Local Food Systen

What does local food mean?

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The way we look at it, local is about more than just distance. Local means knowing where our food comes from and what practices and processes were used along the way. It means paying farmers fairly to support their responsible farming and business practices. Local means growing the region’s economy and actively participating in the community. It means restoring the connection between farmer and consumer. We call this being Positively Local.

Want to participate in the local food movement? See which groceries carry Five Acre Foods products near you.


Farms to Families Update

What started out as a call from a friend who wanted to make an immediate difference in the growing food crisis has turned into a truly holistic approach to helping feed those in need with dignity and nutritious local food. Since last June, Five Acre Farms and the Fair Food Network have leveraged our existing logistics infrastructure to move food directly off of local farms and into the mouths and bodies of our neighbors. The model is to pay the farmer, trucking, and logistics communities fairly so they can continue to remain in our economy. With food insecurity skyrocketing, Five Acre Farms saw an opportunity to provide nutritious fresh food to those in need using this very model – the results have been gratifying.

We have delivered fresh milk and eggs directly to food pantries as we would our existing customers. Our deliveries have been to a range of communities: Upstate Eastern New York, Albany, The South Bronx, Queens, all the boroughs. Sometimes we have been mask to mask, handing out to those in need and sometimes we have been intermediaries. In Queens, we have directly stocked the Jackson Heights Community Fridge, a local non-profit that has a novel approach – outdoor refrigerators up and down the boulevard that is accessible to all that want. Sometimes we park the Big Rig and unload into waiting cars, sometimes it’s milk crates and egg cartons in front of a housing complex in tandem with a local pantry.

Thanks to all of your support and we look forward to doing a lot more.

Dan Horan - Five Acre Farms, CEOI hope everyone is staying safe.


Helping our community during the pandemic

We’re teaming up with Fair Food Network to get food from farmers to local food banks during the coronavirus pandemic.

During COVID-19, we’ve seen lines at local food banks stretch a mile long alongside dumped milk, smashed eggs, and vegetables plowed under in fields. People are hungry and farmers are struggling.

  • 40M People unemployed in wake of COVID-19
  • 4 in 10 Black and Hispanic households with children struggling to feed their families during the pandemic (Source: Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project)
  • 3.5+M Gallions of milk that could be dumped per day right now

How You Can Help

Every dollar you give supports children and families at local food banks while putting more money directly in the pockets of American farmers. Help us do more. Within 24 hours of every donation, we mobilize to bring fresh milk and eggs from farmers to families who need it most.

  • $1,200 – Give a healthy breakfast to 1,250 people
  • $4,300 – Give a healthy breakfast to 4,550 people
  • $9,400 – Give a healthy breakfast to 10,000 people

To make a donation, please click the Donate Now Button which contacts: Nicki Sandberg, Senior Grant Accountant at Fair Food Network at nsandberg@fairfoodnetwork.org. Nicki will guide you through the process and maximize the efficiency of your donation.

The Balance Between Efficient Supply Chains and Resilient Supply Chains

Apples grow abundantly in many parts of the United States. It turns out, the best spot in the US for apple growth may be the Pacific Northwest where there are relatively low humidity and plenty of irrigation.

However, we all want to see apple farms continue to survive on the East Coast and elsewhere outside the Pacific Northwest. East Coast apple farms produce delicious fruit, collectively employ thousands of people, and keep us closer to our food sources and supplies. If consumers exclusively bought apples from the northwest corner of the country where they grow most efficiently (California might take issue here) — and therefore cost the least — consumers would also be supporting divestment in local economies, reduced diversification of resources, and increased risk in supply shock like we’ve just been through. Clearly, the word efficient needs to be re-examined.

Resiliency, in contrast, would maintain apples as regionally important – California, Pacific Northwest, Michigan and Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Maine, Virginia – to name but a few. It invests in the diversification of food sources, in local economies, in open land, and in good food. Resiliency is better for all that consumers value, including valuing how tasty the fruit is on their plate. It’s not really that much more expensive, either.

