We market and distribute wholesale Carolina organic farm produce to retailers, restaurants and buying clubs. We think (heck, we KNOW) that a sustainable food system is based on providing fresh local fruit, vegetables, and herbs while protecting the environment.
We're farmer-owned and we act like it. Eighty percent of our sales go right back to our growers. Our customers get fresh organic veggies and fruits, along with the knowledge that they're enabling farmers to protect their family land.
By pooling diverse harvests from several regions, we're able to meet the demand for a steady stream of high-quality, seasonal food choices throughout the year.
We were born in 2004 as a project of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) and a recipient of a $48,000 Tobacco Trust Fund Commission grant. The goal of CFSA then is our mission now—to support emerging organic farmers and organic tobacco farmers while improving the supply of local organic produce.
In 2005, we became a private, grower- and manager-owned LLC with 13 grower and 2 staff owners. Today, ECO works with over 40 growers and 100 customers.
In 2011, CFSA recognized ECO as its Business of the Year, stating, "ECO is honored for their commitment to helping sustainable family farms thrive in the Carolinas."
We enable participating organic growers to profitably sell their products and support efforts to improve production and packaging techniques. ECO also offers a way for conventional growers to enter the expanding organic market, including assistance in the transition to organic farming. (To learn about this program, visit the Grow With ECO page.)
Most of the items on our availability list are still in the fields when you place your order. After orders come in to the office, we call our growers to tell them what to harvest. The produce is received, quality-checked, and stored in one of our three temperature zones. It goes to customers within 1-2 days after arrival.
Each winter we collect updated demand data from our customers and tailor production to the local market demand. Collaboration with our customers is essential to our success. We've increased certain crops and initiated new ones based on suggestions from chefs. As part of our mission, we educate the public about the benefits of buying local, organic produce.
Our entire building is "recycled." We're located in a funky warehouse, reconditioned into an eco-industrial park centered around Piedmont Biofuels, a million-gallon-per-year sustainable biodiesel production facility. Our farmers' trucks and the ECO truck are often seen filling up on local fuel before delivering local food to your door. The on-site pump is housed in a straw-bale building, topped with a solar panel.
Surrounding the facility is Piedmont Biofarm, a three-acre sustainable farm headed by Doug Jones. The farm runs a CSA and sells at regional farmers markets. Other projects at The Plant include the Screech Owl Lettuce Greenhouse, featuring hydroponic and carbon recycling systems, bee hives to feed the diverse plant life, and a massive worm composting operation that processes all our office paper and compost.
Interspersed among The Plant is a Biodiversity Restoration Project, which graces the property with bountiful and attractive plant life. This project mitigates the loss of native habitat from development pressure, and has spawned similar projects elsewhere in Chatham County.
Also here is The Abundance Foundation, which increases awareness of sustainable energy and local food issues, and the Green Bean Counter, who provides financial services to ECO and area green organizations.
Every Friday, all the minds and hands of the various projects at The Plant come together for a Local Food Lunch in the Plant's eco-conscious kitchen. Rotating teams cook food with locally sourced foods for forty or more people... family-style. It's a chance to catch up with the folks from various projects, socialize, brainstorm and otherwise strengthen and celebrate the sustainable community. Farmers, interns, fuel makers, policy makers, produce distributors—the various people of The Plant all represented at the table and sharing a meal.
Sandi Kronick, CEO
Sandi got her start in the sustainable food scene in college as the Local Food Coordinator for a 700-member dining co-op in Oberlin, Ohio. After learning how to communicate efficiently with the area's Amish farmers (who don't drive or use phones, fax or email), she figured she could set up a vibrant local food system anywhere. After consulting with Cleveland restaurants to help them set up local buying programs, Sandi moved to NC and hooked up with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, launching ECO in 2004. She oversees all business management activities, ensuring that the company is growing in-line with our goals of making a positive impact in both the consumer and grower communities. In 2010 Sandi was awarded the 40 Under 40 Business Leadership Award for the Triangle area in NC and traveled to Chile on behalf of the Chilean Trade Commission to give lectures on the US organic marketplace. Sandi serves as the agribusiness representative on the Administrative Council for Southern SARE, the sustainable ag arm of the USDA. Sandi's a proud 'opportunivore,' (she experiments in the kitchen with whatever is available). Favorite veggies: spinach, fennel, dino kale.
Trace Ramsey, Project and Production Manager
Trace came to ECO in 2008 after five successful years as Produce Manager at Tidal Creek Food Co-op in Wilmington, NC. He's been involved in agriculture since he was eleven, picking strawberries for a roadside stand. He has been an apple inspector, a community garden activist, a produce-buying club organizer, and Food Not Bombs cook. Trace writes a blog called Cricket Bread about local food, farming and photography. Trace is also a coordinator of Crop Mob, a group of young, landless, and wannabe farmers who come together with experienced farmers willing to share their knowledge with their peers and the next generation of agrarians. Favorite veggies: broccoli, collards, garlic.
Tony Shade, Lead Delivery Driver
Tony Shade joined ECO in August of 2011. He formerly worked for Target and Sears Auto. He likes the interactions with customers and ECO employees that he is able to experience every day at work and is excited for the times ahead as ECO continues to grow. Outside of work he looks to the outdoors, whether it is whitewater rafting, camping, hiking, or trail biking. Tony enjoys eating fresh fruit over a bowl of Fruity Pebbles.
Randy Degraffenreaidt, Warehouse Packer
Randy is a long time Chatham County resident who first came to ECO in 2010. After leaving for a short time for school, Randy returned to ECO in the summer of 2012. In his spare time Randy works with a variety of youth and community interest groups and also enjoys hunting and fishing. Favorite veggies: collards and squash.
David Altshuler, Operations Manager
One conversation with Dave (and his accent) will quickly reveal his New York roots, but his education and career have spanned all parts of the country. After receiving a BA in Photography and a MSA in Digital Printing from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Dave spent a couple of years working in the corporate world on the east coast. He soon realized that he was an entrepreneur at heart, and he took off for southern California to build an online marketing agency. After gaining experience in both sales and management, he migrated back to his roots in the food service industry and spent some time with his family in Chicago before relocating to beautiful North Carolina and taking over operations at ECO in July 2012. Favorite veggies: olives!
Our 2013 Owner's Meeting was a great success!
Herby Cottle from Cottle Organics