Episode 4

A Mighty Hybrid Food Hub in the Northeast

Published on: 29th June, 2021

For the next few episodes of “What Is American Food?” we’ll be turning our attention from the southwest to the northeast. 

Red Tomato is an innovative non-profit food hub based in Providence, Rhode Island. For 25 years they’ve been partnering with small to mid-sized farms to help with marketing, logistics, and distribution.

We’ll hear Red Tomato’s origin story from Michael Rozyne, Angel Mendez, and Sue Futrell. Plus, 8th-generation orchardist John Lyman gives us practical examples of how Red Tomato helps his farm partner with others to make sure everyone succeeds in the market.

But Red Tomato’s story is not all sunshine and rainbows-- they almost lost everything in 2002, when a crucial piece of funding dried up. Their response ended up changing the entire way the organization functions, making it more resilient than ever.

As the American food system recovers from the past year of disruption, we can all look to Red Tomato for an example of building trust and committing to sustainability and transparency, while honoring the dignity of all the people who provide our food.

We’ll be making more episodes about Red Tomato, so be sure to subscribe in your favorite podcast app to be alerted whenever new content drops. You can also subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Instagram.

Guests:

Michael Rozyne, co-founder of Red Tomato

Angel Mendez, Executive Director of Red Tomato

Sue Futrell, Director of Marketing for Red Tomato

John Lyman, 8th generation orchardist at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, CT

The Six Founding Sisters:

Team Red Tomato wanted to acknowledge their Six Founding Sisters in this podcast but we ran out of time! Here they are. They were with Red Tomato from 1997-1999 and all stayed on for years into the new millennium. Diane Rast has been the only graphic designer to have ever done any major work for Red Tomato, having designed every version of every logo and package and major promo piece for all 24 years.

Marla Rhodes

Iliana Rivas

Kate Larson

Betty MacKenzie

Lynn Colangione

Diane Rast

Disclaimer: Ali Berlow is a member of Red Tomato’s board of trustees.

Transcript
Hannah Semler:

Welcome to "What is American Food?," a podcast about where our food comes from and the systems and supply chains that get it to our tables. I'm Hannah Semler.

Ali Berlow:

And I'm Ali Berlow.

Hannah Semler:

In this episode, we wanted to contextualize the shift in our storytelling today. So from Mexico farms and food banks at our southern border, to northeast farms and one very small yet mighty hybrid food hub, the nonprofit called Red Tomato, based in Providence, Rhode Island.

Ali Berlow:

Red Tomato brings us back to the local and regional food systems, and the important part they play in feeding people daily. Those systems that coexist right along with the global supply chains we touched on in previous episodes.

Hannah Semler:

Through this pandemic, we have all experienced how quickly our lives can change, and the role that supply chains have in our daily lives. As a hybrid nonprofit food hub, Red Tomato has for the last 25 years survived several big disruptions with funding, corporate consolidation, and market fluctuations. And from their origin story today, we learn about how they got started, and why. Responding to the need of small and midsized farms in the northeast, reinventing themselves along the way with cooperation, forging ahead despite the odds. So we look at Red Tomato today for a bit of hope as we come out of these difficult times.

Ali Berlow:

Let's kick it off with Michael Rozyne. He's one of the co-founders of Equal Exchange. Think fair trade coffee, chocolate from Latin America. Michael also founded Red Tomato about 25 years ago. In a recent interview we did with Michael about food systems at large, he sets the stage for this episode by talking about what stories we think we know or don't know about farms in the northeast.

Michael Rozyne:

So now you go to local. Now we're talking about farms that you can drive by on vacation, you see them all the time if you live in a kind of exurban area. And what you see are beautiful landscapes. But you also see farms that have assets, they own equipment, they have machinery, and poverty is not what comes to mind. Even if you're driving by a really small scale farm that might be on the edge of survival, poverty and extinction are not what come to mind. You're going to see either a beautiful landscape, fields, equipment, people working, and I don't think the brain goes to, "Wow, these people are growing the food that I eat," necessarily, even though that's kind of obvious. Or it doesn't even go to, "I need to support this enterprise to keep it in my community or keep it in my region, so that we have jobs and farms and land and experts who know how to solve natural resource problems." It just doesn't happen that way. And so I think people kind of experience that more as agro tourism, or a snapshot of pleasantry, but not necessarily a critical part of their own sustenance and economy.

