Wild Maine Blueberries

Lynn Thurston started Blue Sky Produce in Maine in response to a simple problem:

Less than 1% of wild blueberries are harvested for the fresh market.

Since 2006 Lynn has been working to build relationships with growers, distributors and customers. Wild Blueberries are one of North America’s oldest native berries, and have thrived under the harsh growing conditions of Northern New England. Rich in antioxidants, blueberries have a wide range of potential health benefits. From brain health, gut and heart health to cancer prevention, the ongoing research continues to shed light on these potent berries.

And…

They taste delicious. A different flavor than what we’re used to from cultivated local blueberries, these fruits are more tart, but lend themselves to a variety of uses in the kitchen. From smoothies, pizza and salad – they go well with almost everything!

raking wild Maine blueberries

Getting Product To Market

Blue Sky works with 8 family owned farms, ranging in size from 13-200 acres. Until this season Lynn and her team were picking up berries from each farm, aggregating in Maine and then trucking them to over 40 locations in the greater Boston area (not to mention 8 chains throughout the region, and a plethora of customers in between).

However, that last mile leg was proving difficult. Deliveries could only happen 1 day a week. For the Blue Sky team, it was purchase another truck, or find a different way. And that’s when Red Tomato was introduced. For the month of August (the entirety of the fresh wild blueberry season!) we’re excited to handle the order taking and delivery logistics for over 40 wild blueberry customers!

 