Do we want apple farms to remain on the East Coast? If we only let the price on the shelf determine our answer — and we erroneously think that “cost” is the same as the price of the end-product — very soon we will have no local apples. None. Just ask dairy farmers if this is overblown rhetoric. It’s not

So, what to do? If you are a processor, contract locally and let your customers know. If you are brand, ask your processor for local apples. If you are A grocery store or supermarket, make sure local is in your selection. If you are an end consumer, look for local. Apple season is coming. Wherever you shop, ask for local apples. Buy local apples.

Milk (Marketing) King of the Northeast

Farms, and specifically dairy farms, were traditionally a centerpiece of economic livelihood and cultural heritage in the rural North East. In the last 70 years, they’ve come under tremendous economic pressure, forcing closures across the Northeast and migration of dairy production to the Midwest and Southwest. This week we speak with Dan Horan, CEO of Five Acre Farms, about the marketing and supply chain solution he’s developed to give those farms, and farmers, a fighting chance…

Listen to the Podcast on Spotify

Listen to the Podcast on iTunes

Northeast Local Farming Update – July 15, 2020

It’s mid-summer. Let me use this post to update you on some of the goings-on in Local Food in the Northeast. The growing season is in full swing. Vegetable gardens are full. A hot June should bring early eggplant, tomatoes, and summer squashes by mid-July, but put pressure on salad greens grown outside. After an okay first cutting, the June heat took its toll on hay and the second cutting isn’t promising. We just haven’t had a lot of rain. If sweet corn hasn’t been irrigated, the lack of rain will negatively impact this, too. Blueberries have come up on the east coast and are still around. The fruit set (how many and in what condition) on apples for the fall looks fine – nothing special but reasonable. We need rain.

Dairy farming has suffered. Schools and cafes are a large source of milk consumption. SBA, PPP, and state-funded buying programs delivering food to those in need have helped, but the fluid milk market is not strong. Large Coops have instituted mandatory reductions in the production of milk. This should help all farms, though who knows how much. Forward-looking pricing for milk has jackknifed down and then back up so it’s hard to get a read on where the market is headed. The egg market remains unsettled, but small egg producers continue to proliferate. The public is learning to distinguish a good egg. This is great news for local food.

With the pandemic changing all our food habits, home deliveries, CSA’s, and farm stands have flourished. While these three outlets only touch a fraction of the population in terms of sales and volume, they are harbingers of a continued trend towards the general public wanting to have closer contact with their food sources. Large supermarkets are responding in kind as Local food continues to bring customers. Store managers listen to requests.

Keep asking for local products!

Ironically, this is happening in tandem with a comeback by old established “center aisle” products from Proctor and Gamble, Nestle, and Hershey’s that share virtually none of the nutritional or transparency qualities of the former, though they do provide the comfort of familiarity.

The success of two opposite food trends shows not only the divided American palate but also how health, nutrition, convenience, transparency, comfort, and convenience all vie for our food dollars.

Go Local!

Northeast Farm Report – Memorial Day Weekend 2020

🥕Find a farmers’ market, farm stand or florist and buy some lilacs!

🥕If you can, plant something in your yard or window.

🥕Get ready for strawberries and blueberries – they are coming up the East Coast.

🥕Say goodbye to ramps

🥕Know that farmers are mid-way through corn planting, getting ready for the first cut of hay, and grazing their cows outdoors as pastures start to grow.

🥕Make fresh butter at home with this fun project: Buy a pint of heavy cream, preferably cream with no stabilizers in it. (Very preferably, Five Acre Farm’s delicious cream.) Pour half of it into a mason jar. Secure lid. Shake hard for 10-15 minutes. Pass it around the house to share the work. See that ball forming in the jar? That’s butter! The rest is buttermilk. Enjoy.

