Food

The Path of Produce from the Farm to the Store

Think about your favorite grocery store and mentally go through the aisles. Appreciate the products that are there. Now, as you pick your favorite fresh fruit or vegetable, imagine the story of where it was grown, how it was picked, and the events that took place to get it in the store.

I would not have been able to imagine this process if I was asked a few years ago. I was blind to the steps and unaware of the complexity of our food system. Today, we will discuss more generally how a piece of produce might end up at your store.

We have a few key players in this story:

1)   The farmer
2)   Post-harvest methods
3)   A regional distribution center
4)   The retailer (aka, the store or restaurant)
5)   Finally, you – the consumer.

Meet the farmers and the decisions they must make:

  • A product is chosen. The farmer must decide what will be grown and the variety of the product they are growing. Choosing the plant variety can depend on the plant’s tolerance to the farmer’s growing environment, temperature, time of year, location, resistance to disease, and type of production.
  • Planting methods are executed. Plants have different seeding, transplanting, and growth cycle needs. Farmers must decide how they will address those needs based on cost, their production capabilities, technology of the farmers, and the intent to optimize the environment of the crops. They must determine the right time of year, soil conditions, plant spacing, irrigation methods, fertilization, and pesticide use.
  •  Harvesting. When the produce is ready to harvest, farmers must choose appropriate harvesting containers, equipment, and transportation to be efficient and clean.1 In most scenarios, the harvest containers get transported to a packinghouse where they will be prepared for the next step.

Post-harvest methods:

  • After harvest, time is of the essence to make sure the produce is as fresh as possible. At the packinghouse or shed, the environment must be well controlled, and there are deliberate techniques to transfer the product into the facility.
  •  It is common for post-harvest facilities to prepare the produce to be transported to a processing center where it is inspected, cleaned, and assessed for quality. Often, preservation is emphasized through cooling measures, slow respiration, water-loss techniques, and/or the use of salt, sugar, or other chemical preservatives.2
  •  Farmers need to ensure the crop they are shipping is optimal maturity by the time it hits the store, not necessarily when it is picked. Destination location plays a role in the timing of the harvest. In addition, size, color, firmness/tenderness, days of bloom, heat accumulation, and other considerations must be taken in account to provide a product consumers would want to buy. 2
  •  Information is gathered on all the produce coming into to identify the grower/supplier, the date of the harvest, the field, the shift, and production records to be able to trace products when transported. 3
  •  Packaging must protect the items, be appealing for sale, and promote a clean environment to reduce contamination risk. When packaging, the products are put in bags, crates, baskets, cartons, bulk bins, hampers, and/or palletized containers. It is has been reported there are more than 1,500 different types of packing for produce in the United States.4
  •  Transportation is the next stop of the produce story. The products must be transported s through non-damaging and non-contaminating means. The transportation vehicle must be free of debris, maintain proper humidity and temperature levels, and loaded in a way that minimizes storage time and maximizes accessibility to get fresh-cut produce to the shelf as quickly as they can.5

Regional distribution centers:

  • Distribution centers are locations where food is collected and redistributed to retailers, wholesalers, or directly to the consumers.These centers face the challenge of ensuring the food-safety regulations continue to be followed. Centers report organic regulation, ensure Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points compliance (HACCP is a systematic preventive approach required by the FDA and USDA to promote food safety in the production processes), and log food defense and vulnerability. Employee training and awareness programs are necessary to help keep the products up to industry standards.6
  •  The food industry requires consistent deliveries of the right products, in the right quantity, in the right condition, to the right place, at the right time, and for the right cost.7 With the regional distribution of food from all over the country and world, this can be a great challenge for ordering, processing, and transporting foods. Distribution centers means food products that are seasonal can  still be present in the store. 7
  • When food leaves the distribution centers, it most often travels to retailers or wholesalers. It has been reported that meals in the United States travel about 1,500 miles to get from farm to plate. 8

Our journey is almost complete! Meet the retailers and the hero of our story – you, the consumer!

