Green America: Growing the Green Economy for People and the Planet

Blue Ridge Produce
Elkwood, VA

What happens when a guy who has lived most of his life in DC, is interested in building communities and using the power of business to change the world joins forces with a guy who grew up on an apple orchard, lived his whole life in rural Virginia, and operates a retail produce store? You get one of the most powerful drivers of change in how local food gets to local markets.

Founded two years ago in the Northern Virginia Piedmont Region, just 60 miles from Washington, D.C., Blue Ridge Produce aggregates produce from farms in Virginia for sale to wholesale customers in the Mid-Atlantic.  We let farmers be farmers by giving them a consistent market for their produce and handling the marketing and distribution logistics. By taking the retail headache out of the equation, farmers can spend more time doing what they do best, growing crops in Virginia soil. This system keeps more money in the local economy, and significantly reduces food miles traveled.

Our values are simple:

  1. Treat farmers with respect, work with them consistently and pay them a fair price.
  2. Provide a reliable supply of high-quality, healthy locally grown food at large-scale volumes and with the least amount of time possible between harvesting and delivery.

Blue Ridge Produce provides a link between the 120 Virginia farms now in its network and large-scale regional distributors, food-service companies, and supermarkets that have an overwhelming demand for fresh, local, nutrient-dense produce. The BRP network contains a total of 15,000 acres, and in only two seasons, 20 percent of the farms we work with have increased the number of acres in cultivation because of the built-in market that Blue Ridge provides.

Peppers Whole Foods
Produce from Harvest Hill Farm. A local-themed display at Whole Foods using Blue Ridge Produce.








 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How are we green?
We aggregate from small farmers by designating local collection points so that we maximize the efficiency of each collection. Larger growers typically deliver to us. Because we are located outside the city, we are closer to where produce is grown and farmers avoid trips into the city.

On the distribution end, we tap into the existing distribution system so that we are not creating a parallel distribution just for our local produce. In many cases the distribution companies are backhauling, using the empty trucks that have just made deliveries to pick up the local produce that will go to their hub.

Shenandoah
Mark speaks with a farmer at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction.

Uniquely positioned to make a big impact.
Blue Ridge Produce is emerging as a nationwide model of for-profit local food hubs and is uniquely positioned to be a sustainable food leader in two ways. First, our founders have built trust with farmers who are, by nature, staunchly independent. In fact, after one of their end-of-season meetings, Jim Epstein and Mark Seale were invited to enjoy a truly local product -- moonshine! At that moment they knew they’d done something right.

Second, Blue Ridge Produce has access to the two largest distributors in the Mid-Atlantic region, major supermarkets, and food service companies that supply hospitals, universities, schools, and other large institutions. Starting in June, BRP will supply produce to more than 150 regional restaurants of one of the biggest chains in the fast-casual category.

How would we use the award money?
GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) Certification documents and verifies that the farmers are in accordance with food safety laws. It is often the most significant barrier for farms interested in tapping into the wholesale market. We would use the Green America award to help more farms attend GAP certification workshops and get the required inspections.

Thank you, Green America. We are honored to be among the finalists for the People & Planet Award.

Opening Surroundings
Opening ceremony with staff and advisory board, including co-founders Jim Epstein (standing in truck) and Mark Seale (third from left). The warehouse where the magic happens (aggregation, that is!)
Warehouse Talking.

The Blue Ridge Produce facility is surrounded by 420 acres of gorgeous Virginia farmland.

Co-founder Mark Seale (far right) speaks with a group of farmers at Kirby Farms in Hanover, VA.