🥕🥚🥦🥛 Five Acre Farms – keeping farmers farming

Good NEWS – Our shopping is changing

The growing season ahead can help propel us towards building a more resilient food system. To be more resilient, it is critical that food systems include local sources. Consumer behavior in the next few months can lead the way to what is possible and buildable.

Here are six positive trends occurring now that consumers should continue:

  1. Shoppers are taking the extra time to secure food from a wider variety of retail sources. Supporting diversification in the food supply is extremely important.
  2. We are cooking more. By doing this we are paying more attention to what food goes into our meals.
  3. We are moving nutrition up the ladder of importance in our buying habits. Buying whole fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, whole grains, fresh eggs supports local food systems, and is also great for the consumer because it is significantly more nutritious.
  4. We are paying attention to the people involved. We are more aware of the people who stock the shelves and their importance to us. We are more aware of local farmers and butchers. We are more aware of the essential people needed to get our food to us.
  5. Our food choices are economic choices. We are in a rare moment when we can see our money in the economy.

These points are separate from federal and state aid to farmers. Government distribution of dollars to farmers has always been a political calculus. This crisis will be no different. The biggest government contributions will not be made towards something new, but rather towards trying to shore up and protect the existing food systems. US farm policy and federal aid to farms is not necessarily bad, but it tends to do little for local food.

So what to do? Keep asking for local food when you are shopping at stores and farmer’s markets. Ask where your food comes from. Enjoy your meals.

Milk Dumping

I call my next series of articles “Behind the Headlines.” Today and through the next few weeks, I want to make sense of some of the recent headlines about our food system. I will also bring up some items that should be headlines but don’t seem to attract any attention.

So why are farmers dumping milk? Food waste at any time is upsetting. Pre-COVID-19, however, American society had come to accept food waste as part of life. Now, in the face of 30+ million new members of the unemployed ranks, uncertain job futures, and a newfound appreciation of how many people are involved in feeding us and how essential those individuals are. In the face of this, it feels tragic and incomprehensible that dairy farmers would dump milk. So why does this happen?

To start, milk is a food where the spigot doesn’t stop. Dairy cows produce milk every day. Their bodies don’t care how many customers are out there. Cows need to be milked twice or even three times a day, every day. A farmer cannot just decide to milk the cow sometimes. If you ’dry off” a heifer – meaning you stop milking her — she will not produce milk again until she has another calf.

So, that decision to dry her off takes her out of the milking parlor for a long time. Keeping a cow you’re not milking is expensive. Herd science and management is complicated and nuanced.

Once the cow is milked, the fresh milk must then be pasteurized within 72 hours of milking. This strict limit has been a crucial public health policy success over the last 75-100 years.

This is the supply side: milk keeps flowing and must be pasteurized in a timely manner.

Meanwhile, the system has very little room to maneuver if there is a major breakdown in the outlets that can receive it. The result is that a crucial part of our food system is inflexible. Within this system is a piece that has quietly moved us away from our farmers: processing. Milk processors sit between the farmer and the end consumer.

Milk processing plants receive raw milk from farms and pasteurize the milk (among many other things.) Over the last 40 years, the downward pricing pressure on milk has turned processors into little more than widget makers trying to squeeze out shrinking profits through increasing scale – a textbook example of a commodity business and all its attending benefits and costs. In fact, there have been few benefits and the costs heavy.

Today, processing has become so consolidated that processors are either enormous or boutique, with nothing in between. In turn, large plants are best suited towards large partners. Their customers are either large dairy companies or large coops. And as you might have guessed, large coops and large dairy companies have trended towards creating large dairy farms.

Everyone in the milk business has known for years that the system is unsustainable and destructive, but despite many good efforts, the trend has not been stopped. Consumers know about the years-long trend of dairy farms closing, but it ramped up in the last 18 months pre-COVID-19 when two of the biggest dairy companies in the world – Dean Foods and Borden – collapsed, too. There have been many wake-up calls before but these are airhorn events.

