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.
Their 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:
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.