Where to Find Wild Main Blueberries in the Greater Boston Area

 
Whole Foods Medford Whole Foods Market

2151 MYSTIC VALLEY PARKWAY | Medford, MA, 02155

Savenors Market Savenors Market

92 Kirkland Street | Cambridge, MA, 02138

Davidian Bros. Farm Farmstands

500 Church St | Northboro, MA, 01532

Peter's Farm Farmstands

2 Cross St | Salem, NH

Whole Foods Nashua Whole Foods Market

255 Amherst St | Nashua, NH, 03063

Whole Foods Melrose Whole Foods Market

880 MAIN ST | MELROSE, MA, 02176

Savenor's Market - Boston Savenors Market

160 Charles Street | Boston, MA, 021115

Dowse Orchards Farmstands

98 North Main St | Sherborn, MA, 01770

Powisset Farm Farmstands

37 Powisset St | Dover, MA, 02030

Whole Foods Andover Whole Foods Market

40 Railroad St | Andover, MA, 01730

Whole Foods Newton Whole Foods Market

916 WALNUT ST | Newton, MA, 02461

Brigham Farm Farmstands

82 Fitchburg Tpk | Concord, MA, 01742

Formaggio Kitchen Independent

244 Huron Ave | Cambridge, MA, 02138

Whole Foods Arlington Whole Foods Market

808 MASSACHUSETTS AVE | Arlington, MA, 02476

Whole Foods Newtonville Whole Foods Market

647 WASHINGTON ST | Newton, MA, 02458

Allandale Farm Farmstands

259 Allandale Rd | Brookline, MA, 02476

Fruit Center Marketplace Independent

10 Bassett St | Milton, MA, 02186

Whole Foods Bedford Whole Foods Market

170 GREAT ROAD | Bedford, MA, 01730

Whole Foods River Street Whole Foods Market

340 RIVER ST | CAMBRIDGE, MA, 02139

Bolton Orchards Farmstands

125 Still River Rd | Boston, MA, 01740

Gibney Gardens Farmstands

15 South Liberty St | Danvers, MA, 01923

Whole Foods Brighton Whole Foods Market

15 WASHINGTON ST | BRIGHTON, MA, 02135

Whole Foods Somerville Whole Foods Market

45 BEACON ST | Somerville, MA, 02143

Srynby Farms

712 Hilldale Ave | Haverhill, MA, 01832

Green Meadows Farm Farmstands

656 Ashby Rd | Hamilton, MA, 01982

Whole Foods Brookline Whole Foods Market

1026-28 BEACON ST | BROOKLINE, MA, 02446

Whole Foods South Weymouth Whole Foods Market

35 PLEASANT ST | South Weymouth, MA, 02190

Clark Farm Farmstands

163 Hobart St | Danvers, MA, 01923

Henrys Market Independent

588 Cabot St | Beverley, MA, 01915

Whole Foods Cambridge Whole Foods Market

115 PROSPECT ST | Cambridge, MA, 02139

Whole Foods Symphony Whole Foods Market

15 WESTLAND AVE | Boston, MA, 02115

Tilly and Salvy's Independent

100 Beacon St | Natick, MA, 01760

Jones Farm Farmstands

246 Acton Rd | Chelmsford, MA, 01824

Whole Foods Charles River Plaza Whole Foods Market

181 CAMBRIDGE ST | Boston, MA, 02114

Whole Foods Wayland Whole Foods Market

317 BOSTON POST RD | Wayland, MA, 01778

Utopia Farms Farmstands

197 School St | Manchester, MA, 01944

Land Sakes Farm Farmstands

90 Wellesley St | Weston, MA, 02493

Whole Foods Charlestown Whole Foods Market

51 AUSTIN ST | Charlestown, MA, 02129

Whole Foods Wellesley Whole Foods Market

442 Washington St | Wellesley, MA, 02482

Three Sisters Garden Farmstands

10 Jeffery's Neck Rd | Ipswich, MA

Laschi's Garden Center Independent

20 Ayers Village Rd | Methuen, MA, 01844

Whole Foods Dedham Whole Foods Market

300 LEGACY PLACE | Dedham, MA, 02026

Whole Foods Westford Whole Foods Market

160 Littleton Road | Westford, MA, 01886

Tender Crop Farm Farmstands

108 High St | Newbury, MA

MacArthur Farm Farmstands

137 Concord St | Holliston, MA, 01746

Whole Foods Framingham Whole Foods Market

575 WORCESTER RD | FRAMINGHAM, MA, 01701

Whole Foods Woburn Whole Foods Market

400 Cambridge | Woburn, MA, 01801

Tangerinis Spring Street Farm Farmstands

163 Spring St | Millis, MA, 02054

Mahoneys Garden Center Independent

242 Cambridge St | Winchester, MA, 01890

Whole Foods Fresh Pond Whole Foods Market

200 ALEWIFE BROOK PARKWAY | CAMBRIDGE, MA, 02138

Foodie's Duxbury Market Foodies Markets

46 Depot Street | Duxbury, MA, 02332

Spring Brook Farm Farmstands

591 Great Rd | Littleton, MA, 01460

Marini Farm Farmstands

259 Linebrook Rd | Ipswich, MA, 01938

Whole Foods Ink Block Whole Foods Market

348 HARRISON | Boston, MA, 02118

Foodie's Urban Market - South Boston Foodies Markets

230 West Broadway | Boston, MA, 02127

Smith Farm Farmstands

131 Kimball Hill Rd | Hudson, NH

McKinnons Market Independent

73 Holten St | Danvers, MA, 01923

Whole Foods Jamaica Plain Whole Foods Market

413 CENTRE ST | Boston, MA, 02130

Foodie's Urban Market - South End Foodies Markets

1421 Washington St. | Boston, MA, 02118

Broadway Marketplace Independent

468 Broadway | Cambridge, MA, 02138

Meadow Brook Farm Farmstands

247 Essex St | South Hamilton, MA, 01982

Whole Foods Lynnfield Whole Foods Market

100 MARKET ST | Lynnfield, MA, 01904

Pemberton Farm Pemberton Farms

2225 MASSACHUSETTS AVE | CAMBRIDGE, MA, 02140

Connors Farm Farmstands

30 Valley Rd | Danvers, MA, 01923

Neighborhood Farm Farmstands

37 Powisset St | Dover, MA, 02030

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Curious about the difference between Wild and Cultivated – click here to dig deeper!


