Distribution Stage: Eastern Carolina Organics
Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO) is an aggregation and distribution company that provides a convenient outlet for customers who strive to buy local organic products but may not have the time to seek out individual farmers and producers. Questions of volume and product variability were some of the main issues that ECO initially faced, but over time, quality and quantity issues have stabilized as farmers continue to learn through participation with the group. One difficulty facing ECO and its stakeholders is the slow and sometimes ineffective development of policy. Another challenge is the administrative and bureaucratic aspects of food safety issues.
ECO moved to Durham, NC, recently; Sandi Kronick, the Executive Director, cites the move as a financial and social gain. She believes Durham provides an advantageous setting because of the city’s policies and programs that support small businesses. Many of ECO’s customers, independent and chain food retailers, larger wholesale distributors, and restaurants plus small home-based distributors, are located in Durham, convenient proximity to the customer base.
Unique to ECO is the collaborative principle at the organization’s core, firmly espousing that customers are partners. Partnerships are forged with individual chefs, independent natural food stores, chain retailers, and farmers. ECO works successfully with NC State University and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, also relying on a base network of friends in organic produce distribution companies around the country, with fellow members of the National Organic Wholesalers Produce Coalition, for advice and inspiration.
ECO educates customers about the importance of buying local, organic produce, offering assistance in the transition to organic farming, and have been recognized in NC as business of the year due to their “commitment to helping sustainable family farms thrive in the Carolinas.” ECO is dedicated to advocating for their members. Sandi believes that a key of sustainability is figuring out how to help the farmer work less so that he can work longer. Striving to guarantee steady markets and fair prices, “we really want farmers to be able to plant something and not feel insecure about what they’re going to get from that.”