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!
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.
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.
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!
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; firstname.lastname@example.org!
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:
Preserve & Grow Agriculture, Fisheries Industries in Rhode Island
Enhance the Climate for Food & Beverage Businesses
Sustain & Create Markets for Rhode Island Food Beverage Products
Ensure Food Security for All Rhode Islanders
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 – email@example.com!
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:
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
Sixteen Northeast orchards representing 1439 acres of fruit are successfully certified Eco Apple® for 2017. Several of the orchards have now been certified Eco for ten years or more, with additional orchards joining over the past decade. Phoenix Fruit Farm of Belchertown, MA, under the leadership of new owner Elly Vaughan, is certified for the first time this year.
Eco Apple helps growers expand the adoption of orchard management practices that reduce risk for humans, pollinators, and environment.
This year, with support from the Cedar Tree Foundation, we were able to contract with the IPM Institute of North America to analyze records for five orchards that have participated in the program consistently over the past 10 years. Practices and spray records were analyzed using Pesticide Risk Tool (PRT), www.pesticiderisk.org, a risk assessment tool that measures high, moderate and low risk of pest management treatments in four categories:
Consumer Dietary (including chronic and cancer-causing health effects)
The results indicate use of high-risk chemicals among Eco-certified orchards has decreased 59% since 2004, the year before the program began, and has continued to drop 18% since 2010. Growers and scientists review practices annually based on current research, and have steadily replaced more high-risk approaches with biological and lower-risk methods as they become available.
“The pressure from pests and disease in an orchard can vary from year to year due to weather and other conditions, but the goal of the Eco program is to steadily reduce overall risk over time. We are encouraged to see the data indicate that is happening,” notes Dr. Thomas Green, entomologist and President of the IPM Institute.
Several Eco-certified orchards have also participated 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,” reports Danforth. “The Eco Apple protocol does a very good job of protecting the beneficial insects, including pollinators.”
Partnership supports local growers
Apple growers in the eastern US face more than sixty species of damaging insects, and twice as many diseases compared to growers in the drier climates of the Pacific Northwest. Over 93% of certified organic apples grown in the US come from eastern Washington. Eco-Apple offers a both growers and consumers a way to support sustainably grown local fruit in the Northeast.
The Eco Apple program is a partnership between farmers and scientific advisors to advance the most progressive and environmentally responsible growing practices in the northeast region. Farmers manage damaging pests with biological methods such as natural predators, mating disruption, and trapping as their first line of defense. They use science-based practices to promote soil and tree health, nurture pollinators, and protect biodiversity – ultimately ensuring balanced ecosystems and safer working conditions while producing the highest quality fruit.
We are especially proud that the program addresses specific farming challenges for this region. It is reviewed every year, and continually adapted to deliver better standards and better fruit – season by season, crop by crop, orchard by orchard.
2017 certified Eco Apple® producers are below; starred* orchards are also certified for Eco Stonefruit in 2017:
Fishkill Farms*, Hopewell Junction, NY
Indian Ladder Farms, Altamont, NY
Kleins Kill Fruit Farm, Germantown, NY
Mead Orchards*, Tivoli, NY
Orbaker’s Fruit Farm, Williamson, NY
Sullivan Orchards, Peru, NY
Six Northeast orchards are Eco PeachTM certified for 2017
Available at farm stands and supermarkets throughout the Northeast
The Eco Peach program, the result of ten years of collaboration between growers and science advisors, is a rigorous, ecology-based farming and third party certification program that supports and rewards farmers who use the most ecologically sound, minimally treated, methods possible to grow their fruit. Six Northeast orchards are certified Eco PeachTM for 2017. Eco peach growers report a bountiful peach harvest this season.
“A good peach is second to none, especially when you have to lean over the sink because they’re so juicy,” comments Laura Edwards-Orr, Executive Director of Red Tomato, the non-profit local produce distributor that manages the program. “We know that everyone is extra hungry for these jewels of summer because last year’s spring freezes eliminated the local crop throughout the Northeast. We’re proud to partner with our growers, who use some of the best growing practices in the region, to bring these peaches to kitchen sinks throughout the Northeast!”
Farmers in the Eco Peach program use practices that promote soil and tree health, nurture pollinators, and protect biodiversity. They manage damaging pests using biological methods such as natural predators, mating disruption, and trapping as their first line of defense – ultimately ensuring balanced ecosystems, safer working conditions, and cleaner fruit.
“The Eco protocol is like a “road map” to good ecological farming,” explains Josh Morgenthau of Fishkill Farms in Hopewell Junction, NY. “It promotes a healthy ecosystem, allows farmers to minimize their use of chemicals, and yields a clean, sustainable (and delicious!) crop of fruit each season. And being Eco certified helps us communicate these practices to our customers, for whom a peach might otherwise just be a peach,”
Orchards in the Northeast face twice as many damaging pests and diseases when compared to their west coast counterparts, making ecological farming a good approach to tree fruit production in this region, according to Josh and other growers.
“I am a third generation family farmer, and I’m committed to sustainable farming,” Josh says emphatically. “Over the years, I’ve learned first-hand how difficult it is to produce tree fruit organically; the Northeast climate and its unique complex of orchard pests make it nearly impossible. So while our vegetables, berries and certain hardy apple varieties are certified organic, we’re proud to say the rest of our crop is Eco certified.”
The Eco Peach program was designed to give consumers in the Northeast a safe and responsible choice for local peaches. The Eco program uses many of the same practices as organic, focusing on biological controls such as beneficial insects and mating disruption. Growers use pesticides as a last resort, which reduces impacts to the environment, pollinators, and farm workers.
Red Tomato’s 2017 certified Eco PeachTM producers are:
Champlain Orchards, Shoreham, VT
Fishkill Farms, Hopewell Junction, NY
Mead Orchards, Tivoli, NY
Lyman Orchards, Middlefield, CT
Rogers Orchards, Southington, CT
Blue Hills Orchard, Wallingford, CT.
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.
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!
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
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.