  • Once delivered, it is the job of the retailer to inspect, display, and store produce to maintain shelf-life, while still promoting healthy standards. Stores order and reorder inventory to ensure they have the produce consumers want in stock and looking fresh.
  • In-season produce  may be purchased more locally, therefore bypassing distribution centers. This can be why you might see sales or signs for locally grown products in the summer, because they are more available to the retailer.
  • Finally, the journey ends with you making your food purchase!

This is a very watered-down synopsis of the general path a food item might take to get to your plate. There are many players and stops involved to take produce from farm to table. This is why you may be hearing an increasing demand from consumers to be able to track and follow the supply chain of their food. With so many twists and turns, as a consumer it can be difficult to know the true quality of an item.

Efforts are being made to improve the efficiency and standards for food traceability in hopes of reducing contamination risks, promoting local sourcing and better farming practices, improving environmental awareness, reducing packing and transportation consequences, and more. The journey of food can be long, but being educated on the process can help direct our food choices – and may help to create the demand for a more direct and more efficient system.

  1. http://www.greentechchallenge.eu/single-post/2017/07/04/From-Farm-to-Table-%E2%80%93-The-Food-Shipping-Process
  2. https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/vegetable/guides/texas-vegetable-growers-handbook/chapter-x-harvesting-handling/
  3. https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/ProducePlantProducts/ucm064458.htm#ch4
  4. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/packaging-requirements-for-fresh-fruits-and-vegetables
  1. https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/ProducePlantProducts/ucm064458.htm
  2. https://www.aibonline.org/Food-First-Blog/PostId/25/risky-business-food-safety-in-distribution-centers
  3. Aghazadeh, S.M. Improving Logistics Operations Across the Food Industry Supply Chain. Int. J. Contemp. Hosp. Manag. 2004, 16, 263–268.
  4. https://cuesa.org/learn/how-far-does-your-food-travel-get-your-plate


About the Author:

Alex Uding, PT, DPT, PN1

Co-host of Know Better Live Best, Writer, Creator of Advancing Her (https://www.advancingher.com/)

Alex works with healthy and injured individuals alike, across the lifespan. She has special interest in orthopedic and sports rehab, women’s health, strength and conditioning, nutrition, and development of the female athlete. She is passionate about bridging the gap between rehabilitation and optimizing performance to promote a lifestyle of health and wellness through compassionate, person-centered care.

Alex loves to run, hike, and travel – visiting every national park is on the bucket list! She enjoys exploring new places, culture, food, music, and people. She is Chicago born and raised, but has lived all over the country. She loves hearing people’s story and what makes them tick.

Alex has a Doctorate of Physical Therapy, is Precision Nutrition Certified, and is a Strength and Performance Coach. She works as a Physical Therapist and Performance Coach at Momentum Physical Therapy in Milford, MA.

Ep 13: Patrick Robinette, Founder of Harris-Robinette Beef (Part 2)

Host Kari Ginger continues her conversation with Patrick Robinette, Founder of Harris-Robinette Beef located in North Carolina. Patrick discusses why quality and transparency in the food industry is important to him and his vision for the future of farming. You can listen to Part 1 with Patrick Robinette at www.knowbetterlivebest.com/2018/10/10/…eef-part-1/ With nothing but faith, family and this dream, Harris-Robinette Beef has grown exponentially over the last eighteen years. They started as a simple operation that provided beef on the farm. However, once people heard about the high quality of their beef and tasted their savory products, new markets quickly opened. Today, Harris-Robinette Beef exists to provide the consumer with an affordable, environmentally sound, high quality, nutritious beef through the raising of livestock exclusively on a grass-based system. Harris-Robinette utilizes a pasture-to-plate system to best serve the interest of their farm and to preserve agriculture in a sustainable fashion for the good of the land, the family, and our society.

Ep 12: Patrick Robinette, Founder of Harris-Robinette Beef (Part 1)

Harris-Robinette Beef started humbly but with a grand plan: to create the finest beef this world has ever tasted…end of story.

Host Kari Ginger learns about the hard work that goes into producing quality grass-fed beef in Episode 12, Part One with Patrick Robinette, Founder of Harris-Robinette Beef located in North Carolina. Patrick discusses his daily life on the farm, the business side of the beef industry, the importance of food quality and transparency, and the future of farming.

