Red Tomato Annual Letter

Red Tomato Annual Letter

Dear Red Tomato Family & Friends,


Our theme for 2020 is resilience. We hope you are finding it, in as many unexpected ways as we are, as we all take a breath and look forward to celebrating the coming holidays. 


We moved to Providence, RI in March 2020 –leaving our longtime home at Crystal Spring for an exciting new community of food organizations and companies near downtown Providence, anchored by food hub Farm Fresh Rhode Island and a year-round farmers market. And then bang–a year no one could have forecast! Our empty office stands as a common symbol of the pandemic and the year 2020: we moved in, we moved out in the very same week, and began working from home. Fortunately, as a distributor who gave up our assets–our warehouse, refrigerators, trucks–many years ago and figured out how to run our business virtually, we were better prepared than many for this disruption. But we’ll be glad when we can finally unpack those boxes!


Looking back on events in 2020, we can see the slender silver lining in an otherwise crisis year:

  • People turned to local farms for good food and safe family entertainment. Many local farms that sell directly to people, including in our network, saw their Pick-Your Own and farm stand sales increase by as much as 40+%.
  • Lyman Orchards, Middlefield, CT is a case in point. John Lyman, Red Tomato trustee, and 8th generation on the farm, forecast a tough year, an apple harvest of 30-35,000 bushel, down from an average 40-50,000 bushels in prior years. Due to drought and winter injury, the final yield was 18,000 bushel, an apparent disaster of a year. Except, the community turned out for a record-breaking Pick-Your-Own year, and for healthy  retail sales from the Apple Barrel, the orchard’s store. In the end, 2020 was a profitable year for Lyman Orchards! Go figure! 
  • The Pecan growers we work with at New Communities in Albany, GA–one of the largest Black-owned farms in the South–had a robust pecan harvest following two dismal years resulting from Hurricane Michael damage (the storm wiped out much of the 2018 crop, plus it stripped off buds-already-set and branches that were to become the 2019 crop). The 2020 crop is abundant, and we are selling their pecans to Equal Exchange and other distributors, as well as to a network of small artisan bakeries. Shirley Sherrod and their organization are longtime colleagues. Their pecans help boost our winter sales and our partnership allows New Communities to focus on growing their farm and crops long-term.
  • Our retail partners also adapted, selling more on-line and working hard to keep their customers safe. They’ve continued to support local through it all, and because of that we were able to introduce new packaging—closed pouch bags for Eco Peach and Eco Apple, along with an Heirloom Discovery Pack –that tells a story and meets consumer needs. 


This year has been a true testament of resilience for all.  Almost everyone I have spoken with this year has experienced some personal crisis along with the current world crisis.  At the brink of the COVID-19 global pandemic my mom, 72 years of age, was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the spine that causes compression to a vital nerve.  She has been immobilized since then and unable to walk or care for herself independently, and managed severe nonstop pain throughout the process. After two surgeries, she still felt chronic pain and could barely walk. She is now recovering from her third back surgery. She is one tough lady. I suspect she’ll be walking again soon. Her mental strength, her physical stamina and perseverance, have shown me the meaning of that word resilience. Of course, it took all of us, supporting her at every turn. Our family participation and our support for one another throughout this year modeled for me that when there is collaboration, purpose, strength, and love, all obstacles can be overcome.


Over the past few years I have had the honor to work with many food hub operations across the U.S. Though each one is different, with its own mission and operational model, one thing I find in so many food hub communities is fierce resilience.  This year we were able to help connect farms to supply some of the local providers of the  USDA “farmers to families food box program” which invested $3 billion dollars this year to distribute over 100 million boxes of food to support American farmers and families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The effort from the USDA is grand and greatly appreciated, but it also highlights how much work is needed to build the path towards truly resilient communities for our growers, distributors, consumers and citizens of all demographic areas.


In my experience volume is king when it comes to supply chain management.  Greater volume usually translates to lower unit costs, increased leverage, and more standardization throughout the supply chain.  At Red Tomato we have been able to break into the wholesale markets and connect our growers with consumers through creative supply chains and and marketing efforts, but we have not been able to successfully connect our growers to wholesale/ retail markets within their own communities, specifically low-income communities.  Some of the biggest barriers are due to economies of scale: small orders equal higher shipping costs per unit, which make it difficult to effectively distribute fresh produce from growers to these communities at a sustainable, competitive, equitable price, regardless of the market channel.  In response to this challenge, we’ve begun a collaborative initiative to to design new distribution systems to connect urban communities in Hartford and Bridgeport, CT with mid-size wholesale farms nearby. We hope this will become a full-fledge program, along with our Eco program and other food systems work, that helps us leverage what we’ve learned to creat real change for our region. 


Resilience is derived from working together, as together we are better!  At Red Tomato we are more dedicated than ever to working with community partners, to bringing our experience with growers and marketing, sales, and distribution, and to exploring collaborations—in our new community, in our region, and beyond–  to build and enhance community resilience in the food system.  Your support for us, and for local farmers, makes our work not only possible, but able to adapt to the changes ahead.  We know it is a tough year.  If you can make a contribution to support this work, we deeply appreciate it, online or by mail to our office at the address below. 

50 Sims Avenue
Providence, RI 02907

On behalf of the entire team at Red Tomato, I wish you, your families and your community a safe, healthy and joyous holiday and new year.


Angel Mendez
Executive Director

with Michael, Sue, Diane, Susannah, Marsha, Kelsey, Alessandra, Dawn and our entire Board of Directors.