Ali Berlow:

Red Tomato is a nonprofit, and a food hub, and a produce distributor, a hybrid. And just as it doesn't fit neatly into one or the other category, you kind of got to think out of the box to understand why they're doing everything they're doing. As an innovator, they're solving for problems in both aggregation and supply chain logistics. Their focus and their mission is always grounded in the economic viability of midsized farms and orchards.

Hannah Semler:

Yeah, and also in trust. We're going to hear from Angel Mendez, Red Tomato's executive director. And I could talk to Angel for hours. He's a Puerto Rican-American, Boston-raised, supply chain and logistics wizard, and just the most wholehearted business person you can find.

Ali Berlow:

And we also interviewed Red Tomato's director of marketing, Sue Futrell, who came to the organization about two decades ago, and has been coordinating the incredible network of professionals, practitioners, and farmers that have co-created Red Tomato's signature eco-certified program, Eco Apple and Eco Peach, which we'll be talking about in just a minute.

Hannah Semler:

So one of the key partners that's going to bring it all together for our listeners is John Lyman, eighth generation farmer at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, Connecticut. JOhn is on Red Tomato's Board of Trustees, and he helped Eco Apple and Eco Peach third party certifications get started. These certifications are based on advanced principles of integrated pest management, or IPM. Basically sustainable orchard stewardship. Here's John.

John Lyman:

We established farming in Middlefield in 1741. So we're 280 years strong. I am the eighth generation of Lymans who have been farming the land here in Middlefield. Our operation today is a lot different than it was 280 years ago. We're very diversified. Being in an urban state like Connecticut, we've had to adapt. Our biggest resource is our land, so while we continue to farm, we also utilize other forms of open space use. So we have 45 holes of golf. We have a retail store. And then we've expanded. We're vertically integrated into wholesale pie production, which is our biggest part of our business now, and is most rapidly growing. So it helps us to even out the risk we have with weather, gives us a little defense against that. Because all the other businesses if we have bad weather, it has a very negative impact on us. So again, very diversified. Yet we are very committed to farming and we've been doing it for a long time.

Hannah Semler:

So a comment here on resilience and how orchards and dairies went hand in hand in the northeast. Golf courses taking the place of dairies. I don't necessarily love it. But it makes me appreciate what farmers have had to do to stay alive. That adaptive, resilient, willingness to transform. It's just smart business. Going back to Michael's opening quote, it changes the way I look at open spaces, whether it's solar fields or golf courses. Those used to be dairy farms. Here's John.

John Lyman:

We have about 300 acres that the farm actually takes up. And today we're growing about 100 acres of apples, which is our largest crop, but then we have peaches at 35 acres. We grow small fruits as well-- strawberries, blueberries, raspberries. We also grow pumpkins. A lot of the crops we grow are really dedicated toward direct market, whether it be our store, whether it be pick your own. We do a large pick your own business, and are inviting people to the farm. And that's one of the things that we've been doing for years. It's a very big piece of our business, is sort of the agrotourism, that you hear that that term thrown around. We have mazes. So we really are inviting people to come spend the afternoon or the day with us. And really experience firsthand the picking. You know, we always hear about, how do you teach the young kids about farming? Well, with pick your own, you're giving them one of the best experiences they're going to take for their whole life. They're out in the orchard with their family, they're picking fruit. So this idea they don't connect to where it comes from? Well, they connect because they're doing it. What's really cool is we have the children coming back. They were kids, now they're parents, and some are even the grandparents. So multigenerational people who have had the experience at Lymans coming back each year to pick. And that connection is really, really strong. It's amazing. And it's really exciting to see.

Ali Berlow:

Pick-your-owns, or U-picks, exploded in popularity in the midst of the pandemic. And that was a real lifesaver for lots of orchards last year, when so many wholesale accounts just vanished.

