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What Does Responsible Sourcing Mean?

by Sara Polon

June 1, 2021

“The food system is broken.” 

We say that so often, we forget that many people have no idea what that even means! After all, visit most supermarkets in America and you’ll find aisles of food as far as the eye can see. At quick glance, things seem pretty copacetic! However, dig a bit deeper and you’ll see that all is not as it seems. Which is where responsible sourcing comes in. 

Food production alone is responsible for 25% of our greenhouse gas emissions! From harmful growing practices to unjust labor practices – there’s a lot of work to be done!

As a small, nimble company we can have conversations with our suppliers about their growing, labor, and environmental practices. We have the time and energy to look beyond the certifications and see what’s really going on. While we certainly aren’t perfect, we’re trying, and we’re getting better every day.

So what exactly do we mean when we say our produce is responsibly sourced? Here are a few criteria we look for when choosing where to get our next batch of fresh produce:

Responsible Sourcing – Healthy Soil

Soil looks like dirt, but wow, it is so much more than that! Like humans, without proper care, soil becomes malnourished and incapable of producing life. Soil loves when it’s rotated, cared for, and the home of a wide variety of crops. Unfortunately, many large industrial farms grow one product over and over (monoculture), a practice that slowly but surely degrades the soil and destroys the land.  

The easiest way to keep growing the same crops on the same land over and over again is to simply pump the soil full of fertilizer and chemicals. Unfortunately, this happens too often. Agriculture is a large source of pollution worldwide – from fertilizer, pesticides, and other chemicals. 

Yet, there are many forward-thinking, diversified farms that use sustainable farming methods of crop rotation and other natural techniques to manage soil degradation and produce higher yields. That’s why we try to source  from farms and co-ops like Spring Valley Farm and Orchard and Lancaster Co-op. They use sustainable agriculture methods to keep their fields fertile and healthy.

Responsible Sourcing – No Sweet Potato Left Behind

A recent study found that on many farms, over half of the edible crops were left in the field due to “imperfections.” Even worse, sometimes this food is wrapped in plastic and thrown in a landfill. That means the time, effort, water, and other resources that went into growing that food are for naught. It is also so frustrating to know that perfectly nutritious food is wasted when too many in our communities are facing food insecurity. 

To counteract this, we source from providers that work with farmers to collect and sell this wasted or ugly produce. Working with partners like Full Harvest allows us to be a part of the effort to fight food waste. This inspiring female-founded tech company enables companies to actually calculate how many tons of food they’ve “rescued” from landfills. They partner with companies large (Danone!) and small (Soupergirl!) to work on smart food sourcing. 

Responsible Sourcing – The Community

If you haven’t heard of the three pillars of sustainability, it’s a pretty simple concept. You can read about it here. A key point is that sustainability is more than the environment, it involves social sustainability as well. 

The sad truth is that it’s not easy to run a farm. Once thriving small farming communities have turned to cash crops and government support to survive. Others have been swallowed up by large corporations. Many are forced to go into debt in order to meet price demands from large buyers.

These factors plus cheap, easy access to imported food has made it difficult for smaller farms to compete. They’re often at a double disadvantage. Smaller farms can be more expensive to manage. They therefore must sell their produce at a higher price, as they cannot benefit from economies of scale. 

This is unfortunate because smaller farms are often the best stewards of the land, and also the most respectful of their laborers. These reasons and more are why we source from smaller farms within the Chesapeake Watershed. In particular, we love working with farm co-ops such as Lancaster and Franklin that have banded together so they can concentrate on farming and not have to worry about marketing their goods.

Responsible Sourcing – The Labor Force

When talking about sourcing, we must talk of the laborers. According to a National Agricultural Workers Survey in 2016, nearly 70% of farm workers were born in Mexico. Of those born in the US, 35% were hispanic. On average, farm workers reported personal incomes ranging from $17,500 to $19,999. Many in the farming community are unprotected laborers who aren’t able to advocate for better working conditions, pay, and representation. 

We are currently working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers who have done extraordinary work advocating for the rights of farm laborers. This inspiring organization was founded by the farm laborers who organized to take on the corporations, ranchers, and the government. And they are succeeding. But, they need support from consumers and companies to make change happen. We are working with the Coalition to help spread their mission and educate consumers about the importance of knowing the *humanity* behind our food and recognizing the dignity in those jobs.

Responsible Sourcing – The Dream

We know that there are no easy answers to feeding the world and farming sustainability. However, we have hope. We believe that we can work to create a world in which small, medium, and large farms work together to be better stewards of the planet. We believe that consumers will be a part of a movement that ensures every person who comes in contact with our food is paid fairly and equitably. We believe in a world in which communities care for and support each other. And we support these dreams by putting our weight and money behind our sourcing. And with every bowl of Soupergirl food you eat, you’re helping us to achieve these dreams. 

Want to help? Support change by making a purchase or learning more!

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