Friday, August 24, 2007

Setting the Story Straight

By Brian Rohter

We were really surprised to find New Seasons Market in a story in Friday’s Portland Tribune, titled “Stores snub local farmers”. I’ve worked on stories before with Peter Korn, the writer of this piece, and know he’s a good reporter, but there’s a major disconnect between that headline and the reality of what happens at New Seasons Market. I called Peter and invited him to get back to me so we could set the record straight.

I just took a walk through our Produce Department at our Seven Corners store in SE Portland and counted 108 local produce items from 37 local farms (which we define as Oregon grown or from a farm in Washington within a two-hour drive from Portland). Chris Harris, our Produce Merchandiser and Local Buyer, spends lots of time walking the Farmer’s Markets looking for smaller local growers that we can purchase from. He also works with a group of local farmers in the fall of every year to plan their crops for the following season. We make deals in advance guaranteeing how much we’ll buy and at what price, so the farm families can have the financial security they need to make it through another year making a profit.

We have gobs of information about our local program available for you to check out. First, you can look at the price signs in our stores because we label where our food comes from. Second, Chris posts a “Market Report” on our website every week that outlines the local produce that we’re featuring. Third, you can listen to what some of our growers say in the videos that we shot of them out on their farms: watch our West Union Gardens video or watch our Spring Hill Farm video.

Or check out what Chris has to say on this video about our local buying philosophy.

Since I still have your attention I want to share a great story about some Sauvie Island small growers. These are the 10 Food Works youth farmers who grow organic produce on an acre of leased Metro land.

Food Works is a youth employment program that teaches business and job skills through participation in a real farm business. The Food Works participants are ages 14 to 18 and are from two North Portland housing communities—St John’s Woods Apartments and New Columbia. Many of the youth are first generation Americans.

New Seasons Market has partnered with Food Works since 2005. Last year, we arranged for Chris Harris, our Local Produce Buyer to visit the Food Works farm as a mock exercise to show the kids what a buyer’s tour would be like. By the end of the visit, Chris was making plans for the youth’s first delivery of organic salad greens to New Seasons Market Arbor Lodge.

Food Works youth begin harvesting, packing and delivering salad greens when school lets out for summer. Their first delivery to New Seasons Market for this year was June 16th and they have supplied New Seasons Market Arbor Lodge with 30 to 40 bags of organic mixed salad greens every Friday afternoon this summer. Their last delivery will be August 31st, just before their first day back at school. The youth have increased their deliveries to us from 10-20 bags/week in 2006 to 30-40 bags/week this year. Because of limited supplies, Food Works organic salad mix is only available at New Seasons Market Arbor Lodge. The salad mix is featured at Arbor Lodge’s Market Day on Friday afternoons and usually sells out by Saturday morning.

You might recognize the Food Works youth from their booth at the PSU Portland Farmers Market where they sell their organic salad mix and a wide variety of fresh, organic produce.

Through the fall, the youth will continue to supply to New Seasons Market when they have product to sell. They anticipate delivering organic bunched greens, organic parsley, and lots of organic pumpkins in time for Halloween.

We know we’re not perfect and can always do better but we do think that our commitment to supporting the small local growers in our area is second to none.


pdxmom said...

I’m really glad to see you respond to that article. I shop at New Seasons because I want to know where my food comes from, and am always pleased to see a wide assortment of local offerings. It’s especially nice to know about the Food Works program–I had no idea you were doing that, but what a great story! Thank you, New Seasons, for being upfront, honest, and supporting my community, and the farmers around us.

Siri and Son Farms said...

We at Siri and Son Farms see New Seasons Market as a savior to local farmers. We found ourselves in the same position as many other farmers in the area, feeling the crunch of large grocery chains that no longer wanted to deal with the local grower. We have developed a substantial relationship with New Seasons Market and appreciate everything they have done to encourage the community to eat local. Many people had found themselves simply being price driven when it came to selecting their food, the cheaper, the better. New Seasons has made local people realize that price is not the only thing that matters. Sustainability, knowing the origin of your food, and supporting their local community has become a priority over price. So, yes, we were also surprised to see New Seasons named in the article published in the Portland Tribune when they have played such a fundamental role in getting local product to local consumers.

pfishman said...

