What is American Food? is a podcast exploring the many stories that make up our food system. Through storytelling, we reveal how our U.S. food system is designed - identifying where we can most impact hunger relief, climate change, and economic stability for families everywhere.
Co-hosts Hannah Semler and Ali Berlow take a broad and deep dive into food systems, in a format that questions, informs, and discusses the nature of how we understand where our food comes from in the U.S. The first four episodes focuse on produce production in Mexico, developed over the last century to feed the U.S., and the food bank efforts that support millions of families who are food insecure in the U.S. We speak with business owners, nonprofits and funding institutions, as well as food systems practitioners in different sectors. Our focus is on lesser known stories about where the food we eat comes from and why, and the value of food for people and planet, in order to inform our future food systems design.
What Is American Food? is grateful for the financial support from the Betsy and Jesse Fink Family Foundation.
Red Tomato and Shirley Sherrod: Supporting Black-Owned Farms
Shirley Sherrod is an activist and organizer who has worked to support and empower black-owned farms for decades. As one of the founders of New Communities, Inc., based in southwestern Georgia, she has partnered with Red Tomato on a variety of projects to market the produce that comes out of these farms. Her story is one of resilience and sacrifice, and illustrates the costs of the systemic racism woven into the US food system we know today.
A Mighty Hybrid Food Hub in the Northeast
For the next few episodes of “What Is American Food?” we’ll be turning our attention from the southwest to the northeast.
https://redtomato.org/ (Red Tomato) is an innovative non-profit food hub based in Providence, Rhode Island. For 25 years they’ve been partnering with small to mid-sized farms to help with marketing, logistics, and distribution.
We’ll hear Red Tomato’s origin story from Michael Rozyne, Angel Mendez, and Sue Futrell. Plus, 8th-generation orchardist John Lyman gives us practical examples of how Red Tomato helps his farm partner with others to make sure everyone succeeds in the market.
But Red Tomato’s story is not all sunshine and rainbows-- they almost lost everything in 2002, when a crucial piece of funding dried up. Their response ended up changing the entire way the organization functions, making it more resilient than ever.
As the American food system recovers from the past year of disruption, we can all look to Red Tomato for an example of building trust and committing to sustainability and transparency, while honoring the dignity of all the people who provide our food.
We’ll be making more episodes about Red Tomato, so be sure to subscribe in your favorite podcast app to be alerted whenever new content drops. You can also https://what-is-american-food.aweb.page/p/58d2c315-02a7-4051-8be9-9ea038790178 (subscribe to our newsletter) and https://www.instagram.com/whatisamericanfood/ (follow us on Instagram).
Michael Rozyne, co-founder of Red Tomato
Angel Mendez, Executive Director of Red Tomato
Sue Futrell, Director of Marketing for Red Tomato
John Lyman, 8th generation orchardist at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, CT
The Six Founding Sisters:
Team Red Tomato wanted to acknowledge their Six Founding Sisters in this podcast but we ran out of time! Here they are. They were with Red Tomato from 1997-1999 and all stayed on for years into the new millennium. Diane Rast has been the only graphic designer to have ever done any major work for Red Tomato, having designed every version of every logo and package and major promo piece for all 24 years.
Disclaimer: Ali Berlow is a member of Red Tomato’s board of trustees.
Bonus: A Conversation with Covilli Brand Organics
Covilli Brands Organic operates both a farm in Sonora, Mexico, and a marketing and distribution business out of Nogales, Arizona. What makes Covilli unique is that they are the only operation in North America that's 100% organic certified, and 100% fair trade certified. We hear from second generation farmer, Alex Madrigal, and his life and business partner, Iris Montano, as to their commitment to these approaches to both farming and the business side of things.
We are grateful to have opened up this space for such important topics, shedding light on all the different farming and food production methods, whether we see them or not. They're a part of our daily lives, our daily choices, helping us understand the impact we create for millions of people along the supply chain with the food we choose to eat or not eat every day.
This podcast is funded by the Betsy and Jesse Fink Family Foundation, with production support by Melody Rowell, and Ian Carlsen. Check back because soon we'll be dropping our next deep dive series focused on the nonprofit, Red Tomato.
Rights-Based Food Banking: Moving Produce Rescue towards Justice Across Borders
Guests: Michael Rozyne, founder of https://redtomato.org/ (Red Tomato) and one of the three founding members of Equal Exchange; and Robert Ojeda, Chief Programs Director of the https://www.communityfoodbank.org/ (Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona )and a founding member of https://thehungergap.org/ (Closing the Hunger Gap).
Co-Hosts: Hannah Semler and Ali Berlow use multi-dimensional storytelling to explore what food security means from both ends of our food supply chain. We take a look from both sides of the MX-US border, learning more about the role produce rescue can have in support of hunger-relief, food security, and food justice when communities come together into focus as a shared story of fair trade, interconnected rights and, the right to food.
This is the third episode in Season One: The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona’s Produce Rescue Efforts in Nogales.
