What is Eco Certified, Part 1
Fruit is so much more than the dollars, cents, hours and resources that go into producing it. Apples especially possess a mythology all their own and are a central symbol in many pantheons– in Norse mythology Inudun’s apples were the means by which the gods retained their youth and vitality. Perhaps this is where the phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” arose. Of course, we all know what happened to Eve when she ate that one fateful fruit. Apples have captivated our imaginations and our taste buds for… Well, for more years than historians and scientists can wholly agree on. One thing we here at Red Tomato agree on is that apples, and other tree fruit, are wholesome, delicious and a fundamental part of the agricultural landscape and community here in the Northeast U.S.
The Eco Fruit program is one of Red Tomato’s longest running and most successful programs. It was launched in 2004 and is a collaboration between Red Tomato and organizations across the Northeast and beyond including: IPM Institute of North America, Northeast orchards, and advisors from regional Land Grant Universities. Since then the Eco Fruit program has served more than 30 orchards throughout the Northeast. In 2021, 13 orchards representing 1500+ acres of farmland were Eco-certified for apples; 5 orchards were also certified for stone fruit including peaches and cherries, added to the program in 2010. In addition to wholesale marketing opportunities facilitated by Red Tomato, Eco-certified orchards market fruit through other channels, including wholesale, retail and consumer direct. Sustaining ecologically and economically viable agricultural businesses in our communities is a critical step in maintaining healthy friends, family and neighbors while preserving biodiversity and our natural open spaces.
In 2020, at our annual Eco Growers meeting we were forced to face up to some hard realities. As tree fruit production shifted to regions in the Western U.S. over the past several decades, and the global economy became more difficult to access, it has become increasingly challenging for small & mid-sized family farms in the Northeast to effectively and profitably compete in the marketplace.
Eastern orchards and regionally unique fruit varieties are losing market share to Washington & global supply and are at risk of losing wholesale market position and long term viability. Consolidation and centralized purchasing and marketing in wholesale and retail supply chains are increasingly inaccessible and offer limited means of reaching consumers. The conclusion: We aren’t making enough progress, fast enough, to connect the two and secure a future for regional orchards. We need to reach more people, more quickly, and sell more fruit.
The Eco Certified Program, previously the Eco Apple and Eco Peach programs respectively, aims to support participating small and mid-sized farms by providing third party certification* for apples and stone fruit based on the most current science and knowledge. This certification is our, and our growers, promise to you that Eco Certified fruit is the best local fruit you can buy east of the Rockies. It is great-tasting local fruit, grown using the most ecological practices for our region. The protocol, developed in collaboration with agricultural scientists, was designed to help growers produce healthy fruit while protecting pollinators and other beneficial insects, water, soil, wildlife, and people. Always. Eco Certification program integrity is maintained through rigorous audits which are based on transparent standards that focus on long-term pest prevention, natural methods, and thoughtful treatments when needed to manage insects, weeds and diseases that harm trees and fruit, all while building healthy soil and clean water. Eco Certified is rooted in our communities. *Certified by IPM Institute of North America
The Eco Goal
Our new Eco Certified identity and expanded program will help us tell the bigger story: Ecologically-grown, locally sourced fruit is the best fruit to buy in the eastern U.S. We do this by building a market position for eastern U.S. Local and Eco-grown and -certified crops that are recognized and well-understood by industry leaders, produce managers, decision makers and eaters that leads to increasing sales and new market opportunities for Eco growers in both wholesale and direct supply chains.
We are creating 1) broader messaging and brand positioning that resonates more strongly for orchards, buyers, consumers and funders in order to 2) build more efficient direct to consumer communication channels and 3) more co-branding opportunities with Eco Certified orchards. This bigger story opens up 4) more partnership opportunities with others who share our goals, allows us to 5) expand our supply chain to include other crops and regions, like pecans from Georgia farm New Communities, so that 6) we can sell more Eco Certified produce, engage more local eaters, and so that small and mid-sized farms in the eastern U.S not just survive but thrive.
Individually we all may be small but together, we are Mighty!