Typical of local media, you have to look beyond the headline to get the real story. I did, and within the article found a story very different from the headline. I trust New Seasons to make every effort to work with local producers to find good products and ways to get them to market. This does not mean that everyone and anyone who grows fruits or vegetables in the Portland area can walk into New Seasons and sell their crops - businesses don’t work that way - even the very good ones. Thanks New Seasons for demonstrating that sustainabilty and communbity can be real, and not just hype.

Tom Denison said...

My wife Elizabeth and I farm 30 acres near Corvallis (75 miles south of Portland), raising a variety of fruit and vegetables. We started selling tomatoes directly to New Seasons back when they only had four stores. We have been treated very well by the produce buyers. We in turn have made every effort to meet their needs because we like that they are locally owned and operated, have a local and organic focus, and great people on their staff. It has taken a few seasons to work the bugs out, but the results have been good for both of us. As the Tribune article pointed out, there are challenges to be overcome if small farms are going to work with grocers. We are glad that New Seasons was committed and creative enough to make it work. They now carry our vine ripe tomatoes in all of their stores for our entire season each year.

The “Market Days” program has made it easier for us provide small quantities of very fresh produce to them. For example, our Italian pole beans, grape tomatoes, and heirloom tomatoes, and specialty melons take a lot of labor to grow and pick, so we don’t have enough to supply all their stores or even all their “Market Days”. They have however been able to take whatever we have available and sell it fresh at whichever “Market Day” coincides with the availability.

I don’t know any store the size of New Seasons, who has made as much effort to support the local producers.

John Dey, Big John’s Garden said...

I am an organic garlic and shallot grower in Southern Oregon and have found
New Seasons a pleasure to work with. My (our) problem is as stated by Chris
Harris… esentially the demand for many produce items at their stores
outstrips the local producers’ output and distribution capacities,
especially if you throw in the seasonal aspect of most items. I believe New
Seasons (who also uses Orginically Grown Co. as a supplier) goes out of its
way to find local sources. The story is inaccurate and New Seasons certainly
never “Snubs” anyone.

Brian Rohter said...

I’ve been keeping an eye on the Trib’s website to see what kind of comments they were getting about this story. You can see them all over there but here’s some of them that I’ve copied and pasted here. We really appreciate the local growers that we buy from speaking up on this issue.

Fri, Aug 24, 2007 at 05:21 PM
Re: Stores snub local farmers
Did Mr Kruger plan ahead? Did he sit down with New Seasons last winter and plan his production to meet the stores needs,or did he just call-up one day saying his beans were ready today,drop everything you’re doing and buy mine? I’ve found New Seasons very supportive of our local products and easy to work with.The relationship has to be beneficial for both sides.They’ve been very willing to help us if we can help them.
“Jamie Kitzrow-Spring Hill Farm”

Sat, Aug 25, 2007 at 08:39 AM
Re: Stores snub local farmers
I am an organic garlic and shallot grower in Southern Oregon and have found New Seasons a pleasure to work with. My (our) problem is as stated by Chris Harris… esentially the demand for many produce items at their stores outstrips the local producers’ output and distribution capacities, especially if you throw in the seasonal aspect of most items. I believe New Seasons (who also uses Orginically Grown Co. as a supplier) goes out of its way to find local sources. The story is inaccurate and New Seasons certainly never “Snubs” anyone. John Dey, Big John’s Garden
“John Dey”

Sat, Aug 25, 2007 at 12:14 PM
Re: Stores snub local farmers
Mr Kruger.Maybe you should walk to your neighbors at Sauvie Island Organics and take a look at their CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) program.

Sun, Aug 26, 2007 at 07:19 AM
New Seasons IS Fair and Honest to Local Farmers!!!
***Portland Public Be Skeptical of this article***
New Seasons is Fair and Honest to Local Farmers!!!

We, Liepold Farms, grow strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, marionberries, blackcaps, boysenberries, and a variety of tree fruits. Our partnership with New Seasons has truly moved us into the realm of local sustainable farm from struggling to stay afloat local farm. Some things to know:

1. New Seasons is very easy to deliver to each store.
2. New Seasons pays fair honest amounts for fruit.
3. New Seasons is genuinely committed to local farms.
4. New Seasons practices what it preaches in helping local farms.

We partnered with New Seasons in 2005 to bring them fresh local berries. New Seasons, Produce heads, Jeff and Chris, are great to work with and pay fair market prices for what we provide.