Hannah Semler:

That direct connection to their communities created and increased awareness of how our communities are rooted in their agricultural heritage. With Lyman Orchards and those eight generations of farming, you also get the eight generations of people experiencing the farm. So how do we tell the story to those customers off the farm and bring that connection and relationship? Well, that is where Red Tomato comes in.

Ali Berlow:

So here's Sue Futrell. She brought along a deep understanding of the organic products industry when she joined red tomato, and she also has a real passion for heirloom apples. So along with the IPM Institute, the Integrated Pest Management Institute, which is another nonprofit, helped develop that eco certified program with a cadre of science advisors from land grant schools in the northeast like UMass, Cornell, Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont. Here's Sue.

Sue Futrell:

So when I first came to Red Tomato I asked, like, why are we working with orchards? And why aren't they organic? And what, you know what, like, what's the story here? And quickly learned that sort of all of the things that are near and dear to my heart in terms of thinking about how to make food and farming more sustainable in the long term, were kind of coming together around apples in the northeast. The reason is that tree fruit in the climate and the growing conditions pretty much everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, is happening in a relatively humid weather-dependent climate. Growing conditions that make the specific rules around organic substances really, really challenging. Those national organic standards are just that-- they're national, they were very suitable for some of the big growing regions like the Northwest where there's irrigation and dry climate. But the apple growing regions in the east really kind of got left out of that opportunity because the challenges of using only these limited non-synthetic substances that organic was built around.

Ali Berlow:

I think this is a really important point, that the national organic certification standards for apples aren't appropriate for orchards in the northeast. Because they're actually based on the growing practices and climate conditions in the northwestern United States. And now a lot of that research coming out of publicly funded institutions in the northwest is becoming more and more hyper focused on that region.

Hannah Semler:

And that's why these farms in the northeast need Red Tomato to retell their story.

Ali Berlow:

Here's Sue again.

Sue Futrell:

What I came into was a situation where there are these fabulous growers committed to growing sustainably and ecologically, very committed to the safety of their fruit, their employees, the people who are picking and visiting their farm stands, but using some of the treatments that are not permitted under organic and therefore just kind of completely shut out of a way to differentiate what they were doing in the consumer marketplace. And our challenge became how to support them in their production work as a network, to help make a protocol and production system that fit the northeast and also fit the sustainable and ecological goals, and then translate that somehow into a position in the market that would differentiate what they were doing from conventional produce that people assume was being grown in different ways.

Hannah Semler:

The network that Sue, John Lyman, and Red Tomato have created to support these orchards and tell their stories provide the quality differentiator for the customer. So a competitive advantage for these businesses. And the robust interdisciplinary group of professionals that have come together around a very intentional goal of reviving and bolstering growers in the northeast is directly impacting the very fabric of our food economies. And customers get to participate at that label level in the grocery store, when they see that Eco Certified sticker on a product or the shelf.

Ali Berlow:

And for Red Tomato, Eco Apple and Eco Peach programs really helped shape their role as a nonprofit, their purpose and impact in the value chain-- supported by the scientists and the farmers and the orchardists, all influencing the branding, marketing, packaging, and storytelling that Red Tomato is now experts in.

Hannah Semler:

With that, they've built up to between a 2 and 5 million dollar market depending on the year for a network of 40 plus farms in the northeast, while also designing new ways of thinking about how to address the inequities in food access at the community level, in partnership with Rios partners, exploring with Equitable Food Initiative how to better support workers rights and workforce development for small and regional farms. And all this while also expanding to pecan growers in Georgia, serving as marketing agent to New Communities, America's first community land trust cooperatively owned by black farmers. And we will be hearing about all of these programs in the episodes to come.

Ali Berlow:

As founder of Red Tomato Michael Rozyne has been an inspiration and a tireless visionary. But none of it would have come true without executive director Angel Mendez, who from the start has basically done all the jobs in the Red Tomato universe.

