By Emma Castleberry
While farmers markets provide a wonderful way for farmers and customers to connect, the local food web doesn’t stop there. You can also find regional and hyperlocal foods in almost every grocery store. And the way those local foods travel from farm to shelf is important. “People want local flour and produce and meat and dairy, and we can produce all of this in this state, but distribution is a huge piece,” says Jennifer Lapidus, founder and general manager of Carolina Ground Flour Mill.
Carolina Ground Flour Mill is a client of Leading Green Distributing, a company that provides a sustainable, environmentally focused delivery service for small farmers and producers. Lapidus met Kathryn Beattie, president of Leading Green, when her flour company was just getting started. “Carolina Ground works with North Carolina growers, and I love that Leading Green is all about distributing regionally grown products,” says Lapidus.
Beattie arrived in WNC in 1983 to attend Warren Wilson College and settled in the area after graduating. In her 14-year career as a buyer with Mountain Food Products, she saw firsthand how small farmers struggled with delivery. “I saw a need for someone to assist local farmers with consistent delivery and refrigeration as the local foods movement grew,” Beattie says. She made a business plan, bought a used mail truck and took to the road in 2007. “Over the years I have delivered for about 100 local farmers and producers, hauling produce, dairy, meat, kombucha and tempeh locally and regionally,” she says. “We go to Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, Knoxville.” Her main customer is her former employer, Mountain Food Products. “Without them,” she says, “I would not be able to sustain the trucks and staff necessary to help the local producers.”
Beattie takes on the logistics of transportation for small farms, maintaining the quality of their products through proper handling and refrigeration. Most of the Leading Green trucks use locally produced biodiesel recycled from businesses. “I have always kept an eye on the larger goal of doing things in the most environmentally efficient way,” Beattie says. “I try to reduce waste in all things, by diverting from the landfill, offering ‘carpool’ rates to customers and working with other trucking companies to share freight.”
Last year was a big milestone for Beattie, who ended the year in the black for the first time ever. Then the pandemic hit. “When things first shut down, I took a hard look at how to keep things going,” she says. The safety of her employees was the first order of business for Beattie. “I decided to offer my employees a safety net, covering approximately half their hours even if they didn’t work that much,” she says. “I paid 100 percent of time if they donated blood, and 50 percent of any time they volunteered for MANNA FoodBank or another nonprofit helping in the crisis.” Employees also had the option of furlough.
“A mildly successful 2019 gives me hope that Leading Green will weather this storm and continue providing these valuable services this summer and beyond,” Beattie says. “I have been really inspired by the tenacity of my farmers and customers and am there for them for the long haul.”
For more information about Leading Green Distributing, visit LeadingGreenDistributing.com.