Eat'n Park's director of sustainability passionately connects farms and forks

Jamie Moore, 39, in shorts and T-shirt, is standing in a shed on Rippling Brook Farm's 150 certified organic acres in Sligo, a couple of hours north of the city.

He has an easy fitness about him and a tan to rival a farmer's. He sometimes rides a bike from his Mt. Lebanon house to his job at Eat'n Park's headquarters at Homestead's Waterfront -- last trip clocked at 25 minutes. He doesn't look like an office-bound guy.

His title is director of sourcing and sustainability for the Eat'n Park Hospitality Group.

On this day he is companionably sorting potatoes, elbow to elbow, with bearded Amish farmer Aaron Schwartz and his lithe and barefoot teenaged children. A clackety generator-driven contraption bumps the brown orbs down the line.

It's a cloudless 91 degrees outside. The black leatherette seat of the buggy we hitched a ride on from the farmhouse "cooked" our seats, as the farmer warned. In this lofty building, though, it's almost cold. We are divided by a sliding door from a solid roomful of ice. The ice was hauled in blocks last winter from the pond out back. The farm has no electricity.

The talk turns to how things have changed for getting Rippling Brook's produce to market.

If only you could see the watermelon we've cut into, one of hundreds filling bins, or the heirloom tomatoes, pristine yellow and salmon striped, big and bulgy as boxing gloves. But it's no fun photographing produce if you can't show the producers. And people pictures are not permitted by the Amish.

Mr. Schwartz has neither phone nor car.

He used to drive a buggy two miles to use a phone. He'd place a call to wholesalers, playing his own middleman. Fielding call-backs was a nightmare. Deals fell through. Invoices went unpaid. He was struggling to feed his family.

A couple of years ago organic farmer Don Kretschmann, who serves on the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture board of directors with Mr. Moore, drove Mr. Schwartz down to Eat'n Park's Homestead offices to have him meet Mr. Moore. Mr. Kretschmann knew Rippling Brook produce because he sometimes supplemented his veggie subscriber boxes with it. Mr. Moore then convinced Paragon, a Lawrenceville-based distributor, to help. Paragon was selling to the Eat'n Park group and happened to be making deliveries to a restaurant not far from Sligo. They agreed to pick up Rippling Brook produce. Mr. Schwartz built a loading dock.

That was good. But things got better. Mr. Schwartz now has an agent.

He is represented by Clarion River Organics, a fledgling distributor owned by two idealists. Recent college grads Nathan Holmes and Zeb Bartels started with few assets besides a faltering truck. They are now completing construction of a produce packing shed, tucked on a corner of the Rippling Brook farm. Mr. Schwartz gave a hand with the building and Mr. Moore supplied business counsel.

"Eat'n Park was awesome," Mr. Holmes says. "Zeb worked closely with Jamie on graphics. Their Six Penn Kitchen is a great customer."

The two now market organic produce from 10 Amish growers (non-Amish are welcome) to Pittsburgh area markets, including Whole Foods, and to larger distributors across the state.

Distributors are the glue

Improbable? This may be the least probable local food hook-up that Mr. Moore has had a hand in.

"Distribution is the glue," he says.

As Time magazine said in August: "So what will it take for sustainable food production to spread? ... scaling up must begin with ... scaling down -- a distributed system of many local or regional food producers, as opposed to just a few massive ones."

The devil is often in the details.

Mr. Moore says: "Amish don't have computers or even business cards to put into a crate, but they can mark a box as it's packed in the field with name and pack date. That meets traceability requirements."

To find the smaller food producers, "We took a booth at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture conference. I handed out cards that said, 'If you are interested in moving local food, contact Jamie Moore.'"

Thus was born, in 2002, Eat'n Park's local purchasing program, FarmSource. Says Mr. Moore, "We are second nationally after Bon Appetit." The California provider launched its Farm to Fork buying program, now in 29 states, at about the same time.

"I became the farmer guy. I found my niche, what I wanted to do."

FarmSource connected with growers within a 125-mile radius. Food would be fresher, taste better. The money would stay in the communities.

"The local food would get to our kitchens through our distributors," Mr. Moore says. "At first some distributors were pissed."