With nothing but faith, family and this dream, Harris-Robinette Beef has grown exponentially over the last eighteen years. They started as a simple operation that provided beef on the farm. However, once people heard about the high quality of their beef and tasted their savory products, new markets quickly opened. Today, Harris-Robinette Beef exists to provide the consumer with an affordable, environmentally sound, high quality, nutritious beef through the raising of livestock exclusively on a grass-based system. Harris-Robinette utilizes a pasture-to-plate system to best serve the interest of their farm and to preserve agriculture in a sustainable fashion for the good of the land, the family, and our society.

Ep 11: Benjamin Weiner – CEO, Gold Mountain Coffee Growers

Host Kari Ginger learns more about the work that goes into producing quality coffee with Benjamin Weiner, founder of Gold Mountain Coffee Growers in Nicaragua. Benjamin discusses the daily life of coffee farmers, coffee processing, direct trade, sustainability, and the social and economic impact of coffee in Nicaragua. Benjamin Weiner is the founder of Gold Mountain Coffee Growers, a direct trade social enterprise that connects farmers of exquisite specialty coffees in Nicaragua with roasters throughout the world. Gold Mountain Coffee Growers has its own farm in Nicaragua called “Finca Idealista.” Ben is also a consultant on coffee harvesting and post-harvest processing and a licensed Q Grader. Ben created Gold Mountain Coffee Growers in 2007, when small local farmers asked him for help connecting with international markets. They were upset that the coffee economy did not allow them to support their families effectively. He bases the entire social enterprise on quality. Gold Mountain won the SCAE excellence award for sustainability in 2016 for what their specialty coffees achieve economically and environmentally for coffee communities. Ben is a lawyer by training who served as a foreign policy advisor in the United States Senate before jumping exclusively into coffee. In the U.S. Senate he drafted legislation for a Senator and worked to make U.S. agencies more efficient. He also worked on issues such as environmental cleanups in Vietnam, improving the plight of refugees and persecuted populations, and cutting down on duplicative U.S. military spending. Ben holds a degree in Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis and a law degree from Boston College Law School.

Ep 10: Brian Gumm – Founder of Ross Street Roasting Co.

Host Kari Ginger learns about coffee roasting, the sourcing of coffee, and coffee quality from Brian Gumm, founder of Ross Street Roasting Company. Ross Street Roasting Co. was founded in 2015 by Brian Gumm and a silent partner/investor. Their first large volume purchase of un-roasted/green coffee was a Direct Trade deal with a producer in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, and that relationship has deepened over the past 3 years along with other sourcing relationships including one more Direct Trade partner from Papua New Guinea. Ross Street Roasting Co.’s mission is to “Turn coffee drinkers into coffee lovers,” and part of that entails introducing customers to high levels of traceability for the excellent coffees that they love.

Ep 8: Jarek Bakken and Dr. Alex Arguello, D.C. – Restoring Human

Jarek Bakken and Dr. Alex Arguello DC join Kari to discuss nutrition, fitness and their podcast Restoring Human.

The two hosts believe humans were designed to flourish and are helping people make intentional lifestyle decisions to return to an optimal state of health.

Jarek Bakken:
Jarek is a self experimenter when it comes to health. He was introduced to CrossFit and the Paleo diet in 2013 and hasn’t looked back since. After losing 60 pounds he has found a passion for helping sick and hurting people realize that change can in the realm of health just like it did for him. He is now a CrossFit Level 1 trainer and host of the Restoring Human podcast with Dr. Alex Arguello DC. The two believe humans were designed to flourish and are helping people make intentional lifestyle decisions to return to an optimal state of health.

Dr. Alex Arguello:
Dr. Alex Arguello, D.C., has a passion for helping people like you to live a high quality of life and feel your best at all times. Being a family man himself, he’s greatest passion is to see entire families be healthy together. Since 2011, Dr. Alex Arguello has helped hundreds of patients and their families get well from a wide variety of health issues, ranging from allergies to ADHD to migraine headaches to low back disc problems.

Food Transparency – Why settle for less?

