As TEDxManhattan approaches, we’ve asked this year’s speakers to introduce themselves by answering a few questions. Today we feature Michael Rozyne, Executive Director of Red Tomato, which connects farmers and consumers through marketing, trade, and education, and through a passionate belief that a family-farm, locally-based, ecological, fair trade food system is the way to a better tomato.
1) What’s the topic you’ll be speaking about?
The current food system isn’t built for local, no matter how much consumers demand it. Why not? Logistics!
2) Why is this important?
Without the right logistics, our region’s best produce won’t make it to markets where people shop. It won’t be competitive enough. This explains why millions of Northeasterners can’t find or afford a juicy, locally-grown tomato, even at peak season. And it means that a substantial portion of the people wanting locally-grown fruits and vegetables will be unsatisfied, if not frustrated, and will not, collectively, turn into the economic force they might to strengthen farms and cause new ones to be born.
3) Are there other projects you’re also passionate about right now – either yours or someone else’s?
Yes. It’s a subject we refer to at Red Tomato as The Truth of the Middle conversation. I’m paying a lot of attention these days to the extreme language and logic that characterizes the national talk about food, farms, and the environment. For example, the conversations about honey bees and colony collapse disorder, or the health dangers of consuming GMO foods—take place often at the all bad, all good level. Both ends of the discussion use science as their proof, but not always responsibly. And the internet doesn’t help truth or reason emerge—it provides a comfortable skrim for people to hide behind, or stay in a circular conversation only with people who agree with them. I think these difficult conversations are best had eyeball to eyeball. It’s made me very curious about the science of how we learn, listen (if at all), make up our minds, and how brains work. I especially enjoyed reading The Righteous Mind by TED talkster Jonathan Haidt. It’s impacting how I think about communicating, and listening, and collaborating.
4) Which other 2014 TEDxManhattan speakers are you excited about hearing?
Nikki Henderson of Peoples Grocery and Virginia Clarke of SAFSF are colleagues of Red Tomato, and I admire their work. Myra Goodman started and runs a company and brand I’ve watched for many years—I look forward to the Earthbound story. Lance Price’s subject—antibiotic resistance– is of great interest to me. I bet Clint Smith and Martha Redbone will be inspiring too. The whole list looks mighty inspiring!
5) Where can more information about your project be found?
Our website is full of info, profiles and video about our eco programs and the farmers we work with; Facebook and Twitter have all the latest, including blog posts from our staff. We’ve been featured in a number of case studies in the past couple of years, including Harvard Business School; USDA Know Your Farmer Know Your Food; and University of Wisconsin. You can find links to those and more on our website Resources page. In her book Raising Dough, [2011 TEDxManhattan speaker] Elizabeth U talks about our unique non-profit/market-based hybrid model.