Today's thought leader is Alison Edwards, Director at Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC).
The stories you need to know:
• “Three Sisters Community Farm” grows Environmentally Sustainable Food.
• There is a Big Market for Small Fruit in Retail.
Today's farmers are Domonic Biggi, CEO at Beaverton Foods; and Scott Seus, Horseradish Farmer at Seus Family Farms.
Farm, Food, Facts where every farmer, every acre and every voice m atters. Welcome to Farm, Food, Facts for today, Wednesday, July 31st. I'm your host, Phil Lempert. In today's episode, we talk with Domonic B iggi, CEO o f Beaverton Foods, and Scott Seus, horseradish farmer at Seus Family Farms. We hear a lot about metrics these days, in just about every sector of our lives. And nowhere are metrics more important than on the farm. As you listen each week to our guest farmers, the recurring theme is how important efficiencies on the farm really are. U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance has detailed the Five Pathways that could enable our future in farming. One of those is to enable mitigation and adaptation to natural resource constraints while improving production efficiencies for yield and quality. The key to achieving that are the economics, to enable modeling that adds metrics in order to look at the return on investment for both production and the environment. Our thought leader today is Alison Edwards, the director and facilitator for the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, the coalition of producers, buyers and NGOs, who are collaborating to develop and share metrics that all parties are the most important indicators of stewardship. Over the last 20 years, Alison has helped build more sustainable systems with corporations, communities, local and regional government agencies, and large nonprofits. She's recognized for her skill as a sustainability strategist and the creator of strategic partnerships. And, as a beekeeper! We've invited her here today to talk about one of their newest partnerships to create an online stewardship metric calculator tool. Alison , welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.Alison Edwards:
Thank you. Happy to be here.Phil Lempert:
Now, one of the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops' goals is to answer the very complex question of just what sustainability means for producers and consumers of specialty crops that include fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Sustainability is one term that we keep hearing over and over again, and sometimes with different definitions. So I can just imagine how difficult it is for you to find common agreement across the supply chain.Alison Edwards:
That is true. And as an organization we would never try to define sustainability or put a number to set a standard for what is sustainable. What we do is, our organization support collaboration across the supply chain to come up with the most important indicators of sustainability and then the science-based data driven ways to measure those indicators. So, the collaboration is around coming up with those measurement tools.Phil Lempert:
So, you've just announced a new tool that you're developing with supply shift. Tell us a little bit about that.Alison Edwards:
Yes, it's very exciting. We have created a partnership with a software company, Supply Shift, to build an online calculator that will be free for growers and basically allow a grower to go onto the tool and choose which metrics they want to calculate. It could be all the metrics, the whole suite of our metrics, or it could be one metric or two metrics as a way to get started. The tool will allow growers to create a profile, and you can keep your information there in a safe and secure way and nobody would have access to it. And you would be able to track your data points year over year by management area. So by yields , basically, and by crop type.Phil Lempert:
What are some of the metrics that they can measure?Alison Edwards:
Currently, we have a suite of seven metrics and we have a couple of metrics in development. Our metrics include nutrient use metrics , so nitrogen use, phosphorus use , we have general water use metric . We also have a simple irrigation efficiency metric, which is a great on-farm management tool. We have a soil health metric, a habitat and biodiversity metric, and an energy use metric. The metrics that we have in development currently, the main one is a food loss metric . So, an on-farm food waste metric. And then, we also are in discussions with a number of organizations about collaborating on the development of an IPM metric. But that's going to be down the road a little bit.Phil Lempert:
So, I'm going to ask a question that is going to seem odd, because I know the name of the organization is the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops. Can this tool be expanded to crops beyond specialty?Alison Edwards:
That's a good question. I am not sure; there are tools that exist for commodity crops. Field to Market is a partner of ours, and they basically do exactly what we do. They have a multistakeholder collaborative that builds metrics and has an online tool, and their focus is on commodities and row crops. So , their metrics are different than ours. Our metrics, because there are no large USDA datasets for specialty crops, our metrics are very much more site specific. They ask growers for information about their exact crops and their exact location, which actually allows the metrics to function as a really good management tool for growers in terms of tracking efficiency and really understanding the impact of any management changes that the grower is enacting year over year and seeing if they're becoming more efficient in any of those indicators through their management changes.Phil Lempert:
So, let's move away from the grower for a second and let's talk about retailers. When grocery retailers, who are getting more involved in sustainability efforts and so on , is this tool something that retailers can avail themselves of as well and get some high quality information?Alison Edwards:
Absolutely, yes. One of the founding missions behind the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops was to create a single yardstick for the entire industry to use across supply chains to communicate about improvements in efficiency. And there's a couple of benefits to that. One of them is, and the reason why this is important and why it exists is to get out ahead of that, of those requests being made, so that we have one simple way of asking all growers for information and that the growers don't have to report in a myriad of ways and the burden of reporting isn't put on the grower. Also, if the grower is going to be asked to report, we want the grower to get value out of that, right? The metrics have to function as an internal management tool for the grower primarily; first and foremost. And then secondarily, as a way to communicate that improved performance across the supply chain. So that that is the reason why SISC exists. And, we always encourage retailers and buyers who are interested in really developing robust supply chain sustainability platforms in their supply chains to work with us on that because there's a level of cooperation across the supply chain that can happen through these performance metrics. So , the tool will really support the ease of use for any kind of buyer - it could be a packer shipper, a handler, a processor, a brand, a tier-one supplier to retailers, and also up to the retail level. It's the reason why we chose Supply Shift as our partner, because their whole platform is built around sharing sustainability data across supply chains. And it has very elegant back-end solutions for how to share that information in ways that are really helpful up and down the supply chain. So, it's not a one-way street in sharing it . It's a conversation, more. And their back-end was already built do that. So what we're doing is we're in co in partnering with them, we're building our metric calculator onto the front end and it's being enabled by their back-end. So basically, any of those buyers could sign up to use the tool as an aggregator. There's a tiered aggregator fee and they can use the tool as a way to communicate up and down their supply chain this kind of information. We also are really interestingly engaging grower groups across the specialty crops spectrum and functioning as aggregators with the tool as well. Because, we really think that grower groups are key to all of this working in a way that actually results in real natural resource improvements on the ground. The grower groups have the agronomic information and the knowledge to understand what the metric results mean. The key is being able to look at the metric results for any kind of sustainability indicators on a landscape scale or a regional level so that climactic impacts and or soil types are taken into account. And reading the metric results, you don't want the data to get aggregated up to the point where that is taken out of context and I know how important that is. And so, we really encourage regional aggregation and understanding what the metrics are trying to tell on a landscape scale level. Grower groups are going to be key in that. So, we really encourage for groups that also use the tool.Phil Lempert:
Well Alison, it sounds like a fabulous tool. Again as you said, up and down the supply chain, that's just going to help everybody. So, congratulations on it. And thank you for joining us on Farm, Food, Facts.Alison Edwards:
Happy to be here. Thank you for having me.Phil Lempert:
And now, the news you need to know. "Three Sisters Community Farm" grows environmentally sustainable food. Jeff Schreiber and Kelly Kiefer are a husband and wife team who have created the Three Sisters Community Farm. The established farm, now in their ninth season, grows a variety of different vegetables and offers up to 15 different items per week in their community supported agriculture boxes, or CSA. The couple pursued their passion for quality food and farming by becoming involved with Wellspring, a nonprofit farm based education center in Wisconsin. After working at Wellspring, they moved on to start their own farm. Utilizing the USDA beginner's farm loan, they purchased a small farmstead, which they named Three Sisters. The name indicates the kind of work they do, as the three sisters method is a Native American ideology that entails the planting of corn, beans and squash together to grow in harmony. Three Sisters Community Farm is certified organic and they also experiment with biodynamic farming. Through their CSA, Schreiber and Kiefer offer an assortment of seasonal veggies including arugala, celery, cucumbers, garlic, kale, lettuce, radishes, spinach, and tomatoes. Schreiber and Kiefer make a point to only harvest what is ordered, which helps minimize waste. Schreiber describes farming life as endlessly humbling, saying, "For me, the principles underlying the CSA movement point to a path forward. What if we viewed a farmer's work and supported them as we do for teachers or doctors? What if food was free? A gift given by responsible, skilled and trusted agriculture stewards to those who support their work. Just some food for thought." What grocers need to know is there's more innovation happening on the farm than ever before. It's time for supermarkets to look at this model and other CSA models to see how they can replicate them, and in fact bring them to a wider audience. And now that we've heard a bit about ag and farming, here's a bit from the retail side of things. There's a big market for small fruit in retail. Bananas are the top seller among fruit in the United States. This has been the case for decades, but bananas have lost their number one spot in the recent customer choice awards from Trader Joe's. This year, shoppers chose teeny tiny avocados. The tiny avocados are a bag product which seeks to make avocados accessible for solo dining occasions, creating less waste and more value for frugal shoppers. This push comes at a time when many avocado shippers are striving to get as much food into consumers' hands as possible, and since then we've seen a number of other avocado brands also launching smaller fruit packs. Smaller fruit in general is experiencing strong demand thanks to clever marketing. For instance, we're seeing a boom in clementine mandarin oranges, especially in prominent brands like Sun Pacifics , Cuties and Wonderful Citrus Halos. We're also seeing things like sweet onions bagged up in single meal servings. People have often just half an onion sitting in their fridge, so marketing options that you can use in one meal occasion is a smarter approach. These are just a few examples of how marketing is currently positioning smaller fruit as a feature, not a flaw, and this demand for small produce will likely continue and grow. What grocers need to know is put these items front and center, put them on display. Your customers will love them. Typically we ask farmers to share their insights on Farm, Food, Facts. Today, we're taking a different look at farming: how a farmer and a brand can work together. Scott Seus, a third-generation specialty crop farmer in California, and Domonic Biggi, a second-generation condiment producer who's now the CEO of Beaverton Foods, join us to talk about working together and their relationship. Domonic and Scott, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts. Scott, your grandfather got started in 1946. He had to create his own farming equipment to farm the unique growing conditions. And in 1954 started growing horseradish, which was unheard of in the area of Tulelake, California. You now have over 300 acres, you grow a variety of crops, including peppermint. Why have you chosen to focus on horseradish and peppermint?Scott Seus:
