Letters to the Editor Opinions

Letter From The Community: SLU’s Failed Commitment to Local Farms

Dear President Fox,

Last spring, St. Lawrence University contracted with North Country Grown Co’op (NCGC) to purchase locally grown produce. Those crops were planted, tended, and harvested.  We are now being told that our crops will not be purchased because SLU is buying out of the area produce at a cheaper price. I am writing to you to ask you to authorize funding to purchase local produce at the local prices from last year, as contracted.

My name is Dulli Tengeler and I am a small local (organic) grower from Birdsfoot Farm who sells vegetables retail and wholesale. I work with SLU students on our farm, sharing sustainable agricultural practices. I belong to NCGC, a group of 30 farms that sells to local colleges, stores and restaurants for the past nine years.

I am upset because local colleges are not willing to pay the prices that we ask. We are trying to supply high quality and the freshest possible local food to you. Our farms are 1-50 acres and employ local workers or are just a family size. We are not producing large scale and cannot compete with large scale pricing. It was our understanding that colleges have an interest in local food for their students, even if we cannot supply all that is needed.

SLU had made a special effort this spring and committed to buy eight crops from NCGC this fall. We farmers ordered the seeds, planted, tended and harvested those crops for SLU. When it came to selling them, they were not wanted.

The first week this fall, SLU did not order any of the special contracted crops. The second week some were ordered and the third week we were told that we could only sell if SYSCO prices were met. Last year we sold tomatoes to SLU for $25/ 25lb box, this year we are told to charge $20; cucumbers were sold at $36/40lb box and we were told not to charge more than $30 this year. This is not fair and it is not sustainable.

Our understanding was that the SLU commitment was at the prices of last year or

higher if SYSCO prices were above NCGC. Now the college tells me it is SYSCO

prices or nothing. I would have never planted, weeded or paid workers to pick at those prices. I also invested into a tunnel to extend the short fall season into October.

We are talking about 151 cases for about eight week period that would have cost you and extra $700-900/week.  With melons not producing this year it would be $200-$300/week.

If the colleges, as our main customers currently, stop buying, NCGC will not exist next year. The colleges will not be able to get local produce unless they want to deal with individual farmers. Our farm will go back to retail and the Potsdam Coop and Nature’s Storehouse and reduce labor and its costs.

I feel burned that a commitment was made and not honored, and that I have to donate my boxes of extra grown crops to the Neighborhood Center or compost them. I am writing to you, so you are informed and not surprised if NCGC cannot serve your students anymore.

In my opinion, the promotion you would get out of serving some local food would be well worth the extra money spent.  So I am asking you to make it possible for SLU to honor the contract. I want you to be aware of how SLU’s purchasing decision is affecting local farmers. I hope we can resolve this before it becomes no longer possible to supply SLU with local produce.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Dulli Tengeler

Birdsfoot Farm

NCGC farmer and board member

 

About the author

Emily Liebelt