Work with regional & aligned distributors to onboard vetted new producers into existing supply chains, create new codes, channel premiums back to the farms or funders for on-farm technical assistance.
Provide increased market opportunities with values-aligned buyers in the foodservice channel for BIPOC farmers that currently face numerous market barriers.
Source regenerative product from farms certified or verified as using regenerative practices and provide these producers with increased cash flow through sales.
Support farms in the region who want to transition to regenerative agriculture practices by creating a market for their product & channeling funds to them for implementing regen practices.
Bring regenerative product into client cafés and educate consumers to increase awareness and drive additional demand for regen products.
Use these learnings to develop a working model that links small and midsized farms to corporate and institutional foodservice, and offer these learnings to other companies, organizations, farming communities, and regions.
Identify target growers & sites.
In 2018, Good Eating Company (GEC) began exploring the potential to source regenerative products with Kitchen Table Advisors (KTA), a regional non-profit that provides technical assistance to farmers.
During the same period GEC was invited to participate in REGEN1, a regenerative agriculture activator produced by The Lexicon with support from Food at Google. The REGEN1 activator developed a place-based model to support regenerative agriculture, starting in Northern California. The initiative brought together stakeholders from across the regional food system, including farmers, scientists, large food buyers (foodservice & CPG), retailers, and nonprofits, including KTA.
While the activator identified the carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation potential of some regenerative practices, it chose to also focus on additional ecosystem benefits from these practices, including equity and local economic development, resilient regional supply chains, and biodiversity.
GEC recognized that this sourcing effort would need to go beyond the standardized and conventional model of procurement and require some measure of process change, experimentation, and iteration. Finding sites that are willing and able to have this flexibility will help ensure the pilot’s success. “The Good Eating Company (GEC) aims to source food that is produced in ways that regenerate ecosystems, cultivate healthy soils, increase biodiversity, and promote equity – creating long-term benefits for people and the environment.,” notes Renee McKeon of GEC.
As a result, GEC decided to apply this holistic lens to its procurement policies and specifically asked KTA to help identify sourcing opportunities with BIPOC farmers, especially those using regenerative practices.
Kitchen Table Advisors selected the original 6 farms in the pilot because they were Restore California grantees & thus had already expressed an interest in adopting more regenerative practices and were receiving financial support and technical assistance as part of their participation in that grant program which aims to support farms as they add soil health and carbon sequestering practices on farm. All farms are implementing at least five practices considered regenerative, including:
Small, midsized, and BIPOC farmers face enormous challenges in today’s marketplace. Market consolidation trends over the past few decades created an environment that strongly favors large producers and brokers that focus on efficiency and economies of scale over other values. Many smaller and more marginalized farmers not only can’t compete on the economies of scale that larger competitors can provide, but also don’t have access to the same market and trend information, range of buyer and industry contacts, capital, land security, dedicated sales staff, the ability to meet steep compliance requirements designed around larger suppliers, and other meaningful forms of access to the wider market.
Privileging efficiency looks rational on the surface, because buyers can enjoy the convenience of relatively reliable quality, pricing, and convenience of a limited set of suppliers per product category. However, the competing crises of global supply chain breakdown, climate change, and inflation are a powerful argument for realigning priorities among buyers. Smaller, more regional farmers can benefit from expanded market opportunities and buyers can also benefit from re-regionalizing their supply chains to reduce risk, contribute to regional economies, and invest in long-term climate outcomes.
KTA uses a variety of strategies to expand markets for farm and ranch clients under the framework of “value chain coordination” – a range of practices that involve coordination with buyers to engage in pilots (like this one!), reconsidering compliance requirements, facilitating introductions and negotiations, and connecting producers with resources to meet buyers halfway (e.g. food safety training, market reports, grants and loans, crop planning guidance, etc). In practice, pilots like this allow for the type of experimentation that is crucial for new market creation. The power of this experimentation is often in the details. Buyers become strong partners when they willingly try out new methods of menu planning, ordering processes, and communication.
Within this pilot, our key learnings have involved exactly these details. We have strongly benefited from the consistent support of GEC leadership, who have encouraged the voluntary participation of site chefs by explaining the program benefits, started a weekly email thread to review True Harvest’s product availability list, and celebrated when chefs substitute a conventional product for a True Harvest regenerative product. GEC has recognized that this voluntary approach results in some purchasing, and agrees that chef engagement is required to increase it further. It’s likely that introducing more strategies from the Just Sourcing framework such as targeted menu planning around True Harvest products, basic crop planning with farmers, and implementing more tracking and metrics for chefs beyond voluntary participation would bring purchasing up even further and help institutionalize the pilot for the long term.
As more buyers adopt this experimental and collaborative approach, the market environment can transform to one that is more just, inclusive, and resilient, while producers can gain financial security that enables more robust competition and cooperation within a regional food system–and much-needed progress towards slowing and reversing climate change.
