Linking local foods with wholesale buyers
“We have to create a situation where local food is available for people easily at restaurants and institutions,” says Eric Stocker, co-owner, with Marjorie Levenson, of Squash, Inc., a Belchertown-based food distributor. “We would get more institutions to buy more local food if it was easier in terms of price and logistics. If you’re a local college, you don’t want to have to deal with fifteen different farmers.”
Food distributors such as Squash, Inc. connect local farmers and food buyers, enabling more local produce to be purchased and consumed locally. They reduce the burden on farmers to find individual buyers for their produce, make the deliveries, and track the payments. They also make it easier for institutions to identify which local farms can provide what produce, coordinating distribution from a climate-controlled warehouse via refrigerated trucks, and ensuring all the farmers get paid.
Squash, Inc. grew out of the food cooperative movement and incorporated in 1975. The company communicates with the buyers about the food they want and works with many local farmers to meet those demands and set a reasonable price. The company also supplies food from other regions and countries to its customers when local farmers can’t fill the order. Today, Squash employs about 10 full-time employees and a few part-time workers. It owns six refrigerated delivery trucks and takes in an annual revenue of $3 million.
As distribution companies consolidate, support from buyers becomes more critical for small local businesses like Squash, so that they can continue to purchase from local farms. Fortunately, increased consumer demand for local foods helps businesses like Squash succeed. “People here in the Pioneer Valley understand the importance of purchasing local.” Eric credits the Buy Local organization in the Pioneer Valley, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), with helping to create a strong local-food culture here.
Distribution - Recommendation 2.1: Foster relationships between producers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers that facilitate and prioritize sale and purchase of Massachusetts-grown and -produced products.