Hannah Semler:

Through its many adaptations, Red Tomato has been driven by a fast, creative, and strong collaborative culture. And the influence of Michael's background in fair trade, and his insistence on adapting that model for growers in the northeast, has combined with Angel Mendez's widely recognized and respected role as the logistics and distribution mind, creating an extremely unique and effective food hub. Here's Angel.

Angel Mendez:

What I've come to understand fully in the long term here is that we're not your average food distributor or produce distributor. We're different in many ways. And part of that is because we're so mission driven that our focus is the viability of small mid sized family farms in the Northeast region. But we understand that they're part of a larger system, and it's change that we'd like to see across the food system. You know, when Michael started this organization, he went to farmers and said, "Okay, I want to support you guys. What do we do? What, how can we best support you?"

Hannah Semler:

And here's Michael.

Michael Rozyne:

The simple words are, we're a food hub. We're a nonprofit distributor marketing agent for midsize farms. We do the things that people associate with food hubs and distributors. We do marketing and sales, deal making, aggregation, logistics management, all the paperwork, all the packaging development. We do all that. That's enough. And then we do a bunch of things that no one would ever imagine a food hub or distributor would actually get involved in. We do them because we feel like, given the economy, midsize growers are really fighting an uphill battle here.

Ali Berlow:

Angel explains further.

Angel Mendez:

Growers want more market access and small local growers need to differentiate commodities and try to add value so that they can get a fair price than what it takes for them to sustain their farm organizations. So in order for these small, midsized family farms to succeed, to thrive, to have succession and returning family members to come and keep those farms alive, we need to give them the space that they need in a level playing field in the marketplace, meaning getting them fair pricing and getting them more market access. So inside of that, what we do is the trade machine that we've built, has grown to be about 3 to 5 million in annual trade revenue.

Hannah Semler:

There's a lot more to market development that Red Tomato sees necessary to supporting growers in the northeast and beyond. Here's Angel again.

Angel Mendez:

Being a nonprofit for Red Tomato is important, so that as we continue to battle as a small machine against the big commercial agriculture, in order to level the playing field, because we need commercial agriculture, and we need small farms. And so we want to build a system that enables both of them to thrive together. And so, as we understand those inequities, what makes us different is that we take those into programmatic work and find ways through collaboration, or through work that we're doing ourselves to try to change things that will support more access in the marketplace for local growers.

Hannah Semler:

After hearing from Michael, John, Sue, and Angel, it is evident that the organization is so much about relationships, trust, transparency, and respect. The programs they have developed over the years with those values at their core like Eco Certified, brings that into real practical focus. John Lyman explains how they've started to collaborate more since working with Red Tomato's network of eco growers. So the unintended consequences also have a story.

John Lyman:

And I can remember a conversation with some of the other growers because Red Tomato's different, they're unique. Michael Rozyne is a unique person. I've told him to his face, "You're very unique, Michael, in a very good way." But he doesn't fit the mold of a produce buyer. And Red Tomato doesn't talk like produce buyers. So when a grower first starts, they're thinking, I don't know if these guys are for real, and I don't, you know, it's all nice stuff I'm hearing but they're not gonna be able to move the volume, I need them to move. And then they learn by working with, and that doesn't take long, that Yeah, they're, they're serious, and they do a really good job. And one of the things that they're masters at is distribution, figuring distribution out. Angel Mendez, who's the executive director is, by far in my mind, one of the best distribution guys I've ever met. Really complicated stuff, they just do every day, to a grower who would have to figure that all out himself. And again, a huge advantage of working with a group in a group setting. So again, initially, you have people wondering, who are these guys, but once they start working and becoming part of the network, they realize, you know, these guys are really, they're in it for us. And we can build this thing and work really well with that. The loyalty I've seen with a few of the core growers have been with them for years, it's because they just have that trust, and that relationship has been built, and it's solid.

Hannah Semler:

Red Tomato's approach to collaboration and their way of playing friendly in the produce business is not common, or otherwise readily available to growers. And yet, it is an essential part of how we are going to sustain, adapt, and be resilient into the future, and bring our food system back with connection, trust, and joy.

