For the farmer, growing our food is one thing and getting it to us is another. That’s especially true for the smaller farms, who don’t consistently produce the volume necessary to supply a big distribution broker. But that’s where Kevin and Tamara Terr of Red Barn Produce in Highland come in. “Our whole thing is bringing the farmers together with the end users,” says Kevin. “That basically sums it up: We’re a hub for farmers.”
The couple started their wholesale produce distribution business 25 years ago, first in Dutchess County and later in New Paltz. These days they operate out of an 11,000-square-foot warehouse on Upper North Road off of Route 9W, where they’ve been for almost two years now with 30 employees working 24/7.
“What we have found in all these years is that the one major problem for farmers is distribution,” says Kevin. “It takes a long time for them to spend the day driving around delivering their product and collecting money. So we buy produce from a lot of different farms all throughout the Hudson Valley, and then we sell it to schools and hospitals, healthcare places and restaurants.” One of their longest-standing relationships is with the Culinary Institute of America, who’ve been buying produce from Red Barn since 1989. “They’ve been instrumental for us since early on,” says Kevin. “They taught us a lot when we were just starting out.”
Tamara manages the office and handles the financial end of things and Kevin takes care of the operations. Red Barn Produce keeps seven vehicles on the road daily picking up from farms. “We have a fairly large radius and we hit a lot of different places,” says Kevin. “And as our vehicles go out with deliveries, we like to bring stuff back in, so we’ll hit farms on the way back. I don’t like to come back empty, even this time of year.”
The turnaround time from pickup to warehouse to delivery is just five days. “In this business, turnaround is usually a lot longer,” says Kevin. “We’re out quick. What we do is put out a special list every Monday with the farm name on there so people know exactly where the produce is coming from. A lot of large companies who buy Hudson Valley apples are buying from a cooperative, where ten to twelve different farmers will throw their apples together in one big bin. But the farm that’s listed on our sheet is the farm that apple came from. And I will promote them.”
The farmers appreciate that, Kevin says. “But that’s really what it’s about.. more local food, support the local economy. It’s the relationships we build that support us. You’ll hear large corporations say, ‘We buy local, too,’ but the way I look at it is, Tam and I have been in this community for 25 years, and our money stays in this community. It stays at Riverside Bank where we’ve been for years. If someone says to me, ‘we buy local apples,’ I say, ‘Where is your bank?’ If the bank is in Chesapeake, Maryland, or wherever their headquarters are, to me, that’s not staying in the community.”
Committed to promoting the local economy, Kevin participates in forums like the Food Security Conference held at Mohonk Mountain House earlier this month, where he spoke about expanding the market for local foods. The panel included representatives of other agri-businesses and organizations and some local farmers. Red Barn Produce is also a sponsor of the locally focused Hudson Valley Restaurant Week.
Before starting their business, both Kevin and Tamara came from backgrounds in the service industry. As a buyer for a restaurant, Kevin was frustrated that he couldn’t get the quality food he wanted to. “We were living in the middle of all these beautiful farms in the area, and I couldn’t figure out why we brought in stuff that was old. I would think, ‘Why am I buying stuff from California when I have beautiful apples here?’ So that was the spark.”
They specialize in sourcing out the smaller farms. “What we enjoy the most about the business is finding new people and new products. Twenty-five years ago, the business was all lettuce and tomatoes,” says Kevin. “Now the Hudson Valley is such a bounty for what we sell. We have all these different types of things; I even found a farmer selling persimmons, which you never used to hear about around here.”
And they base their business on good service. “Anybody can come up and say, ‘I’ll sell it to you for 50 cents cheaper,’ but if somebody calls me and says they need something in Westchester now, I’m going to do my best to get it to them. That’s really where it’s at; it’s service that’s going to distinguish you these days,” Kevin says. For that reason, they’re a 24-hour operation. “We try to make it so there are always people answering the phone; we don’t want anybody to go to voicemail. It doesn’t always happen if there are three lines ringing, but that’s what we try for.”
He says they’ve been approached by many local producers of meat to carry those products, but he’s not interested in going that route; at least not at this time. One thing they are planning to expand into soon is cash-and-carry sales, opening the warehouse to individual buyers. Kept at a cool 34 degrees, it’s full of enticing boxes of numerous varieties of apples, each labeled with the farm of origin’s name, huge heads of healthy-looking cabbage, boxes of free-range and conventional eggs, local mushrooms from the Catskills and lots more.
Red Barn Produce is located at 217 Upper North Road in Highland, just off of Route 9W. For more information, call (845) 691-7415.