To give an example, as processors become larger, they have specialized in various products – cheese, fluid milk, yogurt, sour cream, etc. – and in turn like most businesses, developed specialized customer channels. I introduce three companies. Company A, processes fluid milk for supermarkets, Company B processes milk to make sour cream for the Mexican restaurant trade, and Processor C processes milk to make yogurt for both hotel kitchens (big tubs) and grocery markets (6 oz cups). And then the COVID-19 pandemic hits.

Company A remains really busy, but milk is one of those few items that buyers don’t stock up on and instead buy several times per week. As such, sales at company A are up, but have not doubled as many would suspect.

Company B suddenly has no business. B calls their supermarket friends to try to redirect their milk, but B’s package sizes are wrong for supermarkets. B reaches out to their processor’s distributors, but they have become specialists in the Mexican restaurant trade and don’t have a lot of contacts at supermarkets, so can’t help. Hours have been spent on the phone now. Company B now calls their milk coop and tells them they don’t have any place to put their milk. Coops then call their farms and say they can’t send the tanker to pick up the milk today. As noted earlier, the farm can store milk for 72 hours and then must dispose of the milk. The clock is ticking. Company C works the phones to try to ramp up their supermarket sales. Because yogurt has a much longer shelf life than milk, they can keep making 6 oz cups and put into inventory some of the extra yogurt that used to go to hotel breakfast bars, but at some point they will have to reduce their milk intake.

After 72 hours, farmers who sold to company B are required to clean their milk tanks and the first milk starts to get dumped down the drain, or in the field, and it keeps going. A small dairy farm has 100 cows and the average cow produces seven gallons a day. Cue the news cameras and the stories.

Farmers would love to get their fresh milk to food banks, which have seen a dramatic rise in need. But distribution to food banks takes time to set up — have all the calls to food bank managers been made, the hours of delivery agreed upon, the truck routes planned and refrigeration at the food bank facilities ready, with enough shelves there to accept large quantities of perishable milk? And to stay in business, the dairies should be paid. Federal and many state programs have now been announced to provide funds to assist in linking dairies to food banks. There is supply and there is demand, but it takes time to match these two in new ways.

Few industries were ready for the disruptions of a pandemic. The dairy industry was structurally unready for this day.

The lack of a local processing system has left the dairy industry hugely vulnerable to event risk. Mega processors are not bad, but to be nimble, the food system needs smaller and mid-sized local processors as well. To turn on the factory switch, the mega processors’ minimum quantities are enormous, so when there is a change in demand, the system breaks. It’s a little like how hard it is to start a car company, because who has an assembly line handy? We just accidentally created the same thing with milk.

An Egg story: Before Corona – Part 2

In my previous post (see link here if you missed it), I spoke about the first part of getting local eggs to market. Now comes the other half. Six years later, Jeff and FAF continue to bring Sunset Farms eggs to market. It’s not only a business relationship, but a human one as well. Once Jeff and family pack their daily supply of eggs from his flock, he heads to his truck and checks his smartphone.

Enter Jonathan: JTD, as he is known. JTD runs logistics for Five Acre Farms. JTD texts Jeff our orders as he gets in orders from the FAF buyers. JTD then coordinates with our truck driver, Jeremy, for the pick-up from Sunset Farms. This coordination takes time to master since it includes other pick-ups for Jeremy of perishable items that will also be on the delivery run. Technology has been a godsend.

Jeff and Jeremy load the pallets of eggs (about 900 dozen) onto the trailer and then Jeremy heads south. Jeremy spends his week inside the confines of a newly leased International 2020 LT pulling a 48-foot trailer, which includes a comfortable sleeper cabin.

About 200 miles later, Jeremy is backing the trailer into a bay in a Bronx warehouse, where several people (JTD, Subhash and Pete) wait to unload. Jeremy has to back in “blind” (mirrors don’t show the way) because of the dock set up — tightly packed parked trucks, a high curb divide and a narrow service road just off the Bruckner. He is a pro so he glides in easily.