The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona (CFB) which has rescued and redistributed over 100 million pounds of Mexico-grown produce over the last three years to 37 food banks in 33 states across the U.S., is in the process of developing a collaborative approach to its cross-border Nogales port of entry produce sector business solution, using a rights-based lens.
Robert describes how his personal journey informs the work he is most passionate about - turning Community Food Bank into a partner and ally with the communities they support with additional access to food by inviting people in to participate fully in public life and holding that as a precondition to the role they might play securing their own food security.
Michael shares his journey, weaving in and out of working with local and regional agricultural in the U.S., with his perspectives about international supply chains, and the importance of telling the stories of far away food production, while relearning how to value our local agriculture, here at home. His is a clarion call to narrative shifts and complex collaborations in order to transform food systems towards justice.
‘What is American Food?’ is funded by the https://www.bjfff.org/ (Betsy and Jesse Fink Family Foundation). Production support from Melody Rowell and Ian Carlsen. Music by Ian Carlsen. Barks by Barley.
Cross-Border Produce Rescue in Nogales, AZ
Episode 2: Cross-Border Produce Rescue in Nogales, AZ
Hosts: Ali Berlow and Hannah Semler
Guests: Dana Yost of The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and Ida Posner of the Posner Foundation.
The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona (CFB) has redistributed over 100 million pounds of produce over the last three years to 37 food banks in 33 States across the US. We speak with Community Food Bank COO, Dana Yost, about their produce rescue operation plans across the border in Mexico, and the long term plans for addressing the root causes of hunger with workforce development programs in Nogales Arizona. We also speak with Ida Posner, Strategic Advisor to the Posner Foundation of Pittsburgh, about their support of Community Food Bank’s cross-border produce rescue program along the US-MX food supply chain. Our goal is to elevate the story of how sourcing surplus from Mexico farms, upstream from the Nogales port of entry, is in fact addressing food loss on farms at a critical point of the US food supply, while feeding hungry people in both countries. Through creative supply chain and collaborative logisitics, CFB's innovative Produce Rescue program will start addressing food waste and food security with partners on both sides of the border, giving back to the communities that feed this country with access to year-round produce.
Audio Editing and Engineering: Ian Carlsen
The 100-Year-Old Nogales Produce Sector
Episode 1: The 100-Year-Old Nogales Produce Sector
Hosts: Ali Berlow and Hannah Semler
Guests: James Martin of Wilson Produce LLC and Jamie Chamberlain of Chamberlain Distributing Inc.
Six billion pounds of fresh produce enters into the U.S. through Nogales, Arizona each year destined for the U.S. market; this has been steadily growing over the past 100 years. With some digging, we soon find out that this very efficient food system, able to provide such enormous quantities of nutritious food, essential for human health, representing 84% of fresh produce on our shelves in winter, does not always make it to sale.
To understand the produce rescue effort at Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, that redistributed 100 million pounds the past three years, we first take a look at the businesses in Nogales. This is the second largest trade port between US and MX (second only to Pharr/McAllen, Texas) and its rich history, and the personalities running businesses there, will change your thinking around how this country feeds itself forever.
We speak with Jaime Chamberlain, of Chamberlain Distributing, and James Martin, of Wilson Produce, to understand their role in our food system, as they trade in nutritious fresh produce grown in Mexico to feed people all over the U.S and Canada. Perspectives on the importance of their contribution range from proudly stating that the U.S. has the cheapest fresh produce in the world, therefore making it most accessible to people, all the way to wanting to ensure that the produce being grown is done so with regenerative organic quality standards, and with as little waste as possible.
Season 1: The Nogales Arizona Port of Entry: a food rescue perspective.
Feeding the U.S are farmers, distributors and food banks working across the U.S.-MX border, to provide 84% of our country’s fresh produce in the winter months. Produce rescue efforts in Nogales led by Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona have redistributed 45 million pounds of that (at least) to our food insecure populations in the US every year for the past three years. In Season 1 of What is American Food? we follow from the Farm in Mexico, to the Distributor in Nogales, to the Community Food Bank in Nogales and Tucson, and the people impacted by this food.
How Mexico is inextricably linked to our nation’s food security story, is widely unknown or misunderstood. The amount of produce, but also the number of people touched by the millions of pounds of produce being moved, creates a new narrative about the value of the food we eat (and don’t eat) in the US. The Nogales Port of Entry, and the farms in Mexico feeding this country through Nogales, are a part of our US food system.
The podcast storytelling around Nogales will help create a common understanding of why Mexico-grown produce cannot be left out of conversations during current and future emergency responses to public health crises, such as COVID-19. Future chapters of What is American Food? audio and web content will cover other aspects of the North American food system, telling our collective story of “American” food, and how regional and local systems work to feed us as well.
Audio Editing and Engineering: Ian Carlsen
Updating My Grocery Natratives
Hannah and Ali do a great job talking about how a Mexican-grown tomato gets on my plate in Maine and what the alternatives might be for that tomato if the supply changes get disrupted. Yeah, that metaphor might not be the best, but if you get intrigued by logistics, food waste prevention, and want to know where those tomatoes went when Covid hit, them this podcast is for you!