect-looking fruit, only to show up weeks later having done their damage from the inside. The US researchers are collaborating with colleagues in China, where the pest originated but is not considered a pest because it is kept in balance naturally in its home turf.
Red Tomato serves as an advisor to the BMSB project through the Stakeholder committee, which meets annually to hear updates on research and progress on management. Our Eco certification protocols are updated annually with specific recommendations for BMSB. We check in regularly with our growers, especially those in PA and further south, where the pests have a serious foothold. We’ve invited Tracy to present her research to growers meetings, training sessions with key customers, and RT staff—partly because the information is so crucial to our ability to provide a continuing supply of beautiful produce, and partly because she manages to make insect research so dang entertaining.
Stay tuned for more on the adventures of BMSB. You can follow the saga of the BMSB Project in this video series, Tracking the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.
In the meantime, if you want to amaze friends and family with your nerdy knowledge of bugs, do what I did—Download Rutgers University’s free iPhone app to track activity of brown marmorated stink bugs: “bmsb” in the App Store—and flash a picture of BMSB on your smartphone for anyone who asks—or doesn’t!
Beginning my career in the world of sustainable agriculture, it all seemed simple enough: industrial is bad, organic is good. Right? I wanted to change the way we engage with our food as a society and educate others on the importance of a healthy food system for a healthy home and family. Easy!
As the newest addition to the Red Tomato team, with no previous farming background, I quickly learned that infinitely complex ecological systems like diversified farms do not lend themselves to black and white statements like I had imagined. When they told me that Red Tomato supported predominantly IPM growers, my first reaction was (just as yours may be now): What in the world is IPM?
What in the World Is IPM?
When I first heard about IPM (Integrated Pest Management), my immediate reaction was negative: “But that’s not organic.” I had internalized an extremely effective marketing effort behind the “organic” and “natural” brands. Don’t get me wrong, I think the less chemicals and petroleum-based fertilizers used out in the world the better. I had just never really delved into the science behind it from a systems perspective. In my mind it was one-size-fits-all, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sustainable agriculture is about what’s best for the people involved, the consumer, and the land, and balancing what’s best for all three can be incredibly complicated for a range of reasons including climate and geography.
Like most working people, working parents especially, cooking isn’t always at the top of my ‘can’t-wait-to-get-home-and…’ list. But the past several weeks at Red Tomato have provided such a beautiful bounty of fruit that I was moved to break out my grandmother’s tart pan and do stone fruit some justice.
High quality, farm fresh, tree ripened fruit doesn’t need much dressing up. One of my favorite ways to show off the flavors of summer fruit is a simple rustic tart.
Layer 1: Basic pie crust. I used 1 part four, 1 part yellow cornmeal for this one. I meant to mix in some lemon zest but I forgot.
Layer 2: 1 part ground toasted almonds, 1 part white sugar
Layer 3: Cut fruit
Optional Layer 4: Glaze. I skipped this step last night, which means the final product was tasty but not as glam as the pre-oven shot above. I usually use some version of this recipe. http://www.food.com/recipe/clear-fruit-glaze-for-cakes-159419
Final step: bring it to work to share the wealth!
I requested a food dehydrator for Christmas in 2011 specifically for making dried tart cherries. A few year’s back, I tasted different kinds of dried cherries at a high-end farmers’ market stall in San Francisco and I still remember the intense flavor punch.
At Red Tomato, we work with a fabulous orchard in Western NY – Orbaker’s Fruit Farm – which is our source of this short-season, labor-intensive crop. In 2012, however, there were no cherries to speak of. A warm spring brought an early onset of cherry blossoms, which were all decimated after a harsh frost set in.
The tragedy of 2012 meant that I was especially excited to get my hands on some cherries this year. After all, my dried cherry project had been two years in the making. After pitting and freezing a quart of tart cherries for smoothies, I pitted another 2 quarts of cherries for drying.
Pitting the cherries is the hardest part, but if you master the cherry pitter, you can go through a lot of cherries while listening to your favorite music or tv show. After that, all you have to do is spread the cherries out on the drying sheets that come with your food dehydrator, set the temperature to the recommended temperature for drying fruit (mine says 135 degrees), and check on the cherries every so often. My cherries started out extra juicy, so I ended up drying them for about 24 hours (checking them about every 2 hours at the end).
I was so pleased with the bold, tart flavor I couldn’t wait to feature them in a healthy and tasty breakfast. I took some plain Greek yogurt and topped it with not-too-sweet almond granola, tart cherries, sliced local peaches and a drizzle of honey. Delicious!
It is going to be a sad day when I run out.
It’s true. I collected bugs as a teenager. While others were drinking beer on the weekends, I was catching butterflies, treating them with ether, spreading their wings on a tool made of balsa wood, and naming them with a fine-point pen & ink. I even submitted a photo portfolio of my collection to my college admission office, in search of “individuals following their own path…”
In the summer of 1973, in Illinois, I went crazy with the 17-year cicadas. The flying adults, the closest thing I’d seen to the biblical locust plague, were absolutely everywhere for almost two months. Their voices filled and owned the airwaves. The paper thin brown skins clung to tree barks from ground level up a few feet, after the adults left them behind upon transformation from youth to adult. The short-lived adults showed characteristic bright red eyes set on a black head, with large transparent veined wings. The youth had just spent the long stretch of time during which a human being can be born and raised to be a car-driving teenager—an entire seventeen years—underground feeding on tree and plant roots. I had a roomful of several hundred of these paper skin souvenirs.
Very recently, the 17-year cicada ravaged the Hudson Valley, parts of Connecticut, and probably other parts of the Northeast. It was on a different time cycle from the Midwest one I experienced in 1973. But I saw them and heard them at Truncali Farms in Marlborough, NY in June. The damage they cause is in the egg-laying process. They insert their eggs in the soft wood of trees, harming the wood that also bears this year’s fruit (and next year’s fruit).
It’s one more super challenge for fruit growers to overcome. Fruit growers in our region are already super challenged by two new invasive insects, the brown marmorated stink bug, and the spotted wing drosophila. Check them out on your search engine and you’ll be surprised by how much current information and activity you’ll find. I don’t expect you to read beyond the headlines. Just remember the challenge growers face when you enjoy your next blueberry, peach, or summer apple.
Over and out, MR
Ever wonder why it’s so difficult to get local food at your grocery store?
The biggest problem: Logistics!
Red Tomato just released a new video on Youtube addressing this very question. RT staffers worked long and hard to shape the script and graphics so that the final message truly represents the essence of what we do and the role of organizations like RT in the future of local, sustainable agriculture.
Pass it on and help spread the word!
It’s hard to drag us out of the office, especially when the deals are flying and the season, that barely just started, feels like it’s flying by already. But mid-June sent Michael, Angel and I on the road south to bring produce and store managers from the Kings Food Markets Chain to visit the Ploch Farm in Landisville, NJ. It was a very successful event despite torrential downpours on the morning of our tour.
There’s real magic when you bring the buyer out to the farm. Something once theoretical becomes 100% real. A name is now a face and a meaningful connection. But something else happens when we hit the road. Time together.
An 8 hour drive is a luxurious amount of time for a team of people who work really hard to keep meetings to an hour, emails to a paragraph, and phone calls to a few minutes. Sure, there were moments when all three of us were on the phone, talking, emailing and problem solving.
But road trips also allow us the time to get to know one another a little better. To learn about each other’s families, what motivates us to work so darned hard and, in our more grandiose moments, our visions for the future. Angel and I both have young families. Michael thought it might be nice to use our trip to introduce us to someone special in his life. Jeannie Ginsberg.