Understanding where your food originates from may not be something that many think of but when you grow up on a farm, it is literally right in front of you. Whether it be from raising your own beef to knowing where each of the cucumbers which are being made into pickles originated, it is a clear and often short pathway.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture however, less than two percent of Americans now actually live on farms. This leaves 98% of our population consuming food without the knowledge of where their food originated, how it was processed and at times even when it was harvested. If this sounds like a concern to you, you are not wrong because it clearly is a problem.

 

For me, life has been different than those who live in cities. I grew up on a farm in French Lick, Indiana where we raised cattle, horses, chickens, ducks, corn, soybeans and wheat. My parents were both incredibly hard workers and my dad was a business entrepreneur. In addition to the farm, my parents owned a grocery store and a restaurant. Both businesses were heavily family operated and I can actually remember carrying out groceries at the age of five – probably even before that actually. My memories are that I was very helpful to my family. The truth, however, is not easily seen when you are that young.

My parents didn’t just have a garden, they had two of them and they were not your ‘normal’ sized gardens. Each garden was a few acres in size and they were worked daily. Mom was an incredible cook who fed five kids, four of them growing boys, without ever seemingly breaking a sweat. Breakfast, lunch and dinner all came mainly from the farm. Canning, freezing and butchering were all just part of life and in my thoughts anyway, normal. Although the meats stocked at Roach’s Market were purchased, they were from local butchers who harvested, processed and sold their meats fresh. Dad would purchase everything from fresh Italian sausage to ribeyes to turkeys from wholesalers within about an hour radius of their store. Oh, and all of the ground beef was processed right there in the store. That is the way it was, it seemed normal but actually wasn’t.

Knowing where our food has originated and the path it has taken to the tables of our families may seem like a formidable task and the truth is that it is not an easy treck to follow. The good news however is that it is possible and with that possibility is an opportunity for each individual and their families. We all want to provide the absolute best for our families and we may actually think this is being done but prepackaged meats in large box stores may not be of the quality that is expected. This is not a slam on large box stores, this is a look at the reality that may very well exist.

Is it possible to bring transparency back to the food families are consuming? The answer is yes which then raises another question… if transparency is possible then why would anyone settle for less? The answer is simple, we as consumers cannot settle for less. It is time that everyone expects and demands more. Why? For ourselves, for our families, for a healthier lifestyle.

Ep 4: Cultivating Food Literacy in Children with Raintree School by Know Better Live Best

Kari sits down with chefs Katie Brown and Andrea Hediger at Raintree School.

Katie Brown was born and raised in St. Louis, MO. She cooked in a variety of restaurants and food-focused non-profit organizations for 8 years and studied Nutrition and Dietetics at St. Louis University before becoming head chef at Raintree School. She has been at Raintree for five years. While feeding students scratchmade lunches, she hopes to also foster in them a passion for food, where it comes from, and ways to enjoy it. When not in the kitchen she loves yoga, painting, gardening, and traveling.

Andrea Hediger’s love for cooking orignated from spending time in her grandmother’s kitchen at a young age. It was there where she learned the basics of cooking. To further her knowledge, she moved from her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri to Seattle, Washington and studied Nutrition and Culinary Arts at Bastyr University. While in the Pacific Northwest, she gained experiences in various kitchen settings and organic gardens. One year ago she became sous chef at Raintree where she gets to practice her passion by feeding young eaters. Her favorite thing about her job is witnessing the excitement that the children have about food.

Ep 3: Chase’n the Dream at QCAA with Chase Hollmer

Kari sits down with Chase Hollmer from the Quad City Athlete Acadamy.

Chase is originally from Iowa where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Movement and Exercise Science from the University of Northern Iowa. He later moved to Tampa, Florida where he completed his Master’s Degree in Exercise and Nutritional Science from the University of Tampa. While pursuing his graduate degree , Chase also worked in UT’s Human Performance Lab, one of the top human performance labs in the country. Since his time in Tampa he has worked with multiple professional teams and athletes including those in the NHL, NFL, MLB, and UFC. Chase’s experience also extends working with numerous fitness professionals and bodybuilders on their individual training, nutrition, and supplementation needs.
Chase is currently the owner and head coach of the Quad City Athlete Academy. Athletes that have worked under Coach Hollmer have received Div. 1 scholarships to every Power 5 conference.

Certifications:
Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN)
Certified USA Weight Lifting Sports Performance Coach

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