Growers need only make pre-arranged plans with stores to find out what the needs are, how and when produce can be delivered and it needs to be packaged. It is sad when poor pre-planning leaves a farmer without a market, but one cannot blame the retailer, as they too have a business to run, and customers to supply. In the case of this story, the retailer was New Seasons and the customers are us, the local Portland area consumers.

Actually, the truth be told, Fred Meyer’s central purchasing now runs out of Kroger headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio!! Mr. Korn could have used any of the big chain stores as the example to find some truth to what he says in the article, but nothing here pertains to New Seasons!

We are proud to be local farmers, working in the community, providing quality, sustainable produced produce to the Portland Metro area for over 57 years. We enjoy our good relationship with New Seasons and find them to be fair, honest and good partners.
“Michelle Liepold, Liepold Farms”

Jason Karnezis & Amber Baker said...

This is our first year of farming a diversity of organic vegetables and we couldn’t be more happy with the response we’ve gotten from New Seasons staff. We’re located in Portland, Oregon and we’ve just begun selling to New Seasons Market and have enjoyed every bit of the experience, from touching base with Chris to delivering to our local Arbor Lodge store, New Seasons has made it efficient and easy to deliver our fresh, local, organic vegetables. We look forward to continuing our relationship with New Seasons!

Amber and Jason

Anonymous said...

I’m so glad to find the blog again. I thought it had disappeared!

As I’m reading this I’m eating fresh Oregon Strawberries I picked up last night from New Seasons (their smell is incredible; bringing back memories from childhood) and watching on OPB an episode on Food From the Hood which talks about at risk youth who began growing veggies and selling at a farmers market.

The convergence is interesting because it was hearing years ago about the struggle local strawberry growers were going through and yet, not being able to find any Oregon berries in stores. I had thought I didn’t like strawberries anymore. They just didn’t taste good even at 99 cents a package. Dipped is just a waste of good chocolate.

Then I discovered New Seasons. The difference in quality along with being able to know where my food is coming from has led me to become a vegetarian and I’d estimate about 70% of the food I buy is locally produced (within a day’s drive). I discovered the hot foods section when I was attending school with my daughter (which gave me a possible great idea for NS) and we ate wonderful fresh, local and nutritious veggies for lunch everyday for several weeks.

Not only have I attended the Fresh Market Days and bought some incredible produce but I recognize the names of those growers who have responded to this post and it gives me a bit of thrill to read their responses because they are food celebrities to me.

I also don’t know of any store in the nation let alone the metro area that does so much to promote the farmers markets. I had a friend visiting from New Jersey and he was thrilled by the New Seasons stores but also by the amazing markets we have here (a good market there has 5 or 6 vendors) and he noticed New Seasons presence at every one. So having now read the article I can see Kruger has benefitted from New Seasons after all.

Kruger states he doesn’t want the hassle and expense of pursuing organic certification and I can certainly understand that given how it’s changed since the USDA has become involved, but I wonder if he’s considered becoming Alliance certified. My favorite peas are Alliance certified and sold frozen at New Seasons. The first time I tried them I gave my daughter a small spoonful as peas had been equated with evil to her but a mother can but hope. Next thing I knew the pan was empty. She had eaten the entire potful before I could even have any myself.

We are very lucky to have these stores and the access to local foods we didn’t have before.

thisKat said...

First, I want to say that I do the majority of my non-produce shopping at New Seasons. I buy all of my meat at the store, along with a few packaged foods, wine, beer and some cheese. I love all New Seasons does for the community and how easy they make it for me to live by my food values.

But it’s funny that I just found this blog post. In early August, weeks before this article came out, I emailed New Seasons about the fact that they only had California green beans in the store at the height of bean season. I got a reply that stated: “Upon looking into the issue of local green beans I found that very few local farms are growing standard green beans. Most are growing varietal bean such as Romano, French filet and purple beans and these are in small numbers.”

The Trib article didn’t name the variety of beans Kruger or the other farmers grow, and I am no expert in judging the varieties of green beans. But I can say that the California beans in the store looked just like all the Oregon beans I got at the farmer’s market this summer. And I bought a lot! It’s hard to believe they’re really in such short supply that New Seasons can’t stock them.

Will we only be able to buy California beans next year, or has New Seasons ordered them from a local supplier?