Equitable Food Initiative Pilot Update

As we close in on the end of July, labor crews are up and running on the farms across the Northeast – making time it an excellent for a quick update on our pilot partnership with the Equitable Food Initiative. As we mentioned in our last post, the backbone of EFI certification is workforce development and leadership training. In order for a farm to certify, 90% of the workforce must be trained through the program. In addition a leadership team representing the diversity of the workforce (including race, ethnicity, gender and roles across the farm) must be established, and document regular meetings. Designed to encourage feedback from across the farm, these meetings allow the team to make progress on specific initiatives or develop solutions identified by the crew or management of the farm.

One of our learning objectives in this pilot was to identify how a Northeast program might differ from a west coast program. EFI has found success thus far on larger farms in the wets, Canada and Mexico. The farms in the Red Tomato network are smaller – both in terms of acreage and gross sales – and have less capacity to expand than many of their western counterparts, which limits their capacity to absorb additional costs.

Our farms use a combination of local labor and H2A workers, mostly from Jamaica, who arrive in waves as the season progresses. This meant that it would be nearly impossible to train 90% of the workforce in a single pre-season training as is typically done. This past spring we worked with the two participating farms to identify and train leadership teams on each farm, with plans to do a second training in the fall after the full crew has arrived.

Communication is Key

Each leadership team is comprised of 9-10 farm employees ranging from management, H2A workers and local labor. Each team member also represents the supply chain within the farm – from field workers to packing house workers to managers and food safety point-people. Part of the training involves creating a physical map of the farm and where each person’s job is focused; communication and team building; problem-solving; and the role and responsibility of the Leadership Team over the course of the season.

In the debrief, both farms were excited to have both training and a structure with which to explore better communication across the farm hierarchy, but also across the cultural differences built into their diverse crews. Offering critical feedback can be difficult under even the easiest of circumstances. Working to address trust, communication and teamwork creates a way for anyone on the farm to offer or receive critical and timely insights.

The Food Safety Expectations

EFI standards cover food safety and sustainability practices in addition to worker well-being. Both farms in the pilot are currently food safety certified and meeting all of the requirements of their customers. However, in order to certify with EFI, both farms will need to increase their food safety threshold from USDA GAP standards to the EFI food safety standards which have been benchmarked against Harmonized or Global GAP. For the non-food safety nerds among us, that means additional record keeping, training and rigor in the farm food safety plan. The EFI training will help workers learn to identify, problem solve, and communicate around particular elements of that implementation. Both farms may require additional technical support to become compliant with both the new food safety regulation (Food Safety Modernization Act) and the EFI certification standards.

The Work Ahead

With full crews on the farms, secondary trainings, audits, and food safety support, provided by an RT-hired food safety consultant are all on the horizon. While tremendous work continues on the farms, our sales team is working with our buyers to introduce them to the certification, if they aren’t familiar already, and the breadth of content it covers.

As we all know, doing something new for the first time takes time. And training takes time. The farms, farmers and employees participating in this pilot are committing several days of labor across the entire farm, in peak season, to the project. This was never a commitment to be taken lightly but we at Red Tomato are increasingly appreciative of the commitment and integrity the leadership of both farms have brought to this project. Likewise, our partners at EFI have been generous with their time as we apply their methods to our Northeast context and insert Red Tomato as an intermediary into what is normally straightforward collaboration between one farm entity and the talented EFI team.

We’re excited to share more information on the pilot at the NE Gathering Domestic Fair Trade in August!



When An Heirloom Tomato Hits a Wall…

 

…it splatters, unlike the hard pink winter tomatoes from Florida and Mexico that I have played baseball with, literally.

Heirloom tomatoes started showing up at farmer’s markets as a response to the flavorless supermarket tomato. Heirlooms are now widespread. The challenge Red Tomato faced in 2005 was getting heirloom tomatoes to supermarket shelves.

But getting them on the shelf was only a first step: if heirloom tomatoes were to sit in a small, barely noticeable display on the supermarket shelf for the benefit of a few customers willing to pay a high price, well, that would do little for the growers involved. The greater challenge was turning the supermarket heirloom tomato into a steady, respectable mover—and that was about quality control; merchandising and promotion; and of course, price.

