Living systems need energy. The food system is a living system, and distribution provides much of that energy. The food system is composed of living beings, like farmers and livestock. They create organic compounds, through knowledge, labor, and biological reproduction to provide nourishment for other living beings. It requires effort, experience, and instinct to grow and raise food. Farmers are creators who are constantly learning; with every season, temperature change, disease outbreak, new seed variety, breeding line of animal, and equipment invention. Their knowledge and time is valuable, and is best spent creating food to feed us. Thankfully we live in a country with abundant land, fertile soils, and talented farmers. These farmers produce in abundance, but access to the food they grow is a limiting factor. Since most of us don’t live on farms, someone needs to close the gap. That’s where a distributor can help. Distribution allows farmers to focus on creating.
I’m a farmer and a co-founder of a local food company. We aggregate from farms, in some cases minimally process, and then distribute a wide range of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and grains. I typically cringe when I hear the “D” word because people often think it’s an unnecessary layer that adds no value, but in a local system, in a living system, it’s a symbiotic partner. Empowering farmers, serving eaters, putting acres back into production, creating jobs, and yet somehow disappointing to people when they find out we deliver things. They go from a positive place of excitement and interest, to deflated with a dash of disdain when we arrive at discussing getting the “green beans” from point A to point B.
In order to make the most of everything a farmer can create, and to create a more resilient and transparent local food system we partner with over 60 local farms. In addition to all the fresh produce they grow, and meats they raise we also make frozen, shelf stable and a host of other value-added products, so people can eat local year-round. Working so closely with farms allows us to help steer crop plans, identify market opportunities for them, assist with packaging, and in reducing waste. Most importantly we make sure the delivery arrives safely, expeditiously, and as accurately as possible. We want consumers to get fresh and nutrient rich food, and farmers to be able to spend more time creating.
Distributing local food is a daily fight to change the food system. Maybe that’s why I bristle at “oh you’re a distributor”. The inference is an expectorant, it causes me to cough up, “No, we’re more, we do a lot more.” The constraints of a single word are restrictive and suffocating. It’s a demanding fight to battle a global food system daily, especially one as established, efficient and colossal as todays. A system able to obscure and hide the true cost of food, socialize the impact on the environment and consumers health. It’s a struggle to help family farms, serve consumers, and strive for sustainability. We end up intimately and intrinsically involved with the farms we work with, and the customers we serve. Our local food system is so comparatively small. Globalization dismantled and decayed most regional infrastructure over the last few decades, so our solutions demand creativity. To rebuild it requires us to dwell in a community of relationships and interdependence.
Just this week in the brutal cold, about 5am, side of the road, with a fresh truck backed up to a truck that had broken down, three of us transferring product as quickly as only a looming receiving appointment could make possible — I was reminded what a dedicated team it takes to make it work every day, and how fortunate I am to be able to go to work where there is shared passion and commitment. We are a distributor with a singular purpose, to build a better food system. It requires tremendous focus to ignore the traffic, flat tires, closed receiving hours, idiots playing on their cell phones while driving, blown transmissions, tolls, detours, parking, the entire chaotic symphony. To be able to embrace the inevitable daily problems of distribution, without letting it break you is something to be proud of.
In a world of collapsing attention spans, we need to be reliable day in and day out. It’s the grind, and the grit that has allowed our small company to create 50 jobs, and deliver millions of pounds of the best food to appreciative customers. Distribution has empowered our local economy, and helped to rebuild agricultural infrastructure. In the new food system, the one that respects and works with the living system, a distributor adds energy, a distributor is a great thing to be called.