We Ithacans are blessed with a bounty of local produce that surely rivals any other place in the world. GreenStar’s member-owners know that the Produce Department boasts a cornucopia of locally-grown fruits and veggies, year-round. GreenStar has worked with local farmers since the Co-op began selling produce, and as the Co-op has grown, so have the number of farms in the fertile valleys surrounding Ithaca. The planning required to bring the bounty of those farms to the shelves of GreenStar begins before any seeds have been put in the ground.
Around two dozen local farms supply GreenStar each year. During January, Debbie Lazinsky, GreenStar’s Produce Manager, meets with all of the farmers who supplied GreenStar the previous year, to write out purchase agreements and iron out who’s growing what. Some crops are supplied by one farmer exclusively, others are divided between more than one source. These meetings allow Lazinsky and the farmers to review the prior year’s season, discuss successes and failures, talk about trends in the field (pun intended!), set prices and figure out how to fill in gaps and deal with surpluses.
This process helps Lazinsky guarantee that GreenStar’s member-owners have a variety of local produce to choose from, year-round, and it guarantees the farmers a market for the crops they agree to grow. Of course, things can and do go wrong in farming, and cultivating relationships with many farms ensures redundancy in the supply of any given crop. “All of the farms send us a weekly list of what they have, so if one farmer has a crop failure, we can usually get that crop from someone else, even if we didn’t contract for it,” Lazinsky said.
Last year Lazinsky talked to the farmers about maximizing storage crops and facilities, and as a result, “this year, in 2009, we will have more local storage crops further into the winter than we’ve ever had before,” she said.
A lot of local farmers sell only through CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares, or at farmer’s markets, and wholesaling to a store like GreenStar is a lot different. “The farmer has to want to be a wholesaler, and plant for that, reserve that space in the field for us,” Lazinsky said.
Nathaniel Thompson, of Remembrance Farm in Trumansburg, has been growing biodynamic vegetables for five years. He supplies GreenStar with salad mixes, arugula, bok choy, carrots, onions and other root vegetables, and also sells his produce directly to consumers through the collective Full Plate Farm CSA. He says that selling to GreenStar has helped his farm become established and thrive. While he feels wholesaling requires more effort—delivery, grading produce for consistent size and appearance, extra packaging—it makes the difference in allowing his farm to support itself. “Our CSA is not large enough to support the farm on its own,” Thompson said. “The combination of markets allows me to make a living doing what I love and pay my help a decent wage.”
Robin Ostfeld and Lou Johns, of Blue Heron Farm in Lodi, have worked with GreenStar for twenty-one years, and they are familiar with all three ways of doing business. They sell winter storage crops via a CSA share, sell produce at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market, and they wholesale many crops to GreenStar, including leaf lettuce, root vegetables, winter and summer squash, broccoli, cucumbers, garlic and cherry tomatoes.
According to Ostfeld, selling wholesale to GreenStar has many benefits. “It’s a very reliable, steady and easy way, in terms of time investment, to market a fair amount of produce. There’s no time needed for set up, as for selling at Farmer’s Market, or communicating with customers, as is required for the CSA,” she said. “We can grow large quantities of the things we really excel at, without having to spend a lot of time marketing it.” The cold weather this December made selling at the Farmer’s Market difficult, while sales at GreenStar were strong, Ostfeld said. “Because we’ve been able to fulfill GreenStar’s needs year after year, it’s helped us grow, and helped GreenStar grow, in terms of becoming a great place to get local produce,” she added.
One of the five-year goals set by Council for the Co-op is to promote sustainable, regional food systems by increasing sales of locally-produced foods. “The partnerships that the Produce Department has created with local farmers are important to GreenStar achieving those goals,” said Bini Reilly, General Manager. “We are always looking for opportunities to further expand those partnerships.”
Lazinsky points out that, by shopping at GreenStar, customers can spread their produce dollars to more farmers, even in the winter, when the area farmer’s markets are closed. By buying local produce at GreenStar, a shopper can help support all two dozen farmers that supply GreenStar over the course of the year. “You can support ten farms in one grocery shopping trip!” Lazinsky said.
New in Produce
|Local Produce Rolls Deep This Month|
If you're looking to keep your veggie drawer filled with local bounty, this is your month. Fruit, veggies, herbs — it's all here.
September brings the anniversary of Brazil's declaration of independence after centuries of Portuguese rule, the birthdays of legendary boxer "Rocky" Marciano, writer Truman Capote, and American revolutionary Samuel Adams ("I'll have a Samuel Jackson"), and the autumnal equinox. Summer's over ... how short it was. While I will lament the end of summer until it returns again, we can at the very least look forward to the rich and vibrant local harvest that continues on through this most comfortable of months. Stick and Stone Farm brings us delicious heirlooms tomatoes, green beans, and three kales: Red Russian, dino, and curly. We've got local apples — Sansa, Cox Orange Pippin, Pink Pearl, and more; and plums — Castelton, Long John, Fortune — from Black Diamond Farm; plus more veggies from Blue Heron Farm — broccoli, celery, cilantro, garlic, red potatoes, and tomatoes. Here comes fall, "que sera sera."