The idea of “doing right” by farmers and farm workers is core to our organization and to our team. Our founder, Michael Rozyne, pioneered international fair trade as a co-founder of Equal Exchange, a fair trade coffee (and beyond) company, in 1986. Fully caffeinated, after 10 years in coffee Michael began to muse: “What would fair trade look like in the Northeast? How would fresh produce (a passion of this backyard farmer) differ from coffee?” And so, Red Tomato was launched.
The Dignity Deal
There’s no formula for fair pricing in produce. Market prices can spike or drop from the time it takes to pour your second cup of coffee (RT runs on EE dark roast!). Factor in competition and global supply and produce pricing feels a bit like the Wild West. So, we focus on a concept that’s come to be known as the dignity deal. It’s pretty simple. After some basic market research, we ask the farmer: “How much would you like to see this product sell for?” And then: “How low can we go without compromising your dignity?” That’s it. If the price goes too low, we walk away from the deal. If there’s more to gain without overpricing, we’ll shoot for that. The farmer is in the loop 100%. Our pricing is transparent. It’s not rocket science. It just feels right.
Red Tomato and the Equitable Food Initiative
Our team has been working to understand the complexities of labor on the farms we work with since 2008, when we first discussed the situation at our annual growers meeting. Over the past decade we have continued to work with our growers to find partnerships that benefit all parties involved. That’s why, in 2017 we announced our partnership with the Equitable Food Initiative to pilot their workforce development standards on two farms in our network.
EFI’s approach is based on collaboration among workers, farmers, and retailers who support the farms by designating the grower as a preferred supplier. By creating on-farm leadership teams that include workers from all parts of the operation and focus on continuous improvement, the EFI certification addresses three areas:
- Labor standards; including worker health and safety, fair wages, benefits and conditions of employment, and protections for H2A workers.
- Sustainable agricultural practices; including an Integrated Pest Management approach to managing crops to minimize the use of highly hazardous pesticides.
- Food Safety standards; including proper handling, water use and traceability.
Just as we work to ensure economic viability for future generations of farm families, we also want jobs on farms to be seen as skilled, valued, safe, fairly compensated, and desirable for future generations of employees, both year-round and seasonal. If successful, our EFI pilot will offer growers and farm workers in the Northeast one path toward that sustainable future!
You can read Laura, our Executive Directors, blog post to learn more about the pilot.