Tim Page is working hard to help change the world, one tomato at a time.
As the owner of Farmers Exchange of Earthly Delights (FEED) in Sebastopol, his plan involves fancy sounding mantras like “micro-regional aggregator,” “self-ownership” and “business as a biological structure.” But ultimately, it all comes down to a simple mission: getting food from Sonoma County farms onto our dinner tables.
For the past five years, FEED has been collecting produce, then selling it to Bay Area restaurants, caterers and grocery stores. It would be a basic concept, except that the organization focuses on small, family farmers. Most of FEED’s participating farms average 10 acres, while the smallest is just a half acre and the largest, County Line Harvest, spans 120 acres in Petaluma.
And in an uncommon business model, FEED operates with complete transparency, showcasing its partners so customers know exactly where their local produce comes from. No mass-batched fruits and vegetables from factory operations, here. Farms are either California Certified Organic Farmers accredited or cultivating with organic methods, with the owners themselves working the dirt.
“What it takes for the food system to operate may seem boring,” Page said on a recent morning as he stood in his warehouse in a quiet corner of the Barlow in downtown Sebastopol. “People assume it’s dialed in, that the food just shows up. But to really keep it all local and sustainable is intimidating.”
As much as 40 percent of the food in the United States goes to waste, according to an April report from the Natural Resources Defense Council of New York. And some 30 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables don’t even make it off farms due to cosmetic imperfections or busy farmers without time to act as their own marketing agents.
To find markets for commercially unsold produce, farmers may sell directly to subscribers or donate to local hunger relief organizations. But ultimately, those systems aren’t financially practical if they want to stay in business.
“Our mission is to create a vibrant, sustainable and fair food system by maximizing the ability of small farmers to sell their food through diverse marketing channels,” said Page. “We tackle the supply before it even has a chance to approach waste.”
Essentially, farmers tell FEED what they have ready to harvest on a Tuesday; FEED sends the composite list to its clients who place their orders Wednesday; and the farmers pick crops by 7 a.m. Thursday. The process happens at least twice a week.
The partnership has been a blessing for New Family Farm of Sebastopol, which has worked with FEED since the company’s inception. Formed by Ryan Power and Adam Davidoff in 2010 with 10 acres, New Family used to rely solely on time- and labor-intensive farmers’ markets for sales, with no guarantee that what they picked would find a dining table.
“FEED is an amazing service,” said Power, who is currently providing cilantro, beets, parsley, cabbage, Little Gem lettuce, fennel, chard and cauliflower. “Their system allows us to pick to order, so there is no waste. And the customers end up getting the freshest product available, because it is often delivered the same day we picked it.”
It’s like having his own sales and management team, he added.