There were rough edges to smooth on both sides. For growers: "how to clean, size and pack; how to meet food safety requirements. How to grow not the humongous tomato, dripping juice, but a smaller, firmer tomato that would go through a restaurant slicer."

Distributors were used to offering one-stop shopping from a global market, 12 months of the year. "They had to roll with the short Western Pennsylvania growing season. To buy enough green peppers locally, they might have to go to five growers."

Mr. Moore cites Paragon, family-owned for several generations, as "a distributor who understood."

Paragon President Elaine Bellin: "Farmers had had bad experiences with corporations. We were a corporation. But we gave them our word. We'd pay the amount on the bill. We had developed relationships with local farms.

"Then Eat'n Park made a serious entree into that world. Jamie got involved with everyone in really deep detail. He was studying, analyzing, attending meetings, getting to know farmers and exactly what each farmer did.

"His enthusiasm roped 'em in," she says.

"We gave Paragon a marketing tool," says Mr. Moore. "Their trucks say 'Your Fresh Source Solution.'"

How to buy from the little guy

Eat'n Park bought $12 million in local food last year.

How the notion of buying from the little guy could make business sense at all was a question on the minds of a roomful of Brazilian undergraduate students who visited the Eat'n Park headquarters this summer. Their study topic: corporate responsibility. The trip was organized by Audrey Murrell, director of the Katz School's David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership at the University of Pittsburgh.

The question was: "How do you get local distributors on board when they can't sell local food based on price alone?"

"Honestly, it's a challenge," Mr. Moore said. "Sometimes we have to say if you really want to do business with us, we want you to buy local, because it's the right thing to do."

Joel Ankney, former senior buyer at Paragon: "He is very passionate about doing this, both for the good it brings to the company and on a personal level. Once you get to know Jamie, you realize what he does is what he is."

Chef's hat

Yes, Mr. Moore loves food, has a garden, is a closet canner. He also is a Navy-trained chef. Starting as a baker, he rose through the ranks before enrolling on the GI bill at Penn State for a degree in hospitality. In sophomore year he met his wife, Michelle. She is a CPA, and the daughter of an Eastern Pennsylvania farmer.

He is about to wind down a small private chef business. He cooks for friends' parties. He spends 12-hour Saturdays once a month, in the Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church kitchen, preparing batches of meals for a few special-needs clients that he took on back when he had time.

Some people attribute Mr. Moore's productivity to his military training. His mom, Joyce Moore, says you have to go back further, to his beloved Calabrian maternal grandmother, Angelina Caparelli, whose home kitchen in Jeannette was famously perfumed with pomodoro sauce and house-made salume. When Angie was widowed, she went to work, preparing sauces and pizzelle as the first deli chef -- and mentor-to-all, Mr. Moore says -- at DeLallo's Market in Jeannette. "Her kitchen on Sunday was my favorite place to be."

At home in Greensburg, 8-year-old Jamie would be standing on a step-stool at his mom's stove, cracking eggs into a skillet, making omelets for the neighborhood. Any kitchen was and is his playground. "I take my knives and cutting board every time I go home. I tell Mom, who is a great cook, 'Let me cook. I love chaos in the kitchen.'"

He is also known to be the one helping: Knitting funding strategies for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. Coaxing up a tent at a food fair, turning the ice cream crank. Spilling out a dozen contacts for someone from his Blackberry. Giving a weekend to installing a friend's kitchen cabinets. Pitching in on a Slow Food tomato-canning demo in Braddock.

It's impossible to hear the guy dissed. The most common adjective is "passionate."

Eat'n Park Vice President of Food and Beverage Brooks Broadhurst says, "Not many folks have a guy like Jamie. He's intense."

Lauren Smith, development director of PASA: "Of course I know him very well, have for years. Eat'n Park, look how far they've come, and to have had that insight. To have an industry leader touting farmers on the menu? People are really starting to sit up and take notice. It comes down to who the people are. He is a chef. He knows food. He is very compassionate. He is a committed individual. He has such a grace about him. A respectful manner. There's sort of a natural leadership. A real gift of understanding.

"Let's face it, he is charming."

Virginia Phillips is leader of Slow Food Pittsburgh, regional national governor of Slow Food USA, and a freelance writer who lives in Mt. Lebanon. Contact her at . First Published October 8, 2009 4:00 AM


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