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Trucking Shortage? New Focus on Local Foods!
(This article is excerpted from Leslie Patton’s August 28 article in Bloomberg News)
Mainers know the value of our local foods; whether meat, fish, dairy or veggies, we appreciate the taste, appearance, and plate appeal of local! Also, we know the importance of strengthening our local communities and supporting our small and mid size farmers and their open land. In other areas, the value of buying and eating local isn’t as apparent; many food service outlets have been slower to get on the local foods bandwagon. Now, with surging shipping costs, fine dining establishments as well as sandwich and salad shops are looking at local purchases as well.
You’ve probably heard that America needs more long haul truck drivers. A labor crunch in the trucking industry is making it more expensive to deliver everything from apples to zucchini in the U.S. Shipping rates jumped 14 percent in the fiscal year ended June 30, just one truck was available for every 12 loads needing to be shipped at the start of 2018, which is the lowest ratio since 2005.
Why this shortage? An aging fleet of drivers is one of the main reasons. The industry also heavily relies on male drivers (one might say too heavily!)— only 7 percent of commercial truck drivers are women. Also, historically low pay keeps new people from becoming truck drivers. Though the industry is changing through efforts to raise pay and attract more women, today’s tight labor market makes it difficult to find new drivers.
The labor shortage means that it costs more to ship food; and all foodservice establishments are facing food higher prices due to the increased shipping rates. To avoid passing higher prices along to customers, some foodservice outlets are choosing to take a closer look at buying local.
“We’ve been trying to figure out how to get more stuff locally,” said Nick Marsh, chief executive officer of Chopt Creative Salad Co., an east coast restaurant chain with more than 50 outlets,. “It for sure becomes even more economically beneficial.” Marsh said Chopt’s shipping costs jumped 20 percent versus last year. He blamed the spike on the driver shortage, along with new electronic monitoring that tracks truckers’ hours put in place by the Department of Transportation in December. Chopt already gets more than 50 percent of its food from local vendors during the summer. Recently, it started buying more baby kale, spinach and arugula from Florida instead of California and is looking into greens grown indoors in New York, Marsh said.
As we know, restaurants have been touting the merits of local goods for years. Chefs that use food from nearby say it tastes and looks better due to shorter shipping times, and they like their diners to know they support local farmers. And fewer hours on the road means less gas – a boon for the environment, too. .
Primo Hoagies, a sandwich chain with more than 80 shops in mid-Atlantic states, is looking for more lettuce, tomatoes, chicken cutlets and meatballs from nearby vendors, according to CEO Rocco Fiorentino. Higher shipping prices are "more noticeable now, and we'll probably start to outsource regionally and locally before it gets too bad," Fiorentino said. "Everything coming from across country is certainly going to go up."
Black Cherry, Chocolate Stripes,Blondkopfchen,
Black Krim,Brandywine, Amana Orange,Azoychka,
Cherokee Chocolate, Sunset's Red Horizon, Oh My!!!!
Look out, it’s Heirloom tomato season!!
Let us cut right to the chase: what makes heirloom tomatoes so great?
Their DNA has not been manipulated in the same way that the genetics of a lot of mass market tomatoes are.
They are not bred to ship.
They are not bred for mechanical harvest
They are not bred to have a long shelf life
They are not bred to look exactly alike: plump, red, round, and easy to store
Ok, ok that’s what heirloom tomatoes are not! What are they?
They used to be the only tomatoes grown!
They are bred for taste and flavor and appearance
They have idiosyncratic qualities: they come in all shapes, shades and colors
Their seeds are passed down from generation to generation.
They are open-pollinated. This means you can save seeds from heirloom tomatoes, plant them, and expect them to grow into new tomato plants. If two or more varieties are planted close to one another, you might just end up with a new variety!
They're pricier because of their fragility and their rarity.
They have a short shelf-life
In Maine, they have a short, but glorious, growing season
A salad paired with a salty or creamy cheese is a quick and easy way to highlight the fruit.
What to you think? Ya, everyone does Mozz, but it’s good. How about a sheep’s milk feta? What you want camembert?! On a baguette? Sounds, pretty good... No,maybe grilled halloumi! Yes, that’s it!Maybe a drizzle of good olive oil, a sprinkle of flake salt. You want balsamic? Go for it; I’m going with lemon….
Caveat Emptor! Watch out for “fake” heirlooms
But all that said, just because a tomato is being sold with the word "heirloom" attached to it doesn't mean it's going to be delicious. Plenty of farms, especially big ones, market their tomatoes this way to as a cover for what are actually genetically modified seeds and/or gnarly growing practices, cashing in on the heirloom hype while selling you an inferior product that might have travelled a thousands of miles to get to you. It's an unregulated designation, like "natural," so it's kind of a buyer beware sort of situation out there—calling a tomato an "heirloom" doesn't automatically mean that the tomatoes were grown locally, or organically, or in any way that you might associate with groovy, high-quality produce.
Local Farm Spotlight: Fishbowl Farm
Are you familiar with Merrymeeting Bay in Maine? Merrymeeting is a unique ecosystem; actually, it’s not a real “bay” because it’s not on the ocean and it’s not an estuary because it’s not salty enough (it’s actually an inland river delta). Six rivers flow into Merrymeeting: Kennebec, Androscoggin, Cathance River, Eastern River, Abagadasset River, and Muddy River. It’is the largest freshwater estuary system north of Chesapeake Bay; and, it drains an astounding 38% of Maine’s fresh water. The land bordering the bay is rich with alluvial soil deposited when the glaciers receded during the ice age. Nutrient rich soil and freshwater drainage create ideal farming conditions in Bowdoinham; one of the towns along Merrymeeting Bay.
In Bowdoinham, Chris and Gallit Cavendish, along with their two daughters Calliope and Poppy, work this rich and bountiful soil at Fishbowl Farm. Native Maine is proud to partner with Chris and his family to supply our customers with FIshbowl’s top quality salad greens, carrots, and beets. Fishbowl is not only known for superior produce but, also, for innovative ideas, integrity, and a commitment to the land. Neither Chris nor Gallit began their careers in farming. Gallit came from a promising career as a professional chef, and Chris left architecture. In fact, they met on the loading dock when Chris delivered veggies to the Harraseeket Inn where Gallit was cooking (Romantic!)
For some years they worked 8 acres planting mixed vegetables, selling direct to area restaurants and attending farmers markets. However, 80-90 work weeks soon ground them both down and with the birth of their first child,Calliope, Chris and Gallit strove to find a way to find a better work-family life balance. In 2013, they made the decision to focus on producing the very best quality salad greens available. They downsized to three growing acres and began systematic, methodical process. .Well, Chris says it best:
“ Fresh baby salad greens grown to perfection right here in Maine. This is what we do at Fishbowl Farm. We have dedicated ourselves to becoming really good salad greens farmers. It’s our goal to provide Southern Maine with the freshest and best tasting salad greens possible. How are we able to do this? After a decade of farming every vegetable under the sun my wife and I had our first child, Calliope. In order to allow more time for our new family, we simply decided to refocus our energy and expertise on the crops we loved to grow the most, salad greens. With ten years of experience now focused upon a handful of salad crops we are best able to attend to the needs of each salad crop. And harvest it at just the right moment. We then carefully wash and pack them for delivery the next day. Our salad greens are never more than a day from harvest to delivery. We take great pride in our salad greens and encourage you to taste the difference.”
Chris says the change in the business model allowed him to scale back from working 80 to 90 hours a week to a more manageable 45- to 50-hour work week during the summer. Chris is an innovative farmer and farm manager. When the arugula was too hot and spicy, he took temperature readings of the crop under a tarp in the hot sun to figure out how to calm the spice. He jury rigged an effective salad spinner out of a household clothes dryer. When beetles showed up in the spring mix, he determined that he needed to harvest the greens earlier in the morning before the bugs climbed to the tops of the plants.
In 2015, Fishbowl worked with Scott Whitehouse Graphic Design to create a unique label series for their line of salad greens and vegetables. The result were labels with a slightly retro feel and a playful illustrative quality. Each label features a fun character-based illustration and gives clear product information.
In 2017, Maine Farmland Trust awarded a grant to Fishbowl Farm to implement wholesale business expansion. Chris used the grant dollars to purchase a new refrigerated truck. The new truck opened up the opportunity to work with wholesale customers that require strict food safety protocol (like Native Maine), including keeping their fresh cut baby salad greens continuously cold from harvest to delivery; the new truck also increased their delivery capacity, which in turn, increased their sales to current customers and added new customers along their delivery route.
How did Fish Bowl get its name? When Chris entered the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s two-year farmer-in-residence program in 2003 at the Unity campus, he filled a vacancy left by a friend of his who didn’t finish her term. Before she left, she remarked to him, “It’s like living in a fish bowl.’’ Chris liked the close knit farming community at the school; and the comment stuck with him. In 2015, when he bought his farmland, he named it Fishbowl Farm. And the rest is Maine farming history!
That's all for this edition, folks! Enjoy the cooler weather and our local food bounty!
Native Maine Produce & Specialty Foods
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