Food comes from people--and often a whole lot of people are needed to get it to our plates. My friend José Morales (aka "DC Produce Man") of Keany Produce & Gourmet came on #LunchAgenda this week to unveil a link of the food system that's often hidden from the consumer: distribution.
José's experience growing up with immigrant parents who picked tomatoes and other produce in the fields, plus his own summer jobs planting cauliflower in California's Central Valley, have deepened his appreciation for how farmers plant, how they harvest, and who the people are that do the harvesting.
As José said in his interview, "My parents made work a part of being proud. I’ve never been ashamed to do work. Any piece of produce you are putting on your plate has been touched by the human hand.”
José's agenda for all of us:
- "Eat more produce, to drive down cost. We have to give produce value, and the way we do that is by spending more money on it."
- Understand why more restaurants can't use organic or local produce. Keany’s business model is a window into how the restaurant industry functions today. Keany delivers 98% to food service (restaurant) customers, whose margins are very thin, so for most of them, paying an extra 30% on food costs for organic isn’t feasible. He told me 120 or so restaurants went out of business in DC last year. Food costs are such a huge part of that, and organic demands a high premium. So from José's point of view, until organic grows to the scale of conventional, all of the restaurants on tight margins won’t be able to make that fly. He says, “Organic spring mix has gotten to a volume where it’s comparable in price, same with baby spinach. Organic apples are still a huge problem--it’s so hard to grow apples organically.”
We also heard from Pamela Hess, Executive Director of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture, about a unique approach her organization takes to local food distribution at their annual Farmer-Chef speed-sourcing event: it's about relationship-building. She said, "Farmers and chefs are unique personalities, as a group. They're both control freaks, bosses, type A personalities. They both think they're the most important link in the chain. So if we can help them meet as humans....if they like each other as people, they're going to move mountains to work together. And unfortunately with local food, you have to move mountains."
Jose's sound bite:
"Everyone talks about immigrants coming here and taking people’s jobs. There’s plenty of jobs picking apples in Washington. Just go out there and do it for a couple days. It’s incredibly, incredibly hard work. We need to be not looking for the cheapest apple, but the most responsible apple…"
Kiko's Food News headlines:
From Almonds To Rice, Climate Change Could Slash California Crop Yields By 2050