Very few of us are completely oblivious to the plight of the American Farmer. We hear stories of farms that can’t cut it in the competitive market, but what kind of farms are they? It’s certainly hard for any privatelyowned farm to survive these days, but it’s particularly difficult for mid-sized farms. Mid-size farms are usually family run farms that are multi-generational and bigger than the small farm down the street where you get your CSA; they are not huge corporate farms either. It’s frequently these farms that struggle the most to earn their market share. Large grocery stores buy from large corporations, small farmer’s markets cater to small farms.
So, whose helping the farmer in the middle? In the Northeast the answer is that almost no one was until Michael Rozyne came along. Michael was a co-founder of Equal Exchange: the group that main-streamed the fair-trade coffee and cocoa movement. Using the same basic ideas, Michael created the non-profit Red Tomato to connect mid-sized Northeast farms with the consumer.
Now Red Tomato is doing for the New England farmer what Equal Exchange does for the South American coffee farmer by working with the farms to provide marketing, sales and logistics as well as strategies to these farmers in the middle. Not only are the farmers able to get a fair price for their crops, but the crops are safer for the environment than conventional corporate farms because they use a hybrid approach to farming, Integrated Pest Management.
If you are not yet familiar with Integrated Pest Management (IPM), you should be. It is the happy medium in the farming world. In short, it is a way to manage crops that limits the amount of pesticideand fertilizer to a bare minimum. While organic produce is certainly the healthiest, most environmentally protective option, it is not always a viable one. In areas like New England where the pressures that native pests place on crops make organic farming particularly difficult, IPM provides an alternative that is still environmentally sensitive. The difference that this can provide is stunning. If you have ever tried to grow organic apples in Massachusetts then you may understand the problem. Organic apples taste wonderful and are fantastic in cooking, but they are ugly! Very few shoppers would choose spotted, motley apples over conventional apples in a traditional grocery store. Most of us, however, are looking to cut back on the amount of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that we consume.
Unlike organic farming, IPM uses synthetic pesticides sparingly but strategically. The clear advantage to this is the increased ability to fight pests. Like organic farming, careful attention is paid to the crop. Before pesticides are used, all non-chemical methods to control pests are considered such as the use of crop rotation or grounds management (mowing grass, pruning, etc.). When you buy produce from an IPM farm you are buying produce with not necessarily zero pesticide, but less applied chemicals than conventional produce. IPM keeps costs down for the farmer and increases crop yield, which makes the end product more affordable to the consumer.
All Red Tomato farms participating in their Eco programs must be certified by the IPM Institute of North America This certification process includes yearly audits as well as on-site inspections to guarantee that quality and best practices are followed. Red Tomato and the IPM Institute of North America have created guidelines for growers to use for apples and stone fruits, and these products are available to you already. Whole Foods as well as Aldi and other higher-end grocery stores already have Red Tomato products available marketed under the Red Tomato Eco program.
Eco Apples and Eco Peaches are usually sold in bags or cartons at very competitive prices. My local farm is selling its IPM peaches for a dollar more a pound than I was able to get my Eco Peaches from Whole Foods. The Eco Peach was every bit as good as the local farm peach, because it was a local farm peach! The Eco Peach box listed the name of the farm and the farm location right on the box. Red Tomato strives to have it’s peaches on the store shelf within 48 hours of being picked from the tree. The result is a peach that is full of flavor, not mealy, dry or grainy and one that tastes like a peach!
With farms reaching from New Jersey to Maine, Red Tomato provides a Northeast centralized food supply: local food grown by locals for locals. It keeps the product fresh by limiting the distance the food has to travel to make it to your plate, which also has the added benefit of reducing the carbon footprint of the produce.
With family farms closing every day, it’s more important than ever to support your local farms. Between 2002 and 2007 alone, over 80,000 mid-size family farms closed. That’s a terrifying statistic since it’s these mid-sized family farms that can do the most to help a local economy and food supply. Not only do you keep your dollars local when you buy from a local farm, but local farms are more apt to spend their dollars locally as well. These mid-size farms are also the farms most capable of producing the amount of food that the local supply demands as well as developing growing practices that are safer for the local community and the planet. (farmaid.org, “The Case for the Family Farmer”)
For more information on mid-size local farms, and the struggle of the family farm, please see the links listed below:
- Red Tomato
- Farm Aid
- The IPM Institute of North America
- Northeastern IPM Center
- The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition