Smarter Farmers Grow Better Strawberries

strawberries2

It’s strawberry season in New England. I was walking the green-turning-red fields with Donny Dzen last week at Dzen Brothers Farm in Windsor, Connecticut. He explained his use of IPM to control pests and reduce spray levels. Dzen monitors (actually counts) the level of infestation of four problem insects: thrips; tarnished plant bug; “clipper,” the strawberry bud weevil (a beetle); and 2-spotted spider mite (mites are technically not insects; they have 8 legs instead of 6).

IPM stands for integrated pest management. The key word is integrated, the art of choosing a combination of pest management methods that make sense at the moment given the weather and the ecology of the farm and the crop. At its most basic, IPM means preventing pest infestations, monitoring crops closely, and treating infestations only as needed and only as much as needed.

There’s an introduction and short video about IPM  on our website.

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Red Tomato and Michael Rozyne featured on The Hartman Group’s HeartBeat

Take a look at “Local Into Retail: Reinventing the Farmer” an interview, with Michael by David Wright of The Hartman Group, which explores people’s interest and commitment to buying local food. The Hartman Group is a national leader in consumer focused market research whose efforts have helped clients across a diverse set of industries convert consumer knowledge into profitable outcomes. Hartman Group staffers are know for challenging the status quo and inspiring new thinking.


Naming Red Tomato

Michael shares some insight into the way back story of Red Tomato:

I’m not a baseball freak. But I was one growing up. So the first time I had to explain the origins of the Red Tomato name to a conference audience, I turned to baseball.

It was a national conference on food and agriculture sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation. I arrived at the auditorium 30 minutes early to scope out audience members as they dribbled in, looking for jocks or baseball caps. I found three willing recruits who said they could still field a ground ball with confidence. I handed each a baseball glove, cap, and told them where to sit.

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Braving the snow to Alyson’s Orchard

Michael mentioned the most controversial conversation at our first annual growers meeting (and an interesting one it was!) but there is a lot more to be said about that meeting. First of all, 18 growers, 7 scientists, 11 staffers, and a handful of friends, volunteers and RT enthusiasts braved a fairly serious snow storm to get to Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, NH. Those who couldn’t make it were sorely missed but the conversation was none the less lively as a result of our slightly smaller numbers. Our agenda ranged from a tour of our new website, sustainable packaging, brand identity, to farm labor, the economy and food safety.  Crisp apples for snacks and a wonderful hot meal rounded out the day.

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Farm Labor Increasingly on My Mind

Michael ponders a difficult issue:

The most dynamic discussion at Red Tomato’s Core Grower Meeting last week was about farm labor.  Many RT growers rely on a government-regulated guestworker program for agriculture known as H-2A for much or all of their seasonal farm labor. These workers come from Jamaica, Mexico, Thailand. And without them, there might not be a harvest. In some cases, there might not be a farm. No wonder the discussion was dynamic.

But that’s only part of the story. A 2008 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center called Close to Slavery lashed out against the H-2 guest worker programs (H-2A for ag and H-2B for hospitality workers), citing examples of contract violations, sexual harrasment, inadequate housing, and more.

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Sharing a Red Tomato moment with Grandma

Laura discusses a recent trip to Trader Joes:

Like many non-profit staffers, I sometimes have a hard time explaining what I do. I often use short hand like “I write articles that teach people about where their food comes from.” Or “I help family farmers.” Many people are hip to the buzz about local food and launch right into their own thoughts on the topic, rescuing me from trying to further define my professional life. Others, like my grandmother can’t imagine a world where people don’t know where their food comes from. Never mind that her fridge isn’t necessarily replete with homegrown goods, her life started on a family farm and to her mind food systems should be as simple as they once were. She doesn’t want to read about “food issues.” My grandma simply wants to go berry picking in the summer, make apple pies through the winter, and muse about the beautiful farm of her childhood. Fine by me – her memories fostered a passion in me that doubles as a career.

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