Ali Berlow:

So how they build that trust with growers started with what Michael and Angel call the dignity deal. Those two sat together, pencil in hand, creating a new way of doing business.

Hannah Semler:

Michael explains how he applied the thinking the principles behind the model of farm cooperatives in Latin America, fair trade with Equal Exchange, to farms in the US and the Northeast.

Michael Rozyne:

So how do you take that model, bring it to the northeastern United States, make sense of it? How do you reproduce it? And then how do you explain that to customers? What we figured out was that it's definitely not a direct translation, that's too hard. We don't have fixed prices, you can't work and produce in the US and establish a pricing formula. So I came up with this internal description of the deal, which we called the dignity deal, which was the basis of a relationship with a local grower, fully transparent from the beginning, bringing them in kind of the negotiation and the pricing structure and saying here, let's think together on how we're going to price this for a customer. We call this the dignity price, and 25 years later, that conversation and that relationship is one of the things growers appreciate most.

Hannah Semler:

And although the cooperative model of Latin America with fair trade, may not easily translate to the fair business model for orchards that Red Tomato is creating in the northeast, there is a common thread. And it occurs to me that this is Michael's love language. It is amazing to see how a third party certification like Eco Certified can become the common language driving shared interests, reciprocal relationships between distributors and farmers, and creating an opportunity for customers to better understand what's good and what's right when it comes to feeding their families.

Ali Berlow:

Third party certifications, they're one of the tools we can use to build trust and accountability. But they also can't solve for all of our concerns around worker safety, environmental justice, or economic justice. John Lyman talks about the value of the network of growers working with Red Tomato under the Eco Certified program.

John Lyman:

I'll give you an example of kind of that collaboration. If you have a hailstorm, you know, and you're in a wholesale market. I did this one year, we had a hailstorm and I told our groceries chain buyer that we had a hailstorm. And you know he was sympathetic enough. But every time we sent our apples in, the quality inspectors were watching our apples because they knew we had a problem. And so it became very difficult. And if you have a storm that actually wipes out your ability to sell those fancy, if you're going to keep your place in the market, you have to go out and buy outside apples from other growers and then repack them just to hold your place. In Red Tomato's network, we have a hailstorm. You can tell hey, we got a hailstorm. We're not going to have the apples this year, and other growers are going to pick it up because you're all working together. And you know, next year when you come back, you're going to get your place back, you're not going to be out of place. From a grower perspective it's a tremendous value. It's hard to place. It brought fun back to fruit growing that had gotten very, very stressful in terms of being able to work together and have some fun growing fruit and marketing it and just enjoying what you're doing. For me, it's been very rewarding.

Hannah Semler:

So how do you take those values of cooperation and fun sustainability and make them a story that inspires the next generation of farmers and customers? And it is important to point out how Red Tomato is able to do this because they're a hybrid nonprofit and a food business. So they can raise philanthropic support to address the complexities and paradoxes in our food system.

Ali Berlow:

Yeah. And because they get philanthropic support, they can also ask the difficult questions. Can customers afford this food? Will produce retailers accept cosmetic issues? Does the government appropriately recognize and reward the charitable role of farms? Many for-profit entities don't always have the inclination to address structural inequalities, or challenge assumptions, or solve for communities accessing fresh food in a sustained way.

Hannah Semler:

Let's come back to Angel speaking about his personal experience of working for Red Tomato and the culture they have built together.

Angel Mendez:

For me, throughout Red Tomato from the beginning, the culture that Michael was bringing into the organization was values around transparency, and building trust within the supply chains. Everything we did was pretty transparent. And that felt fair in itself. And when we were working with growers, and it was just a cool way to go and understand the dignity price and understanding that we wanted to try to be a couple bucks ahead of that. So that kept all of those conversations just really open and fair. I'm a person of huge empathy and big heart. And I feel like this value system that I'm in right now feels good. You know, I grew up in a project where I had to deal with 20 personalities in one building. So I was trained early on how to deal with all different types of people, never mind going into the courtyard. But food was like a place where we can get everybody from all kinds of places at the table, and then figure out how to get that one discussion.

