AmericanFarm.com

Pressure to get it right the first try (Editorial)

(Nov. 17, 2015) Backyard Farms in Madison, Maine started growing tomatoes in 2007 selling the vine-ripened fruit locally.
Strong sales in first two years allowed it to almost double its production.
But the farm has had struggles, too. A whitefly infestation in 2013 caused it to destroy all its plants, revamp the production site and essentially start over.
From its name and that vague description, Backyard Farms sounds like any of the small farms that have started and flourished in the “Buy Local” food movement, but more detail suggests otherwise.
It consists of two massive greenhouse complexes, one 24 acres and one 18 acres.
With its slogan of Always Tomato Season, the farm boasts year-round hydroponic production, shipping about 27 million pounds of tomatoes per year to grocery stores in New England and as far south as New Jersey.
As one of its area’s largest employers, the farm has about 200 greenhouse workers called Personal Gardeners, each charged with managing about 6,000 tomato plants from seedling through harvest.
“We named our company ‘Backyard Farms’ for a simple reason,” the company says on its website. “We’re trying our best to bring the same dedicated attention to our plants as you would to your own backyard garden.”
Lighting and temperature is manipulated to maximize production in the greenhouses, and to get the same amount of production outdoors, the company said it estimated it would need 10 times the space.
The farm uses indeterminate plants that grow up to 40 feet tall before they are cut down and workers’ intensive trellising, pruning and deleafing ensures consistent uniform production.
Modern marvel of precise efficient production that it is, we couldn’t help seeing parallels to other integrated food companies. Delmarva’s poultry companies rely on independent growers to care for growing chickens in specifically designed buildings, many of them built in the farmer’s backyard.
And the companies use breeding, research and technology to constantly improve production practices. But imagine the firestorm of bad press a poultry company would get if its brand carried a connotation similar to that of Backyard Farms.
Companies do and should have the right to name themselves however they wants and the Maine tomato company has every right to be proud of and promote its growing practices to customers. The same goes for poultry growers on Delmavra.
But the Backyard Farms example illustrates the flexibility and confusion in the definitions used in how food is described and marketed.
Local, natural, sustainable, organic and other buzzwords in the food industry don’t have meaning until there are details attached.
And just like companies, each consumer has his or her own definitions.
Lining the two up requires active participation from both sides.