By Jennifer Wholey
On a Friday afternoon, I was scheduled to chat with Brent Maynard, one of the two founders of FingerLakes Farms. FLF is a distributor of New York State local foods from approximately 30 different farms, including Oink and Gobble Farm, the source of GreenStar's local turkey option this time of year. I'd been trying to catch Maynard on the phone for a week and a half, hoping that he could put me in touch with the turkey farmers themselves, who are Amish. When our second attempt at an appointment rolled around, my call went to voice mail again.
Maynard apologized when we finally connected the following day. "One of my customers from New York City walked in the door," he explained. "He was like, 'Hey, I'm in town.' So I gave him a tour. I can be a really hard guy to get a hold of."
As a small business owner, Maynard finds himself holding the position of operations, sales, and purchasing. From his facility in Seneca Falls, he's constantly fielding phone calls from growers, customers, and employees, in the warehouse and on the road, or from his crew in NYC, so I don't fault him one bit. Covering farmers for GreenLeaf, I quickly realized that unpredictability is part of the game — it can even lead you on a wild turkey chase.
According to Lucienne Binkerd-Dale, Grocery Assistant Manager at GreenStar, the Co-op has been working with FingerLakes Farms since its inception in 2009. "They supply us with many great local products, like Ithaca Milk yogurt and milk, Meadow Creek eggs, Hawthorne Valley Farm sauerkrauts, and Red Jacket juice. They've been supplying us with turkeys since 2010."
According to Binkerd-Dale, the local turkeys at GreenStar are very popular. "In the last few years, we've sold nearly twice the number of local vs. non-local," she said. She likes working with local suppliers like Oink and Gobble in particular, because they provide the freshest turkeys you can get.
Oink and Gobble Farm comprises a multigenerational family of Amish farmers dotted around Interlaken and Ovid. A group of brothers has sold both pigs and turkeys wholesale, and they also produce eggs and flowers. They process all FingerLakes Farms poultry in their own processing plant. These days, the "oink" in Oink and Gobble is only processed for the family's own consumption.
By Jennifer Wholey
We asked Brent Maynard, founder of FingerLakes Farms, a few questions about his food- distribution business.
Q: How was FLF born?
A: I was in the commodity food-service world for a long time, in the small farming arena. I got into wholesale food -ervice distribution for a little over a decade. In 2007, the local food movement was starting to get going, so I started my own business to distribute dairy: Finger Lakes Family Farms. In 2009 we merged with a spinoff of my partner's company; he's an expert in dairy, my expertise is in distribution.
We distribute mostly in the heart of the Finger Lakes: Canandaigua, Seneca, Cayuga ,and Owasco.
Q: What makes FLF different from other local food distributors?
A: We try to work with growers not just to buy their products, but on a contract basis to buy exclusively. We agree on how much product, the price, and the production methods in advance, and then we sell everything they produce. Instead of saying "I need 20 ducks next week," we agree on 150 ducks in advance and they all get sold at a certain price no matter what.
We also have three companies that all intertwine: Ithaca Water Buffalo, Ithaca Milk, and FingerLakes Farms, which distributes the products. I own the buffalo, and we have two farms in Lodi where we house and milk them. We ourselves bring the milk to the creamery for processing. For Ithaca Milk, we don't own the Jersey cows, but we work with a couple of local farmers to buy all their milk.
Q: What do all your farms have in common?
A: They're all small family farms. They're all people who want to make a living off the land. There are a lot of small farms out there, and someone who has a job off the farm helps to support it. We're trying to create opportunity for people who just want to farm, and get their sole income all from the farm.
In a lot of ways, we're aggregators, a rural economic incubator. The web of business flows and connects so many people. A lot of the connections we make are by word of mouth — "Hey, call this guy Brent, he might be able to help you." I am happy to be able to say that we're here for the long haul and work in good faith with all these different growers, including in the Amish and Mennonite communities. It's always been about the farmers, giving an opportunity for people to farm if they want to.
Q: Why buy turkey from a regional farm like Oink and Gobble? What's the local difference?
A: You know how it's raised, you know what it's eaten, you know what it supports, and it tastes better than a commercially raised turkey. When you talk about Thanksgiving, that's thanks-giving: you're supporting a community by buying that turkey, the guy growing the corn and soy, the guy who raised the turkeys, the small processing plant, the local distribution company, FingerLakes Farms. Without the consumer, all this stuff doesn't happen.
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New in Grocery
As always, we've got you covered for Thanksgiving, from the main course to the sides and everything else.
All right, members, you know the drill. ... It's Thanksgiving time once again! This year, just like every year, we have everything you're looking for to complete your holiday table right here in the Grocery Department. Organize your meal around either a local turkey or a number of main-course vegan options. From there, we've got stuffing boxes or ingredients, tasty, high-quality organic pumpkin and organic cranberry sauce in cans, organic baking ingredients, and every other fixin' you might need! For the record, it's never too early to start thinking about the next round of holidays coming up soon. We'll be rolling out some tasty desserts and treats to keep the holiday celebration going and going and going and going. ... And if you haven't yet, look for our new and improved Co-op Basics list, found at the front of the store. The Grocery Department is full of bargains perfect for pantry-stocking.