Is the question Yellowbird Foodshed promotes on their delivery trucks.
Yellowbird Foodshed of Mount Vernon has connected local farmers and small food companies with its more than 900 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members in the Columbus area. They have also provided produce to central Ohio school and college cafeterias.
Benji Ballmer founder of Yellowbird said, “The Ohio Days: My State, My Plate monthly Farm to School promotion taking place in central Ohio is a stepping stone to increasing local food sales. Many schools want to do more with local foods. However, it is a hassle for them to coordinate buying the food directly from the farmer therefore, we can step in. We are not trying to infringe upon that farmer relationship, but we can be the go between.”
In order for the grower to really benefit with farm to school procurement, the school’s need to be ordering their local produce about four months in advance through contracts so the growers can plan their plantings. Buying from farmers only once, does not give growers an advantage. If schools committed to buying more local products throughout the year, that would really help the grower, he explained.
Upper Arlington City Schools purchased from Yellowbird Foodshed. “Over the course of the year, they provided us with local produce items such as a spring lettuce blend, fresh coleslaw mix and cubed sweet potatoes. Not only was the product exceptional quality, but Yellowbird Foodshed did whatever they could to help us out and find the product we were looking for. On one occasion in particular, the original product they were going to provide us with was no longer available in the quantity needed. Instead of telling me they could no longer supply us with anything. Benji searched until he found us an acceptable replacement and went out of their way to ensure we had it on time. Their customer service was just as great as the product they provided,” said Irene Hunt, director of nutritional services.
Most farmers do not have on farm refrigeration or the long term storage for their products. We are helping the growers as our warehouse is located in the middle of many of our growers, this cuts down on travel for them. Some farmers deliver to the Yellowbird warehouse others have Yellowbird refrigerated trucks pick up the produce directly from their farm. It is repacked at the warehouse, then sent to the Columbus area. “We are providing the growers an outlet that will pay them at higher than wholesale price. Last year we spent more than $500,000 on produce. That money goes directly to growers,” Ballmer said.
We have created a sales channel and a winning scenario for nearly 50 farmers. This model does not work well with only a few producers. Our customers are supporting a sustainable local food system. They are getting the best value and flavor along with treating our growers fairly, he said.
“Food becomes fuel for our bodies so we can fight disease. We know that 75% of the diseases are preventable, he explained. When we present that message to the parents of school-aged children, then these parents will want to get behind having fresh healthy local food in the cafeterias,” he explained.
“There is a reason local food tastes better that non-local food…it tastes best, because it is picked at its best nutrition, as we catch it right before it falls off the vine. An example is local tomatoes, they are picked after it has turned red, which is when we will receive the best nutrition,” he said. As compared to tomatoes, which are picked while green in other states then trucked to us.
We need people to make the right choices regarding our children’s diets. We need to promote it in a way that people will put their money behind it. As we speak to the parents, we need to tell them their child’s brain needs fueled three times a day. We need to rethink how we feed our children…without so much added sugar.
Our CSA customers want their families to eat healthier. They are voting for more sustainable food with their dollars. We need to convince the school systems to make a change and pay the farmers a fair price. Ballmer said, “for farm to school to be successful in Ohio we need more processing, storage facilities, flash freezing equipment, and high pressure processing. Throughout Ohio, we need more food companies like ours to supply sustainable products and align with schools’ needs. I suggest that we decentralize the food system one customer at a time, he concluded.”