Driving the Shift to a Local Food Economy
Jim Epstein, Blue Ridge Produce and Jim Slama, FamilyFarmed.org
Jim Epstein met Jim Slama at SVN’s 2009 Spring Conference in Chicago, where the two quickly discovered their shared passion for local food. Epstein was interested in supporting the local farming community of Northern Virginia to increase access to healthy, locally grown food. Slama had years of experience doing this in the Midwest as Founder and President of FamilyFarmed.org. “Meeting Jim at SVN and understanding the power of his wealth of knowledge on local food issues made for a perfect match for my vision. He helped me make it real,” says Epstein.
After the conference, Epstein contracted with Slama to do a feasibility study on local food aggregation in the Northern Virginia Piedmont region. The two saw a great opportunity to work with mid-size and large-scale regional farms to deliver produce to institutional buyers and wholesale operations. Slama supported Epstein through every step along the way, including producing the business plan from which Blue Ridge Produce was born. He helped Epstein select a business property, assembly a team, create a financial model and advisory board, and raise more than $1 MM in capital to make Blue Ridge a reality.
Blue Ridge Produce was launched in April of 2011 to collect fresh produce grown locally, statewide and regionally, and market it to wholesale buyers. It strives to source from organic, local and low-spray providers, and focuses on training and assisting growers so they can enter larger markets and increase farm incomes. Jim Slama remains a critical member of advisory board, and Blue Ridge Produce already delivers to 16 of the 24 Whole Food stores in the region. Most recently, it will be partnering with Chipotle to supply the prime ingredients for its regional restaurants. Aramark Food Services has also reached out to Blue Ridge Produce to help the company achieve its goal of increasing the amount of locally sourced food. Both Epstein and Slama see Blue Ridge Produce as a model for what could be done all across the country to change the dynamics around local food.