Erik Stanford knows food. Before coming to Tucson and working as a chef at The Cup Café, The Carriage House, Exo Roast Co, and 5 Points Market and Restaurant, Stanford worked at a volunteer kitchen in New Orleans for a year. There he planned, prepared, and served thousands of meals to the food insecure each week. Stanford says his time in New Orleans was, “the quintessential experience in finding passion for cooking and being a good chef.”
Still, it wasn’t until he began working at 5 Points that Stanford realized the value of sourcing locally. Upon taking over their local food program, Stanford began working with nearby farmers to coordinate deliveries and pickups in order to secure fresh, locally-grown produce. Cooking with local food allowed Stanford to realize his dream: working with fresh, seasonal, high quality produce grown so close that there was no point in shipping it. Yet, actually getting enough local produce to use in the restaurant every day was hard work. Stanford had to contact local farms, make orders, and schedule produce deliveries around his chef’s schedule in order to acquire the local produce that he and so many customers desired. Determined to make local produce more accessible to chefs, farmers, and diners alike, Stanford started Pivot Produce.
Fluent in chef speak, Stanford set out to learn farm lingo. Rather than turn to Google, he hopped in his thirty-year-old station wagon and headed to Rattlebox Farm and a few other small local farms to volunteer and get the lay of the land. After a few months of pulling beets and planting seeds, Stanford considered himself “bilingual,” and thus capable of working effectively with both local farmers and chefs to coordinate orders, pickups, and deliveries of local produce.
Fostering trusted relationships with local farmers and chefs has been an integral part of Pivot Produce’s success. Before Stanford approached them, both farmers and chefs were discouraged with their past experiences as difficulty coordinating purchases and pick-ups had led to false promises and disintegrated agreements. After months of successful purchases, deliveries, and dinners around his clients’ tables, Stanford has rebuilt the trust of many farmers and chefs who were ready to abandon the idea of selling and sourcing locally.
Massive amounts of networking, no days off, and a few rounds of CSA+C later, Pivot Produce was off the ground and running. When Stanford isn’t cooking at 5 Points on Sundays, Exo Roast on Saturdays and Tuesdays, or The Carriage House every once in a while, he assumes the role of sole employee at Pivot. Mondays are spent calling farms to get an idea of what they’re harvesting in order to build an availability list, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are consumed by driving to local farms and picking up produce, and Thursdays and Fridays are when Stanford hand delivers local produce orders, complete with an invoice that details where each variety of produce is from, to local restaurants.
Stanford’s tireless work is paying off: he’s currently working with twelve small farms and eight local restaurants to ensure that local farmers’ crops are going to chefs at restaurants such as Welcome Diner Tucson, Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, and Maynards Market and Kitchen. Restaurants like The Cup Café that hadn’t previously sourced locally are now incorporating local greens, citrus, and melons into their menus. Establishments that have always sourced locally are now able to do so more easily and thus feel compelled to continue doing so. However, Pivot Produce needs more capital in order to expand and continue supporting local farms and restaurants.
Enter, the USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program, which is awarded to businesses and organizations that “aggregate, distribute, process or store locally or regionally-produced products.” This grant has been awarded to both Barrio Bread and Abundant Harvest Cooperative, and Stanford thinks that Pivot Produce has a great chance of receiving it as well. Pivot’s focus on connecting local farmers and businesses is one reason Stanford feels the LFPP grant is fitting; Tucson is the other. The varying elevations in Southern Arizona allow Pivot Produce to “chase the seasons” and sustain local farmers and restaurants all year long. Stanford also points to Tucson’s designation as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, and remains confident that, “there’s a community around localism” here.
If awarded the Local Food Promotion Program Grant, Stanford will use the designated $75,000 towards a few imperative improvements: transportation that’s more reliable than his aforementioned station wagon so that he will be able to pick up produce from more farms, a warehouse space with a walk in cooler so that he can store more local produce and fill more orders, and a salary that will enable him to devote all of his time and efforts to Pivot Produce’s mission. In order to apply for the LFPP Grant, Pivot Produce must have $25,000 in contributed and in kind capital—and Stanford needs your help to get there.
With seventy-nine donations, many well-wishes, and $7,400, Pivot Produce’s crowdfunding campaign is still going strong. However, Pivot still needs our help to reach their $20,000 goal. With plenty of experience under his belt, Stanford knows that local restaurants’ ability to source locally, “is not going to happen without Pivot Produce.” As a community centered around supporting local food, farmers, and establishments, Tucson needs Pivot Produce to bridge the gap between those who grow our food and those who eat it. To support local food, farmers, chefs, and Pivot Produce, donate to their crowdfunding campaign here.