Map out entry points for target growers using the existing supply chain.
GEC aims to support owner-operated, diverse farms. For this pilot project, additional criteria were added to identify BIPOC producers with organic certification that were also adopting regenerative practices in line with REGEN1. These include low till, cover cropping, compost applications, and increased crop diversity.
Vesta, a regional distributor that works with GEC, noted that identifying BIPOC producers in the region suitable for the pilot project could create a sourcing bottleneck: onboarding these producers individually onto the Vesta purchasing platform would require extensive paperwork as well as separate food safety and insurance documentation.
To avoid potential stumbling block, Kitchen Table Advisors stepped in and suggested the use of True Harvest, a food hub operating in the Watsonville area that maintains extensive relationships with local BIPOC producers. Using True Harvest helped establish a single point of contact between producers and a distributor, and provided the additional benefit of a farmer-led aggregator with the ability to simplify logistics while reducing transportation costs. “Food Hubs help small organic growers bring together small quantities and selections to be more appealing to larger buyers who might otherwise turn to someone else for products,” notes Rogelio Ponce, founder of True Harvest. “We saw the need to provide a food hub where small organic growers feel valued and can connect culturally. The biggest challenge of starting a food hub is communication between all involved parties, from growers to buyers. Some necessary infrastructure includes loading docks, fork lifts, and ice machines to properly move and store produce.”
Vesta agreed to onboard True Harvest onto their platform and also created separate product codes that specifically demarcated product from True Harvest as regenerative so GEC could track these purchases separately from other products on their platform.
“It’s been wonderful to be a part of this program,” observes Chris Charlesworth, director at Vesta Foodservice. “We take great pride in supporting our customers’ initiatives, especially in regard to local and seasonal agriculture, and small family owned farms. Rogelio and his team at True Harvest have done an amazing job marketing the crops for these small growers, and their communication has been fantastic, which has been a big key to the pilot working so well. It’s been fairly effortless, and it’s great to see the program growing every week. In addition to supporting GECs needs, it’s icing on the cake to be able to drive so much new business towards these small growers. The product has been fantastic.”
Onboard the target growers into the procurement system or into a contracted distributor.
Standards for regenerative agriculture are still being defined, possibly to be followed by new certifications. In the meantime, GEC hopes to provide a market for farms that have already embarked on this path of continuous improvement by committing 15 percent of its food budget to source from farms with regenerative agriculture practices.
GEC aims to be intentional about sourcing from producers implementing these practices that may not be certified, may be earlier on in their journey, may not have the funds to implement practices or do the monitoring and reporting required for certification.
“GEC will continue supporting existing partners while also working to bring new producers that may be earlier on their regenerative journey into our supply chain,” notes Renee McKeon of GEC. “In doing, so we hope to catalyze positive change, and provide a springboard for growers, in particular BIPOC producers, who wish to transition to regenerative practices.”
Through this pilot program, GEC will identify additional producers that meet its qualifications and are interested in converting to regenerative practices but may lack the secure market or startup funding to do so and work with partners to develop these suppliers. They envision doing this in partnership with other aligned regional distributors and nonprofit technical assistance providers to farms. GEC is even examining the possibility of investing in supplier development and driving the transition.
Develop a process for ordering new products & integrating it into menus.
To support GEC’s commitment, Vesta (their distributor) was asked to provide select GEC cafes with a list of available seasonal produce from farms participating in the pilot program. Chefs at these GEC cafes (including LinkedIn, Broadcom, and Paypal) were also educated on the core principles of regenerative agriculture, and their procurement teams began purchasing on a weekly basis.
GEC engaged their chefs on a number of levels to enable and support them:
GEC anticipates scaling up in 2023 to include other farms throughout California. GEC is evaluating additional geographies to prioritize based on a number of factors including: density of operations, client interest in the Program, availability of verified regenerative supply & partners.
Track, evaluate & plan for continuous improvement.
Tracking and evaluating key metrics will help create systems for continuous improvement with BIPOC sourcing pilots and programs.
At minimum, we recommend that a client company and foodservice management company leadership be able to readily access reports from their client units and/or distributor partners that clearly show the purchases made by volume and spend for the BIPOC sourcing pilot.
Stakeholders can collaboratively determine and refine what data to track and evaluate over the course of their pilot. It’s very important to note that the burden of data collection or provision on farmers should be as minimal as possible. Qualitative data from farmers should only be collected after sales have been in progress for some time, to avoid the all-too-common injustice of requiring extra labor from BIPOC producers without remuneration.
Kitchen Table Advisors is a nonprofit that provides free, 1:1 intensive business advising to farmers and ranchers across Northern California. They’ve recently expanded programming to include market access and supply chain support, which includes developing sourcing pilots like these ones.
The Lexicon of Sustainability creates market-driven initiatives to support the greater awareness and utilization of regenerative practices, including REGEN1, RAIL (Regenerative Agriculture is Local), and Foodicons.