Hannah Semler:

Angel's comment about food bringing everyone around the table, and the fact that he's feeling good about Red Tomato's culture and mission, and he feels a part of it, it really speaks to the power of creating collaborative and participatory workplace environments. And the fact that Red Tomato is able to walk that talk within their own organization, and create experts out of practitioners giving equal opportunity to participate in the strategic business decisions. It kind of says it all.

Ali Berlow:

And sometimes I think maybe we just need to build a whole new table.

Hannah Semler:

Well, and that's kind of what they're doing.

Ali Berlow:

I've seen Angel speak. And I think it's really important to have perspectives like his at the policy level, making sure we're all having these discussions.

Hannah Semler:

One of Red Tomato's transformational moments that Angel led the organization through, had to do with losing a big chunk of foundation money that they were relying on in 2002. And it ended up changing their whole business model. Here's Michael talking about what happened.

Michael Rozyne:

We at that point with our board made a very difficult decision to completely give up warehousing, trucking, delivery, refrigeration, handling the product. And we did that at the end of 2002. And we said, we're going to try to keep our customers, keep our growers, keep our business intact, and figure out how to do it using other people's assets. And I'd say that changed the work life for all of us. Everyone was laid off who worked out there, except for Angel Mendez.

Hannah Semler:

So from that, they became a different organization. Small, nimble, flexible, about six or seven full time people now. And assetless, a distributor, a food hub without infrastructure, no trucks, no warehouses, and no refrigeration. I mean, they had some. Angel explains further.

Angel Mendez:

What Red Tomato hass really built the strength at in non asset based logistics is the aggregation of local farm product, and being able to be the go to people for aggregated local farm supply. So over 20 plus years, we've mastered that. We're really good at delivering and procuring in a non asset based distribution system.

Ali Berlow:

And without all that infrastructure, Red Tomato's energies and focus could really be on their role of representing farmers to buyers, and to the Eco Certified program that has supported up to 20 orchards.

Hannah Semler:

That willingness to adapt, and again, that element of what we consider smart business-- resilience, including practitioners in the strategic decision making, making Angel the leader through that difficult time-- that is simply re-evolutionary.

Ali Berlow:

I love that you just said that, re-evolutionary.

Hannah Semler:

Well, yeah, I mean, Red Tomato's resilience, that hybrid model gives them the ability to generate their own revenue, receive philanthropic dollars, and keep designing components that are allowing Red Tomato to stay afloat, for example, in the face of the ever consolidating produce market that has started to eat up businesses. And that was another re-evolutionary moment in 2018. Michael talks about that next.

Michael Rozyne:

And where there was all this consolidation happening at the retail level, we felt like people were leaving, you know, it's like, you have this long relationship with a buyer and it's tenure. And then somebody else comes in, and it's like, it's a different game. And there was some of that going on, there were acquisitions, and we just felt like, we'd only lost one piece of business. And the rest felt secure for the medium term. But the point was, this is a different world going forward the next 10 years. And so we said to ourselves, for the first time, and at that point, it was like after 20 plus years, we have to explore another way to build business for these growers. Other than just these leading supermarket chains. I remember some of the meetings where Angel and I would be like sitting down with a pen, and we'd be scribbling. And we'd be thinking back on conversations we've had with some advisors. And it led to a program that we now call Bypass, which Angel's leading.

Hannah Semler:

And Ali, wasn't this when Amazon bought Whole Foods?

Ali Berlow:

It was 2017. So just before.

Hannah Semler:

It was an important moment. I remember the shock, the changing landscape before your eyes, farmers no longer being able to sell food to their once local food partner. It was not a great moment, and it's changed the landscape of our food system forever. And the fact that Red Tomato was able to take stock of that moment and say, wait a minute, we need to plan ahead 10 years in a totally different way. Now, it just speaks to their visionary role in the food system. One of the things that we've seen during the pandemic was how wholesale accounts and food service were affected. And e-commerce for direct to consumer channels exploded. It's interesting that now Red Tomato's actively turning to focus on community food systems and direct to consumer models, because they're seeing that as the future of food. And this is really Angel's passion. And of course he describes it best.

