Every four years, dutiful Americans file into pre-determined facilities, climb into a stall, eye a ballot of choices and mark a box they deem the least offensive.  Truly involved citizens find opportunities to vote more regularly. City Council, Sheriff, School Board, and so on.  They take any opportunity they can find to choose our leaders and have a voice in what our community, city, state, and country look like. What we don’t always account for is the fact that we cast votes literally every day.

Money Talks

Every dollar spent in locally owned facilities stays local, feeding our economy and creating jobs for our neighbors. Every local purchase is a vote for locally sourced food and for the advancement of opportunities for our farmers. Instead, we fearfully feed the competition, starving our own economy and essentially casting our vote for Monsanto, Walmart, and the destruction of the family farm. Nebraska is currently home to just north of 790,000 households. If each household spent a measly $10 a week on locally sourced foods, we would manage to keep more than $410 million here in our local economy. That’s without considering the environmental impact of reducing our carbon footprint by not shipping food halfway across the country. It’s also forgoing the minor detail of flavor and nutrients lost in the process of manhandling melons for a few thousand miles.

The Great Waste

In a time when 49 million Americans struggle to feed their families, the solution is not ‘grow more food’. It is estimated that up to 40% of the food produced in America goes uneaten. That’s $165 Billion worth of perfectly fine quality food rotting in landfills every year. In fact, food comprises the majority of all waste in landfills. Our desire for massive quantities of esthetically pleasing produce and perfectly uniform chicken breasts leads grocery stores to constantly cycle out even the slightest of visual imperfections. Employees walk through the produce section several times a day, weeding out bananas as the first flecks of brown appear and tossing peaches as their flesh gives to the probing thumb of the public. Food is then genetically modified for durability and symmetry and nutrition becomes an afterthought. More is planted, robbing the soil of nutrients that are then replaced using synthetic filler.  This vegetal vanity creates a staggering amount of waste and drives up food costs. As the food becomes more expensive, we clip coupons and price match at big box stores who happily ship food in from countries where the labor is practically given away.

Making The Connection

So how do we locate these local growers and navigate the sometimes overwhelming world of food labels? It is becoming more and more complicated. Organic, heirloom, pesticide free, non gmo, ethical, fair trade. What really matters when purchasing food? Does “cage free” mean the same thing as “free range”? Why does it matter if beef is grain or grass finished? Where can I find cruelty free poultry and eggs? If only we had a trusted guide on our journey to ethical, local buying…

Let’s Call The Whole Thing Awesome

Tomāto Tomäto, the conceptual lovechild of Jody and Jeremy Fritz, has been on the Omaha food scene for more than 8 years. The year-round indoor farmer’s market offers individuals Community Supported Agriculture shares and functions as a hub for the 35 area farmers they represent. You can pop into the market on 156th just north of Center to purchase any in-season produce or regionally raised and produced meats, cheeses, and spirits. Even better? You’ll find them at a lower price than you would find at say, a Whole Foods. If you opt to travel the CSA route, you receive a weekly basket of produce, meat, eggs, herbs, or cheeses, depending on the package you purchase, essentially playing “chopped” in your own kitchen. You can never be 100% sure what crop will be ripe and ready and sometimes find very exciting vegetables in your possession!

I spoke with Michael Kult, Tomāto Tomäto’s head of Wholesale Distribution, who told me that finding the product is a full time job. When considering adding an area farm to their roster, he drives out and spends a whole day with the farmer learning all he can about the facility. Kult is the personification of zen, but becomes truly passionate when talking about food ethics and safety. “These plants and animals are going to become someone’s food. That means it will determine their energy and their health. It matters.” Suffice it to say, Kult takes his work seriously, so when he and Tomāto Tomäto put their seal of approval on a facility, it’s about as legit as it gets.

David Vs Goliath Was Nothing

In spite of the loud cry for organic and local fare, shoppers are still spending the majority of their dollars not at farmer’s markets, but at restaurants and grocery stores. Walmart is shipping in a variety of organic produce and using that to crush the local competition. Convenience wins out over conscience, and the cycle continues. This is where Fritz and Kult’s elaborate networking becomes interesting to the average consumer. Fritz humbly muses “I’m not a revolutionary trying to change shopping. People are busy and buying is hard enough with kids and work schedules. Locating local sources takes an incredible time commitment. Then getting to the several farms to purchase, it just becomes very time prohibitive.The eye was on using the food systems already in place. That’s how HyVee got involved.” In recent months, Tomāto has invaded 13 local HyVee grocery stores throughout the city. New items are popping up regularly as stock is cycled out, so look closely! You will soon notice meats, grains, and produce with the names of regional farms like Plum Creek, Bird Song, Erstwhile, and Straight Arrow. (All Organic!) And that’s not all-

Farmers Come to The Kitchen Table

“We’re not redesigning the wheel, we’re just building it by hand.”  Colin Duggan casually remarks. The chef and owner of Kitchen Table in the Old Market may not be redesigning the wheel, but Kitchen Table is redefining the meal with their motto, “Slow food, fast”. Since opening their establishment 2 years ago they have used their time wisely, cultivating relationships with several Nebraska farmers in an effort to keep their kitchen clean and local. The menu remains fluid to account for the relatively uncooperative nature of Nebraska’s weather. Kitchen Table is one of about a half dozen restaurants who seek out TT’s network of vetted food growers to maintain their local status. Last summer, Colin and Jessica invited several of their suppliers to come speak at a regular “Sunday Supper” to inform and involve their diners in the journey their dinner took to reach their plate.

World’s Worst Boss

Fritz, Kult, and The Duggans know that as much as they trust their growers, their biggest hurdle is their head boss. Mother Nature is a cruel employer and a single night of heavy, unexpected rain can devastate an entire crop. Fritz feels the pain of each hot day as the farmers she has created these relationships with suffer, but she remains loyal to them and to the cause. They aren’t co-workers, they are a team. They are a community, and they are working together for a healthier Nebraska.

If you would like to learn more or become part of a CSA, check out http://tomatotomato.org/

Tomāto Tomäto

2634 S. 156th Circle

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