Subhash is an actor and volleyball coach during the day and works at the FAF warehouse 2-3 nights a week. He drives a forklift, uses a pallet jack and assists JTD and Pete in getting the orders packed for the next day. Pete manages as many as seven trucks and drivers for FingerLakes Farms. FingerLakes services several hundred accounts with fruit, dairy, meat and vegetables from almost 200 regional farms and covers the last mile logistics for Five Acre Farms.

The eggs and milk (16 pallets in all) come off the truck, and by 11 pm, Jeremy is back on the road, heading out of the city. Subhash, Pete, and JTD then sort and pack orders for Pete’s trucks to deliver the next morning. They will reach around 100 shops, kitchens and markets.

By 11am the next day, Jeff’s eggs have gotten to where they need to be. Some were unloaded by Rodolpho at Key Food Supermarket, some by Luis at Chefs Warehouse (a large distributor). They were then packed out onto a supermarket shelf or delivered to a hotel kitchen or a local diner that needed local eggs. The end customers wanted a fresher, Local egg on a reliable basis, and that’s what they got.

I have only listed some of the people involved in the egg delivery but all of them play a role in getting Jeff’s eggs on your table. They don’t represent unnecessary “middlemen.” They are all part of our economy, part of the Local Food economy that is flexible, nimble and human. That changed drastically when COVID19 hit.

An Egg Story: Before Corona – Part 1

When Five Acre Farms first started selling eggs, barely anyone bought them. We couldn’t even give them away. Orders were so small we could pick them up in a Toyota Tercel! One day that all changed.

The buyer for a local diner called up one of our milk distributors in a panic. She thought the diner had been serving local eggs but now had no idea if that was true. The company they used advertised as such. The diner was one location of a well-known Greater NY metro area chain with a handful of locations. They took pride in quality ingredients. One day, a customer asked a manager where their eggs were from. The manager ran back into the kitchen and looked at the box and saw a Pennsylvania address, then went back out and told the customer. This story reached the CEO and buyer and out of curiosity, they organized a farm visit to see their source.

They drove out to the “farm” and couldn’t find it. Round and round they drove but kept coming back to a warehouse. The problem was there was no farm.  Instead, there was an egg sorting and grading facility that received eggs from all over the country. Where were their eggs from? How fresh were they? Could they even be sure they were “cage free?” The answer was they had no idea. That had to change.

The odd thing about the egg business is that the labels on egg cartons are like the Wild West. Anything goes…cage free, free range, vegetarian, omega this, omega that – it’s all just unregulated marketing with no meaning. Let me repeat: the terminology is unregulated, interpreted with wide variety, and therefore without meaning. The box in the refrigerator may list many possible sources from many states. The few companies that actually tell the real story of what’s inside the carton are few and far between.

I first met Jeff McMurray in 2013. Jeff started Sunset Farm with his wife and son in 2006. They leased land at first but in 2011, he bought 80 Acres in Argyle, NY.  They started out raising “broilers,” that is, chickens you eat, as well as turkeys and goats. But by the end of 2012, Jeff felt he had to make a change. He was good at raising and working with chickens but he wasn’t able to get a price he needed to survive. He decided to switch his farm to “layers,” chickens that lay eggs. Layers and broilers are different chicken breeds, as layers don’t make good eating, so he needed a new flock.

Jeff had heard correctly that Five Acre Farms (FAF) paid farmers a higher price than the “market,” and that we draw attention to local farmers in our marketing. Jeff and FAF started working together as Jeff redirected his new business, which also included selling his eggs at farmers’ markets and to supermarkets directly. Both FAF and Jeff agreed that diversification of revenue stream is essential for farmers.

Six years later, Jeff and FAF continue to bring Sunset Farms eggs to market. Being Positively Local is more than just proximity. It means transparency in sourcing, fairness in pricing, and keeping farmers farming. But the local story doesn’t end there. Next up – Getting the Sunset eggs to market – The Logistics of Local Food.

