Michael Looks Ahead – Changes at Red Tomato

Michael Looks Ahead – Changes at Red Tomato

When it comes to leadership succession, I don’t have much faith in the national search for the ‘perfect’ outsider. Especially in organizations that are hard to “get” like Red Tomato —a business/non-profit hybrid; a distributor with no physical assets; a farmer agent in a world that knows little about agriculture and growing food. I’m grateful to our management coach, Michelle Chambers, for putting it right in my face: “You have these two stars here, both in their mid-thirties. They’re not going to stick around forever unless you develop some kind of future for them!”  I thought about that for months. And I concluded that the timeline for leadership transition at Red Tomato shouldn’t be defined by my needs alone; it had to be built around the new leaders—to be exciting and meet their needs, too.

Two years later, I am moving out of the role of Executive Director into a new role we are calling Evangelist. Effective January 1, 2015, Laura Edwards Orr is the new Executive Director of Red Tomato.  Angel Mendez is Director of Operations, responsible for finance, logistics, and technology. Add Sue Futrell, Director of Marketing, and you have Red Tomato’s management team, moving forward.

I’m not leaving Red Tomato; not even changing my office. I’m here full-time, focusing on the growers, new business development, and product development, the parts of the job I have always enjoyed the most. And the parts I am best at. Not a bad deal for me—I’m expecting my fun quotient to actually go up!

With Red Tomato’s support, I am also involved with several regional and national organizations where I get to turn my imagination toward bigger picture problems (and opportunities). They include NESAWG (the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group), IPM Voice, Fair Food Investment Committee, and the brand new Hudson Valley-based Farm Hub.

Red Tomato is as interesting today as it was at the outset in 1996. Even though the start-up years were undoubtedly the most challenging and uncertain, the path ahead is no less ambitious. This food and farm economy is brutally competitive, and only getting more so. Demand for local food has opened doors, for sure. But the survival of mid-size fruit and vegetable growers in this region is by no means assured. Costs continue to go up more than prices. We have our work cut out for us. Getting bored does not seem an option.

I am grateful to be working with two talented leaders who are so capable of taking the reins, both with great experience in our particular work, both showing the deepest commitment to our mission, and both full of street smarts to navigate this challenging time. I am grateful to be working under board president Maud Ayson, who has steered this leadership transition with great wisdom, skill and compassion. And I’m grateful for the whole team at Red Tomato, who keep us moving forward.  Congratulations Laura, Angel and Red Tomato! This is very cool!