It’s nearing summer.
The chirps of cicadas act as soundtrack to my trek through the backroads of Georgia. Wind whips through my hair and the sweet, bright smell of grass flutters through the car window.
Can you claim a memory you’ve never had?
Because I’m not there, not really. Not in the flesh anyway. In spirit, perhaps, for I’m listening to Chase Tatham, Vice President of Sales for Tom Lange Company-Atlanta, talk about the company’s most recent program—and I drift miles away from home.
Right from the Farm. Just the simple intonation of the program’s name evokes simplicity and trust. Designed to simplify procurement from regional and local growers, Tom Lange Company’s newest program is increasing access to locally grown produce for the benefit of the buy-side. It’s a tether from one end of the supply chain to the other, one that Tom Lange has spent years perfecting.
Chase and I walk down a proverbial road in this Q&A, one that bridges the gap between retail and grower. We might even both be outside of the car at a roadside produce stall. That’s how local it feels.
Chase Tatham: Myself and Diana Earwood [Managing Member of plain.stated.LLC] have been doing business together for 15 years, and we used to run a program for organics here in Atlanta, Georgia, through a wholesale distribution site. About a year ago, the two of us got together and started this concept. We wondered, what could we do to utilize local and regional growers with an emphasis to go into retail?
There are many growers in the Southeast that have been negatively impacted by larger growers and the lack of distribution and procurements. If you, as a supplier, are off the beaten path, it’s very challenging for companies to be able to procure from you, the growers.
What Diana and I have done since September—when we started this—is we’ve gone on a lot of field trips to meet face-to-face with these companies. We’ve been working with them to ensure the local farms qualify for all of the food safety requirements necessary for business nowadays. We’re creating a network of local growers and initiating conversations and meetings with retailers across the Southeast.
CT: As you know, my background has been in the procurement of West Coast products, but the best part has been the application of my logistics and supply chain knowledge. That’s where I’m really going to come into play, to make things efficient and cost-effective by mixing and matching freight to be able to accommodate the deliveries.
We’re starting Right from the Farm in the Atlanta office, which is where Tom Lange Company handles our Southeast business. Our hope is that in the future, based on our success, we’ll be able to take this program and move it to where we have other offices.
"We’re creating a network of local growers and initiating conversations and meetings with retailers across the Southeast."
Chase Tatham, Vice President of Sales, Tom Lange Company-Atlanta
The benefit of my experience happens when we’re looking to connect growers across different locations and match them with appropriate buyers. So, for instance, if we have one grower in Augusta, Georgia, that might only have four to six pallets of product this retailer needs, I can also partner it with other growers in Claxton, Georgia, or Savannah, Georgia.
That requires a lot of work within the supply chain, to handle whether or not it’s a full truckload for a retailer or less than a truckload, and then matching it up with other freight. That’s where I really bring the benefit to the program: being able to keep the costs down for the retailer by filling up the truck on products that they might not buy for a full truckload.
CT: A lot of the people we’ve been working with, some of them are hothouse-type growers, others are in vertical farming growing commodities that are generally grown off the U.S. West Coast—but they can offer products that are grown here locally. And it’s allowing us to bring products to market without having to use a truck to deliver them from 2,500 miles away.
If we’re providing local products here in the Southeast, we’re skipping over a lot of weather challenges that could stop up supply for our retailers.
CT: The changes are going to be the challenges. For instance, we’re seeing an increase in fuel costs right now. We need to address labor shortages and transportation issues. There’s also the disruption of the supply chain from the East Coast to the West Coast and back, as every state operates differently both in their economies and how they’re handling their lockdowns.
With the Right from the Farm program in place, we don’t have to rely as much on factors that we can’t control.
The focus here is on the grower. We’re promoting them, especially on the shelves. When shoppers go to a local retailer, we hope they’ll have an appreciation for that retailer supporting local companies. In a nutshell, that’s what the program consists of. The last six months have been the creative stages, and we’ve got everything in place for success.
Memories are made in the middle of things. They’re the connection between passion and ingenuity—the makeup of a company occupying new territory. A space Tom Lange Company works well in.
And it isn’t always a matter of going big.
Sometimes it’s all about going home.