Red Tomato has been making change in the food systems world for 25 righteous years. This small but mighty organization was brought to fruition through the combined dedication, passion and drive of founder Micheal Rozyne and five powerful women- Red Tomato’s Founding Sisters. These are their stories.
Diane Rast, a native of Hawaii, is Red Tomato’s Creative & Packaging Director. She is responsible for the artistic vision here at Red Tomato. Diane directs how we visually portray ourselves and strives for design continuity between print and packaging. She works with our supply chain and marketing teams, our growers and customers to select appropriate, sustainable produce packaging solutions. Diane has been part of everything Red Tomato from the start. She has channeled her creative energy into crafting each logo, defining the visual story of Red Tomato and EcoCertified from the beginning. Her passion for Red Tomato and creating visually appealing graphics is just as strong today as it was 25 years ago. Diane organically slipped into the role she is in now where she continues to push the creative and sustainable goals of the team forward through unparalleled imagery and her quest for new sustainable produce packaging options. In addition to being a powerhouse creative force at Red Tomato, Diane is a dedicated beekeeper. “I recently purchased 2 new nucleus colonies. There are 5 hives in a cardboard box with roughly 14,000 bees that have been nurtured by a master beekeeper. When I opened the box to place them in their new home, I thought they would be aggressive but not so! They were so happy to be out of that crowded box! It was a celebration!”
Kate Larson– “My path has been messy, exciting, and full to the brim with opportunities to practice! I have always flung myself out to new places and challenges. But it’s the values, creativity and love I got growing up that served me the most.” Before bringing this force of nature perspective to bear on the vision that became Red Tomato, Kate worked at Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont as Program Manager and Organic Farm Certifier. Red Tomato founder recalls of Kate, “She’s calm and performs well under pressure (with a sense of humor). A real no nonsense person, with a drive that spoke clearly- let’s crush this!” While each founding sister wore many hats to get the good work done at the burgeoning non-profit, Kate dedicated much of her energy to Operations and Sales. Her penchant for advocacy, guts and creativity brought the big accounts Red Tomato needed for a successful start in a competitive produce world. According to Rozyne, “Kate used every bone in her body and every skill she had to make it all happen”. Kate saw the potential in and hired now Executive Director Angel Mendez as the Team’s first warehouse manager in 1998. After several years of schlepping produce from the wee hours of the morning and continuing into the evening hours doing the advocacy work of a nonprofit, it was Kate’s vision to transition into the non-asset based model Red Tomato still uses today. She recognized the need to shift away from trying to “do it all” to focusing on and developing what the team was best at- building relationships, supporting growers and creating real change in the food systems world. She was the advocate for sanity. Kate is now a nurse, mother, and the founder of Practice of Life, creating immersive, evidence-based content that builds capacity for self-care and healthy lives. By bringing these topics to the classroom, dinner table or social media chat, we’re putting the control back in people’s hands, creating greater access and equity.
Marla Rhodes– Before joining the burgeoning Red Tomato team, Marla Rhodes was project manager at the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy where she collaborated with growers participating in Mothers and Others’ CORE Values program- the inspiration for what would eventually become Red Tomato’s EcoCertifiedTM program. Red Tomato founder Michael Rozyne was told by one of Ms. Rhodes’ colleagues “If you don’t hire Marla, it will be one of your worst decisions in the short existence of your organization.” She proved to be an all hands on deck invaluable founding sister, keeping the administrative needs of the growing organization running smoothly. Marla’s contributions to the incredibly tight knit original Red Tomato crew did not end with bookkeeping duties.Her dynamic energy spilled over into every corner of the organization, ensuring each and every project undertaken succeeded. Marla continues to dedicate herself to food systems change work as the Development and Volunteer Manager at the Waltham Fields Community Farm, cultivating sustainable and equitable relationships between People, Food and Land.
Betty MacKenzie– “In the beginning, Red Tomato was an idea: How can we make a difference in the food system? We’re trying to be the pebble that discovers the ideas, that brings information forward about what farmers need, what’s not working and then have those ideas be spread out [like ripples in a pond around where the pebble dropped].” Betty was already deeply steeped in the world of retail food distribution and produce when she joined up with the team developing Red Tomato. She brought this experience and a natural talent for nonprofit work with her to Red Tomato where she took part in development, sales, customer service and sourcing produce from farms. She also served as RT’s rep on the board of Oké USA, the fair trade banana company which became part of Equal Exchange. Betty became Red Tomato’s only Co-Director, her final job which she shared with founder Michael Rozyne.
Lynn Colangione joined Red Tomato when the organization was toying with the idea of adding fair trade bananas to its repertoire. Thinking outside of the box was her standard process, says Red Tomato founder Michael Rozyne “Lynn has no fear and is an incredible story teller”. She took these powerful skills and applied them to her many different roles over the years at Red Tomato including sales, truck driving, account management, and eventually Development Manager. She moved on to serve as treasurer on the Board of Trustees and also consulted as financial advisor. Somewhere along the way, while still providing critical support to Red Tomato, Lynn took over the family hardware store which she continues to run, to this day.