(more…)


Farmworker Partnerships in the Northeast – a Red Tomato and Equitable Food Initiative Pilot Launching this Spring

“A good crew is the best insurance you can have” says vegetable grower Wally Czajkowski of Plainville Farm in Hadley, MA, a sentiment likely shared by all the growers in the Red Tomato network. The knowledge, skill, health, and well-being of a farm’s crew is integrally linked with the economic well-being of the farm as a whole. And, the farmers we know work hard to ensure that they tend both aspects of their business with equal care and attention.

Red Tomato is committed to applying our fair trade roots to our work with produce farms in the Northeastern US. As a founding member of the Domestic Fair Trade Association, we have been long time participants in efforts to understand what domestic fair trade and fair labor practices mean for farmers and farm workers in our region. In addition, we have been working with our growers to understand their farm labor challenges and discussed grower and worker concerns at our annual growers meetings for over ten years. In our 20th anniversary year, Red Tomato is excited to be partnering with the Equitable Food Initiative to pilot their innovative workforce development approach to mid-sized farms in the Northeast.

Picking Crew at Blue Hills Orchard, ©Red Tomato

Picking Crew at Blue Hills Orchard, ©Red Tomato

(more…)


Three takeaways from our vegetable growers meeting

For most of our years Red Tomato has held an annual growers meeting, most recently in eastern New York. The meeting is designed to bring together our entire network of fruit and vegetable growers, along with the scientists who advise us, for 2 days of planning, learning, and sharing. This year, with the continued expansion of our Direct Store Delivery (DSD) program, and thus additional vegetable farmers in Massachusetts, we hosted a separate gathering at Plainville Farm in Hadley, MA with many of our vegetable growers to better address their needs.

Red Tomato Vegetable Growers Meeting (C) RT 2017Their feedback, insights, jokes, and willingness to spend a morning with the Red Tomato team has set the tone for what is already shaping up to be a great 2017! Here are three main takeaways from the meeting:

  1. Balancing Needs: Coordinating Red Tomato’s direct delivery program means I am communicating with both customers and growers, acting as both the buyer and the saleswoman. At the end of each season, Red Tomato sends out an anonymous survey to our customers. While this feedback is incredibly helpful to Red Tomato, meeting with our growers allowed me to understand what the responses meant for them. We were able to unpack what “more variety in products offered” or “lower prices” actually translates to in day to day operations. Due to the demands of peak produce season we don’t typically have the time to pursue what customers mean when they ask us to experiment with new varieties, what commitment versus purchase looks like, or to redesign our packaging. Meeting with just our veg growers pre-season also allowed us to focus on their needs in a way we couldn’t otherwise with our larger network of apple growers and scientists.
  2. Logistics, Logistics, Logistics: Buying and selling is one thing, but moving cases of tomatoes is another. Angel and Omari led the conversation on how Red Tomato handles logistics, all the factors that play into a decentralized supply chain, and asked growers how Red Tomato can continue to improve our systems to work for our growers first. Could we work with distributors to keep tomatoes warmer in the refrigerated truck? Find more distribution partners in Western Mass? Stop sending so much paperwork? Our DSD program can be a challenge to run, but with dedicated growers and the logistics team at RT we’re committed to delivering the best quality produce region has!
  3. Food Safety: When we talk about the freshest, highest quality produce, usually the next word that comes to mind isn’t ‘safest’. However, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years, was signed into law by President Obama in January 2011 and is gradually being implemented, with large portions in the coming years. FSMA aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.
    Red Tomato has required food safety certification since 2015, and we discussed our ongoing work to create our own Food Safety Benchmark for new growers, and covered the food safety commitment Red Tomato has made to our customers. We addressed everything from food safety certifications, FSMA, record keeping, and other safe handling practices our growers already do.

We are proud to work with some of the most experienced and quality conscious vegetable growers in our region. Having the chance to sit down with them and exchange information, ideas and stories while the ground is still quiet under snow cover is part of what makes our work so satisfying and a big part of what makes our partnerships with these growers so key to all of our success.


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!