Food is special, as it fuels us to accomplish the mundane to the extraordinary. Without food, we are lackluster, lethargic, and lazy. But, eating just any old food calorie can starve us and even kill us, rather than nourish the body.
Healthy food topics energize me in part because I have lost family members needlessly to bad food choices. It is easy to be tantalized during countless televised football games by ten golden chicken nuggets offered for $1.49 or 14 cents apiece. Breaded chicken cubes glisten on the screen enticing us with four special sauce choices. What is most disturbing is how little a farmer earns from this crappy food. Farmers are paid as little as 3% of the retail value on most processed foods and in this case a farmer earns only four cents (4¢) for the whole set of chicken cubes! These nuggets aren’t golden to a farmer!
When we eat cheap food, it’s easy not to value the farmer that grows it! I want to support farmers and businesses that build and grow a good food culture.
So, visiting Baldor a successful business that thrives on sourcing and selling good, local food along with delectables from the around world is heartening and gets my brain cells salivating on continuing to work on a thriving food and farming economy.
The Baldor Experience
Baldor is a an exceptional fresh produce and specialty food wholesale distributor flourishing on excellence, in the backwaters of the Bronx at the Hunts Point Distribution Center. A multitude of smaller produce wholesalers fill the Center in low-slung concrete buildings separated by swaths of asphalt maneuvering and loading areas, while Baldor as one of the larger businesses occupies the former 180,000 square foot A&P warehouse space.
Baldor has created the “go-to” work place for employment and great food. We were greeted with the sign “We love Baldor & Baldor loves you!” Granted, sorting, unloading, packing and distributing food is not a glamorous job, except for a few top positions, but with free medical insurance, a company store with at cost food purchasing power, cafeteria service at $4 per meal, an on-site gym, and English as a Second Language classes, it’s a great place to work. Baldor provides for their employees while supplying nurturing food for their customers’ soul.
Our group of 45 Urban Land Institute real estate professionals arrived just after 9 a.m. and donned caps, gowns, and beard covers (if needed), to enter a controlled food environment. Our tour started in the food storage warehouse section. Again, the warehouse reminded me of a cavernous COSTCO with metal shelving reaching 25 feet into the air, filled with boxes and bags of potatoes, onions, pears, winter squashes, pumpkins, apples, and more. Lower stocked shelves were laden with tiny half-pint containers filled with pepquiño (small round cucumbers with watermelon-looking skin), six-inch long corn shoots, nasturtium flowers, grape tomatoes, and mint cress (micro-greens) used to color and flavor a salad or plate. The corn shoot had a mild corn flavor while the pepquiño was a shot of cucumber, similar to eating a cherry tomato!
Baldor not only sells produce but has expanded into other specialty foods such as CHOCOLATE! Kept chilled and in its own storage room, the chocolate aroma permeated the double-garage sized high-ceilinged room. Chocolate from around the world arrived in bags, boxes and five-gallon barrels, ready for distribution to the finest retail and restaurant establishments. I was the last in the room, savoring the smell.
Connections to Local Farmers
With one-half of their total yearly offerings being local product, Baldor is keeping the regional farming economy strong. Sourcing from local farms originally started when the owner realized that delivery trucks that supplied outlying customers were coming back to the City empty. Recognizing that great food was grown regionally, Baldor trucks started returning to the City laden with local product from Hepworth Farms, a family-owned farm established in 1818 in the Hudson River Valley, Satur Farms founded in 1997 keeping 160 acres of Long Island in farming, Red Jacket Orchards beginning as a small farm in 1958 and now producing orchard products on 600 acres in the Finger Lakes region, and many more. By making a commitment to working with local farmers, regional varieties and specialties were established and the nuances of food traditions and flavors are fostered.
Having eaten an east coast Macoun (pronounced Mă cō ĕn) and a west coast Macoun (Mă coon), I have tasted the terroir–or the geography, geology, and climate of this specialty apple. Here in the northwest, I’ve done blind taste tests with the northwest’s Nash’s Best Carrots and California’s Bunny-Luv carrots and can taste the difference. There is terroir in food, as there is in wine, provided we take the time to savor and pay attention to it! Baldor strengthens the ties to terroir. Their terroir doesn’t stop with just local food, but includes farms across the country and around the world. Bringing the tastes of the minerals, water, and sunshine to customers that discern the diversity of product and the genuine flavors of real food!
Our next stop–the 34 degrees Fahrenheit room where Fresh Cuts are produced! Ensuring our gowns and caps were secure with no stray hair, we entered what can only be described as “Willy Wonka’s” produce factory. Workers doing their tasks were donned in winter jackets and gloves underneath their sterile white clothing. A conveyor belt of peeled carrots were dropped into clean water to be scooped up by an employee and loaded either into bags for shipment or barrels for further processing. Fresh chopped onions, cubed butternut squash, and trimmed yellow beans filled garbage-can sized bins. Other employees stripped ruffled Tuscan kale leaves from its stems or separated mushroom stems and caps, for the thriving restaurants, catering, and food service clients Baldor serves.
Fresh Cuts was an unexpected business opportunity for Baldor, when a client ten years ago inquired whether cleaned, stemless and gill-less portabellas could be delivered. The customer asked, Baldor delivered and a new business venture ensued.
The WOW Factor
Just the stats of this company are impressive. A $400 million company, receiving 2,700 calls per day, and shipping 80,000 boxes to customers with just two pages of backorders every day. A minimum order size is $100 with an average $400 order size. Call as late as midnight for next day delivery guaranteed within a two-hour window (in NYC traffic)!
Baldor serves not only restaurants and caterers, but every private school in NYC. Next stop is feeding the City’s public school kids. Based on research, 80% of children will eat from a salad bar, if they get to make their own choices while 80% will not, if it is handed to them. Already 200 donated salad bars have been installed in public schools. Baldor is on a mission to help more children eat great produce to grow healthy kids!
Baldor makes fresh food special with their commitment to their clients, employees, and children they serve. They know it is all about the relationship. It’s the bonds that are important. Farmers make a commitment to the soil. Baldor is linked to the farmer. The customer is connected to Baldor. Baldor’s food fuels the body to accomplish the extraordinary.
Kathryn Gardow, P.E., is a local food advocate, land use expert and owner of Gardow Consulting LLC, an organization dedicated to providing multidisciplinary solutions to building sustainable communities. Kathryn has expertise in project management, planning, and civil engineering, with an emphasis on creating communities that include food production. Kathryn is a Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network board member. Kathryn’s blog muses on ways to create a more sustainable world.