July 2018: North Carolina is lucky to have a long growing season, but even with season extension techniques, tomatoes can’t be grown profitably year-round. For restaurants that want to source all of their tomatoes locally, that presents a challenge. A different challenge is faced by farmers, who, when faced with a seasonal glut of tomatoes, have to find markets for a highly-perishable product that does not ship well. When markets cannot be found, a potentially profitable product is left in the field.
Enter Whole Crop Harvest (WCH). When the SARE-funded project began in 2017, Program Director Rebecca Dunning reached out to Juan Esparaza, Commissary Director for Ashley Christensen’s AC Restaurants, to see if it would make economic sense for the restaurant group to source all of their tomatoes locally in-season and preserve them for year-round use. Dunning recruited a team of senior undergraduate business students from NC State’s Poole College of Management to investigate the issue.
The team created a cost model to examine the effectiveness of purchasing, preserving, and storing the tomatoes for year-round use. They found that purchasing 100% North Carolina tomatoes in season reduces the restaurant group’s cost by nearly half, accomplishes the goal of sourcing exclusively local tomatoes, and will likely reduce on-farm food loss.
The cost model is adaptable to plug in other products as well, says Esparza. “It’s extraordinary. It helps us realize that when we have our ducks in a row we could knock out 9-10 months’ worth of a crop in 2-3 months, and save money doing it,” he says. “It most definitely will be a tool that we’ll use to utilize space and labor efficiently and save money.”
Visit the NCGT website for the students’ analysis, and the Whole Crop Harvest website for information about the project.
This article originally appeared in the July 2018 NC Growing Together Newsletter.