Tenets of Local

There are a multitude of reasons why we should prioritize holding onto a secure and dependable Local food system that is economically rewarding to farmers and our population.

Is Local food a panacea? Nope, not even close. But, it is essential. Here are four core concepts underlying my thinking: diversification theory, supply chain transparency, recognition of our human food economy, and regional agricultural strength. They all should be recognized as important pieces of the puzzle.

Diversification theory: Much like a portfolio, our sources of food should come from an array of places to spreads out risk. So too should the workforce that delivers this food. Simply put, more diversity leads to lower risk.

Transparency: Central to the definition of Local food is transparency. Local food is more than just place or food miles. It means we know the people involved in making or growing the food. We know where the food came from, and we know the farming, labor and business practices behind them because they matter to our community. This is very empowering in the face of an anonymous food system.

The Human Food Economy: Technology, mechanization and industrialization have all done wonders for the world and for the world of farming. However, food is still a very human experience. People are involved in planting, picking, harvesting, packing and making food to varying degrees. They are also involved in delivering and serving that food. Ultimately, we all eat that food. Local food allows us to appreciate all the people involved in feeding us. We sure appreciate them now! And when you stop to think of it, that we are now noticing all the human elements of our food economy, it’s a beautiful thing.

Regional Agricultural Strengths: Other than in California, our regional agricultural strength has been an accidental casualty of today’s system. We need to stop this. In the Northeast, we as consumers can profitably and economically have available to us 10-12 months of the year from local producers the following: eggs, milk, cheddar cheese, onions, potatoes, apples, cabbage, bread, yogurt, kale, salad mix, blueberry jam, butter, soy products and more. The full list is so much longer. In a crisis, we appreciate the importance of items like these and the people involved who get them to us from farm to our door.

Not everything grows everywhere: some climates are better suited to certain crops. Some people are better at making things than others. Food has become national and international and all the world has benefited. But, without a healthy regional food supply to compliment a national and global system, our abilities to respond to short term crises and protect our local economies are unnecessarily hamstrung.

Our current actions of social distancing, wearing masks, and active hand washing are not easy, but we’re all doing them. Supporting Local food and farming is an easier, very doable part of go-forward plans in which we can all take part. Next up: Real-world example of how food gets to you.


The Local Network

As I wrote about in my previous posts, our country’s macro distribution system for food has been derailed. We didn’t plan for micro networks to be needed, and that oversight is in clear focus now. The point is that micro networks must be part of the solution.

The US quest for cheap food where dollar cost is the only value considered has badly damaged regional suppliers. The quest for cheap food also does not fully deliver what the customer wants. And, it has created a whole host of costs that don’t show up at the cash register.

Unseen costs and consequences of NOT having a robust Local food system are legion – here are a few:

  • The demise of small and mid-sized farms. Result: Farms increasing in size to the point they are no longer welcome community assets and neighbors, particularly in animal operations.
  • Farming not viewed as a profitable enterprise worth pursuing. Result: A “brain drain“ from an essential human occupation.
  • Less choice in food source. Result: Consumers’ greater dependence on fewer providers.
  • Farmers are not paid to protect soil or microbial health and no, the “market” does not build in this cost. Result: A long-term depletion of a valuable regional resource. To illustrate, when was the last time any of us bought food with this in mind? Exactly.
  • Water seen as an input rather than a crucial resource to protect. Result: A long-term depletion and pollution of an existential resource.
  • Less understanding of where food comes from. Result: Many of the problems listed above.
  • Less understanding of the importance that a vibrant local economy plays within our national and global economy. Result: Less support of farming; increased animosity between farmers in rural settings and urban and suburban dwellers due to lack of connection.
  • Dehumanization our food providers. Result: Dehumanization of the people that are part of that food logistics chain.
  • The length of this list underscores the point that our over-reliance on macro networks has resulted not only in numerous unintended consequences, but also in consequences to critical things that consumers themselves value. Happily, it’s not too late to solve this for the future.