Angel Mendez:

Also understanding the economics of growers and understanding the challenges that the communities are facing. When there's a lot of entities within the community right now like urban farming, food, pantries, food banks, and things like that, that are, that are working on trying to bring food on a regular basis in abundance. Part of the things that don't work right now is these economics around local farm supply and affordability in order to get to the retail market and retail margins markup and affordable and access to continue a flow stream. That doesn't work because for local farms, they, they need a certain fair price and once that gets to retail market margin markup and the end sell price to the consumer is less affordable than what they're used to paying for, would like to pay for their produce in those communities. Given what we've learned on how to work with growers, and that we can coordinate that supply with them, and what we've learned about logistics, metrics, structure, and accounting of what it takes to kind of do this stuff, and understand and fully the economics of small farms, we see that the avenue in order to building a system that resolves kind of the problem and gets fresh, healthy local food in abundance and connects local growers with community leaders that are bringing food into those communities is through collaboration of growers and the community and taking out the retailer.

Hannah Semler:

This work that Angel talks so passionately about, the Bypass program, gets to the heart of Red Tomato's direction. To me Red Tomato is so obviously the kind of framework from which to design our food system with the values that Angel talks about. And it gives me hope that we might find a way to helpfully and peacefully coexist on this limitedly resourced but bountiful planet. Thanks for tuning in everyone and to our guests. A special thanks to John Lyman, Sue Futrell, Angel Mendez, and Michael Rozyne. We learned so much from you. And everyone at Red Tomato, the six founding sisters, always the agents of change. Thank you to Elijah Berlow for the music, Melody Rowell for production and marketing support. We could not do this without either of them. You can find What is American Food on your favorite podcast channel and on the web at whatisamericanfood.com. Please sign up for our newsletter and subscribe to the podcast on your favorite app. And don't miss those bonus episodes either. Follow us on Instagram. And as always a big thank you to the Betsy And Jesse Fink Family Foundation for their ongoing support of What Is American Food. We're making more episodes that will go deeper into Red Tomato's work so please stay tuned.

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About the Podcast

What is American Food?
Stories that illustrate the value of the food we eat, don’t eat and why.
What is American Food? is a podcast exploring the widespread assumptions and gaps in knowledge about the food we eat and the food we waste. Through storytelling, we reveal how our U.S. food system is designed - identifying where we can most impact hunger relief, climate change, and economic stability for families everywhere.

Co-hosts Hannah Semler and Ali Berlow take a broad and deep dive into food systems, in a format that questions, informs, and discusses the nature of how we understand where our food comes from in the U.S. Season 1 focuses on produce production in Mexico, developed over the last century to feed the U.S., and the food bank efforts that support millions of families who are food insecure in the U.S. We speak with business owners, nonprofits and funding institutions, as well as food systems practitioners in different sectors. Our focus is on lesser known stories about where the food we eat comes from and why, and the value of food for people and planet, in order to inform our future food systems design.

What Is American Food? is grateful for the financial support from the Betsy and Jesse Fink Family Foundation.

About your hosts

Ali Berlow

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Ali Berlow is the former founding executive director of Island Grown Initiative, a non-profit that supports the small family farms and farmers of Martha’s Vineyard. She is also the former co-host of The Local Food Report out of NPR member station, WCAI, in Woods Hole, MA, and in 2009 along with her husband, launched Edible Vineyard magazine which they still own today. She has a Master of Food and Agriculture Law and Policy from Vermont Law School and is the author of two books: ‘The Food Activist Handbook: Big & Small Things You Can Do to Help Provide Fresh, Healthy Food for Your Community‘ and ‘The Mobile Poultry Slaughterhouse: Building a Humane Chicken Processing Unit to Strengthen Your Local Food System.'

Hannah Semler

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Hannah Semler is co-founder of FarmDrop.us, a woman-owned online farmer’s market tool for small-scale producers, and principal of WholeCrops, a consulting firm specialized in food rescue. She is a Betsy and Jesse Fink Family Foundation Fellow, and has been working for Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona as such for the past three years.