Fresh & Local
Whispers (The Fresh Link, Part 2)
Column #6, Published Oct 28, 2011
There is currently a food revolution going on, and locally grown food is making permanent inroads. I have talked previously about the emergence of local food wholesalers as an important development. In last week’s column, I started a conversation with Mollie Visosky. Mollie and her husband John Paul started a locally grown produce wholesale business named The Fresh Link based in Locust Dale in Madison County (www.thefreshlink.com). This week, we will finish that conversation.
But before getting back to the conversation, there is an interesting story in the Old Testament about the prophet Elijah. Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal. Queen Jezebel is in hot pursuit of him and has vowed to kill him. Elijah is running for his life. He has also stopped listening, and is now far, far away from where he is supposed to be.
How did Elijah get so far off track? The Bible says that the Lord was not in a wind that tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks, or in an earthquake, or in a fire. It says that the Lord came as a gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12) The truth is that it is relatively easy to ignore a gentle whisper.
Po Bronson in his book “What Should I Do with My Life?” makes a similar point. He says one of his biggest surprises is that almost nobody was ever struck with a sudden epiphany.
Bronson says, “Most people had a slim notion or a slight urge that they slowly nurtured until it grew into a faint hope which barely stayed alive for years until it could mature into a vision. Most people feel guilty about wanting what they want, and they feel foolish for wanting something impossible, and those censoring voices will bark like a pack of junkyard dogs night after night. Don’t doubt your desire because it comes to you as a whisper; don’t think, ‘If it were really important to me, I would feel clearer about this, less conflicted.’ My research didn’t show that to be true.”
With this in mind, I asked Mollie how they nurtured the idea of starting a local produce wholesale business. She said that they started by simply talking to lots of people. One of the groups of people they talked to were restaurants. Mollie recalls, “I knew that this was the time to act when we met with the first five restaurants and they all said the same thing. They really wanted a supply of local produce, but they needed it every week, and the supply had to be reliable and dependable.”
To the restaurants, the critical issue is maintaining a continuous supply. That is going to be really difficult for one farm to do. But by aggregating the output of many farms, a wholesaler can create that required year around supply.
I was curious why Mollie thinks that restaurants are more enthusiastic about local produce than supermarkets. She says the supermarkets typically are looking for large volumes of generic kinds of produce.
Local growers tend more toward heirloom and non-commercial varieties, and restaurants are always looking for something unusual and different. “Right now, we are selling pink banana squash. It’s an heirloom variety winter squash that was grown by Native Americans. Some of these squash get to be 25 pounds. No supermarket is going to carry something like that. But the restaurants love it because it is unusual.”
Big ideas often start as gentle whispers.
Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org