Well, I think it goes back to the early beginnings of the basin. It was homesteaded by veterans of World War One, Two and the Korean War. And my grandfather was lucky enough to have his name drawn here and they were looking for crops that would sustain and be profitable in the harsh environments of the climate basin, which was known for being cold, down to 47 below zero at times during the wintertime and warm summer temperatures approaching a hundred. But , it seemed to be the perfect area for horseradish to be grown in. And we focused on it on our farm early because of the good relationship that we've got with Beaverton Foods. And we've sustained that relationship through the years. It's been mutually beneficial and it's given stability to our farm and stability, I believe, to Beaverton Foods to have the kind of relationship that we have. It's pretty unique in agriculture to have something that long standing.Phil Lempert:
So, Domonic, you got started after college by selling copy machines. Then your dad convinced you to come back to work at Beaverton Foods, now you're the CEO. Tell me a little bit about your relationship with Scott and other farmers and why is that important for Beaverton?Domonic Biggi:
Well, yeah, Scott and I have a great relationship and it really goes back to my grandma working with his grandfather and my dad working with his dad and Scott and I are working together. And you know, we used to grow horseradish up here around the Beaverton area, which was also very well known for its horseradish growing abilities. And when Beaverton, which is a direct suburb, seven miles out of downtown Portland, became a suburb after the war in this thirties and forties and fifties, you couldn't grow horseradish in a suburb that close to Portland. So, we started moving out farther and farther and farther to grow horseradish around the Portland area and it just being really hard for us to do that as a family and also to manufacture . And so, having a relationship with the Seus family down there in Klamath Falls, which was probably not going to get urbanized anytime soon. And they were such great people to work with and gave us a quality product , worked with us on the timing of getting the loads into our manufacturing facility, and providing what we think is the best horseradish crop on the planet, and to make our products the best horseradish products out in the marketplace. And we just have enjoyed the relationship so long and really respect the farming and all the complications of farming and we know what it's like as a family to farm and all the things that go along with that. So, when we just have managed to work together through the peaks and valleys of the business cycles.Phil Lempert:
So Scott, what have you learned by working so closely with Domonic?Scott Seus:
I've learned the value of a good relationship. And probably been taught that more by the relationships that don't value you as much in agriculture. But, I think the uniqueness of what we do , and the ability to have candid conversations either with Domonic or his team there that works hard to make a quality product, I think those things have kind of honed our sharpness on what matters to them, what produces a better quality product for them. We're always looking for new ways to improve the things that we're doing here on the farm that makes their job easier, that gives them a higher yield of the actual root product itself after it's cleaned up to be run through their process. And always, when you're talking about horseradish, you're worried about making it hot and making it- you know, it's the pungency and it's that burn in your nose. And so, we're very attuned to that and always curious if the things that we're doing on the farm are making a difference, whether it's fertility, or timing, or maybe the amount of water that we're using on the crop stressing at a different times. I mean, we're playing with all kinds of things to try to make sure that we're doing the best we can. And quite honestly, if you're dealing in horseradish, there's not very many places you can go to get an education on horseradish. You're pretty much teaching yourself because it's such a minor crop that universities aren't doing the work on it. It's self-motivated and self-taught. And if it weren't for that type of relationship with Beaverton, we'd just be taking guesses at things, but we get good feedback and hopefully that is evident to the customers as well.Phil Lempert:
So, Domonic, same question. What have you learned by working so closely with Scott?Domonic Biggi:
Well , obviously the impact of government regulation, especially when it comes to environmental regulation. It's fun to make a nice law back in Washington, DC that affects Tulelake, Kalamath Falls, Oregon and California area. We know we needed to work with the Seus family. Scott's dad started putting wells in the ground way before all that so he could water the crops. And so, we had a continual supply of horseradish and also the labor factor there down the farm lands , in agriculture. They have their labor issues as much as we do here in the main faction urban world. And so, having a lot of respect for that and, Scott and I've had to work through those challenges together and put the all factors together so we can work together and still be competitive in the price market out there at grocery stores.Phil Lempert:
So, it's now second, third generation that you guys are working together and I want to thank you for that and sharing your story because the more that we can share how farmers and brands work together, and really want to build the best product possible, everybody wins. Scott and Domonic, thanks so much for joining us today on Farm, Food, Facts. For more information on all things food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit fooddialogues .com under the Programs and Media tab and visit us on Facebook at U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance or on Twitter at USFRA. Until next time.