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The Recorder - Valley Bounty: Connecting farms to folks



When Nick Martinelli saw Gov. Charlie Baker’s emergency order that shut down schools and in-person dining at restaurants, he knew his business was about to enter turbulent times.

“The impact was substantial for us right away that first week,” he said recently.

Martinelli owns Marty’s Local, a food distributor that operates out of warehouses in Belchertown and Pittsfield. Marty’s Local connects farmers and food producers in the Northeast with restaurants, retailers, caterers, institutional buyers and wholesale “buying clubs” throughout New England and New York.

When Baker’s order went out, Martinelli knew that sales to his university and school district customers were about to completely dry up. And even though restaurants were allowed to serve customers takeout and delivery, there was no doubt their demand was about to drop significantly.

“What’re we going to do?” Martinelli asked himself. “You keep dealing with the reality in front of you, you can’t panic,” he said. But at the same time, “You kind of wonder, what’s going to happen to us? Are we going to be around?”

The idea for Marty’s Local solidified for Martinelli back in 2015. He had been asking local farmers and food producers how their distribution systems worked, and he discovered that many producers delivered their own products directly to their wholesale customers.

“I learned that oftentimes there were redundant routes from producers who were located relatively close to each other, delivering smaller orders to the same customers,” he explained.

Martinelli had an instinct that he could contribute to the regional food system by starting a business that would focus on the marketing, trucking and logistics between local producers and customers.

“Professionalizing the local food chain, that was the idea,” he said.

In December 2015, Martinelli formed his first producer partnerships with Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland and MX Morningstar Farm in Columbia County, N.Y. He started delivering carrots to Williams College.

“Really small orders, 25-pound bags, three or four at a time,” he said.

His roster of customers grew quickly, and so did the list of products they were asking him to deliver.

“Every week I would meet a new producer who said, ‘I would love to use your service and work with you.’ So the catalog of our offerings expanded very quickly because there’s such a strong group of producers and growers here in our area,” Martinelli said.

Four years later, Martinelli now partners with more than 70 farmers and food producers. They range in size from a one-person granola operation all the way up to large wholesale produce and dairy farms, many of which are located in the Pioneer Valley. Marty’s Locals’ offerings now include a full line of produce, dairy, grain, meat and specialty products.

Despite his young company’s success over the last four years, Martinelli recognized that the coronavirus emergency would put immense pressure on his business. So far, one of the greatest challenges has been the strain on his staff of 18.

“It’s a more stressful environment,” he explained. “We’re taking all the precautions we can, with masks and gloves and handwashing and sanitizing and all the CDC-recommended steps. But it’s such a contagious disease that for anybody who goes out to work right now — and there are lots of people doing it who have to — it’s more stressful than it was going to work two months ago.”

Contracting the coronavirus is a constant concern for Martinelli’s staff, and the fear of bringing home the disease to a loved one lives in the back of everyone’s mind.

But during this time of fear, Martinelli has been inspired by the remarkable resiliency of his partners throughout the food chain.

“This has brought out the best in people in a lot of ways in terms of collaboration and willingness to work through challenges together,” he said. “I see the care that people are taking to not only protect themselves but also the people around them.”

There is no doubt that the temporary loss of so many institutional and restaurant customers has been a challenge to Marty’s Local, but Martinelli found that some of the lost business shifted to other sales outlets.

“We’re fortunate that as the weeks have gone on, the retail sales from grocers and small markets have helped fill in the gap,” Martinelli explained.

One bright spot that Martinelli has seen is a surge in demand from his small farm store customers.

“A lot of neighbors are now turning to their farm store more than they used to,” he said. “Hopefully, that will become a pattern. And folks will remember that during this period of time they were able to get what they needed down the road at the farm stand, that before they may have just driven by on their way to the bigger box market.

“It’s a moment for people to see the value of the local food system. Because it continues on and it’s reliable and it’s not dependent on what’s coming across the country or from somewhere else in the world,” Martinelli said. “Our partners, and many others, are proving that right down the road, or within a reasonable drive, you can find a source that you can trust and is reliable.”

Marty’s Local delivers directly to people’s homes who are interested in organizing friends and neighbors into a wholesale buying club. For more information, visit martyslocal.com, where you can also see a full list of the company’s local producer partners.

Noah Baustin is the communications coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). To find a farm stand or local grocer in your community, visit buylocalfood.org/farmguide.



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