A Shorter Distance from Field to Fork

Locally grown produce is in demand across the country, and meeting this need on the scale necessary to serve a developing national market has become a challenge for many in the food distribution industry. For Sysco, satisfying this growing demand has required us to think differently about how and where we get our fresh produce.

At Sysco’s distribution center in Eastern Wisconsin, we have entered into a unique partnership with Growing Power, a national nonprofit organization and land trust dedicated to growing and delivering fresh, healthy food in historically under-served communities. Through hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstrations, community outreach and technical assistance, Growing Power develops community food systems that teach people to grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable way. Growing Power was started in 1993 by Will Allen, the son of a sharecropper, former professional basketball player, present day farmer and one of the country’s foremost authorities on urban agriculture and food policy.

“If people can grow safe, healthy, affordable food, if they have access to land and clean water, this is transformative on every level in a community,” Allen said recently. “I believe we cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system.”

In support of this effort, Sysco recently donated the use of a 34-acre tract of farmland directly adjacent to our center on Mill Road in Jackson, Wisconsin. This plot will be used to grow carrots, cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, zucchini, yellow squash and much more.

Beyond merely donating the land, Sysco’s local Quality Assurance Department is also helping the Growing Power farm become certified in Good Agricultural Practices, or GAP, a program designed to ensure the highest degree of food safety during the growing, harvesting, handling and processing of fresh foods. GAP certification also means Sysco will be able to purchase and sell produce grown by Growing Power. This will help continually fund the farm’s efforts and meet Sysco customers’ demand for sustainably-grown local produce. The Sysco/Growing Power partnership also helps provide fresh, local vegetables to the town’s school district, giving the children of Wisconsin access to fresh food — and a fresh perspective on where their food comes from.

Partnering with organizations such as Growing Power is one of the many ways that Sysco is helping to support and give back to the communities in which we live, work, dine and play. These efforts also represent a fundamental shift in thinking about how we supply our customers with the best each region has to offer, season by season and year by year.

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