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.