By Elizabeth Vaughan, CHIP Food Systems Coordinator
This is a story about the success of an up-and-coming Southern California farm in selling their fresh, local, and sustainable produce to schools, and CHIP’s efforts to get them on the path to success.
CHIP has spent years working 1-on-1 with farms across Southern California to build the skills and knowledge necessary to sell their fresh, local products to San Diego County schools, hospitals, and other institutions. Selling direct to institutions requires very detailed knowledge of institutional food service operations and business practices that will allow the farm to meet institutional buyers’ demands. One of the farms CHIP has helped break into the institutional market is Eden Tropics.
Eden Tropics is a 200-acre grower, packer, and shipper that has succeeded in supplying thousands of school children across the Southern California region with an impressive array of fresh fruits and vegetables every week. From persimmons and guavas to cauliflower and Persian cucumber, kids are eating it and Eden Tropics is making it happen! Eden Tropics is now selling to eight districts across San Diego County and Riverside County, with a total of one million dollars in sales projected for this school year alone! We could not be more excited to see Eden Tropics emerge as a leading, innovative farm in Southern California’s farm to school movement.
However, Eden Tropic’s owner Tarek Ayoub is quick to point out that their unique model wasn’t created overnight, that their success has not been without its challenges, and that they didn’t do it alone. All the while, CHIP has been one of Eden Tropic’s key partners in this work. It took Eden Tropics a full year to develop the relationships and knowledge necessary to successfully navigate the schools market. According to the Tarek at Eden Tropics, CHIP’s support has been critical in helping them succeed in selling to schools.
“CHIP is instrumental in bringing together farms on one hand, and school districts on the other hand. The team at CHIP provided resources, contacts, introductions, and a platform for all of us to meet and explore opportunities of cooperation.”
-Tarek Ayoub, Owner of Eden Tropics
Under CHIP’s Farm to School Taskforce mission, schoolchildren across the County should be enjoying healthy foods that maximize seasonal and local products that bolster their achievement and wellness. Thus it was a natural fit for CHIP to work closely with Eden Tropics in their business planning to sell to institutional buyers.
Early on, Eden Tropics was able to identify challenges and district needs through 1-on-1 support from CHIP. Following early conversations with CHIP on the needs of institutional buyers, Eden Tropics decided to invest in packing and delivery capacity. This prepared their operation with the infrastructure and capacity necessary to meet institutional buyers’ expectations.
It was then at CHIP’s annual Let’s Go Local! Produce Showcase in 2014 that Eden Tropics met their very first school district client in Riverside County.
Getting started in selling to schools wasn’t without its challenges and Ayoub stresses that CHIP’s support was crucial in helping his farm navigate those challenges:
“…we noticed most districts continued to source their products from the traditional distribution channels because of logistics requirements, often providing delivery to each and every school at many of the districts by the suppliers. Farms are not set up for this level of logistics, and often only offer a single crop, making it a challenge for districts to buy direct… CHIP was able to help identify which districts were willing to allow us to deliver to their warehouse (or limited number of drop sites) and we were able to find workable and beneficial relationships.”
To be sure, Eden Tropics success is due mainly to their diversified operation that offers a wide range of fresh, local fruits and vegetables at competitive prices. They harvest their crops on a daily basis, ensuring fresh and tasty produce for school children. They also go above and beyond by dedicating a percentage of harvest and livestock to the community, particularly new immigrants, underprivileged, and refugees coming to the area. The farm continues to grow and learn from their relationships, and projects that next year’s sales will reach $3 million by incorporating more farms into their cooperative model and expanding the number of school districts they serve.
All that said, CHIP’s food systems work has played a crucial role in the success of Eden Tropics and many other farms now selling to schools and other local institutions. By providing the right support to farms at the right time and by cultivating the platform and networks through which buyers and sellers of local food connect, CHIP is playing a crucial role in growing the local food economy. CHIP’s role in this story is summed up in Tarek’s own words (we swear we didn’t make this one up!):
“We had no business with school districts before working with CHIP and now we owe everything to them!”
While we think Eden Tropics had more than a little to do with their own success, we thank them for these kind words and for all the nutritious, fresh produce they provide to school districts across the region. We look forward to seeing what future relationships and collaborations develop going forward as Eden Tropics and many other of our local farms continue to grow the regional food economy.
p.s. Want to meet Eden Tropics in person and other up-and-coming farms in the Farm to School community? Come to the Let’s Go Local! Produce Showcase on Friday, October 23rd from 2:00-5:00 p.m. at the Leichtag Ranch in Encinitas (441 Saxony Rd, Encinitas, CA). REGISTER TODAY!!