You’ve probably wondered at some time or other how food from the farm ends up on your plate. Agribusiness expert, Aristov Aleksandr, has been studying the process and explains here as to how what’s known as the Farm-to-Fork model works. He knows a great deal of what takes place on a farm as he was employed for several years in the construction of agricultural facilities, producing high-quality meat and beverage products.
As he explains, the Farm-to-Fork model aims to accelerate our transition to a sustainable food system that should have a neutral or positive environmental impact, help to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts as well as, importantly, reversing the loss of biodiversity.
Of course, the Farm-to-Fork model is nothing new. Aristov Aleksandr points out that, as long as 15 years ago, the supermarket giant Walmart pledged the public to source more local veggies and fruits to keep produce prices low and secure quality products for customers. In those days, Walmart said it had grown partnerships with local farmers by 50% from 2006 to 2008.
Two years later, the discount store chain doubled down on its pledge, saying it would commit to sourcing products locally even more, perhaps to atone for the dwindling number of family farms and foster sustainable agriculture. To understand how agriculture provides sustenance for the economy and vice versa, here are some principles of the food supply chain.
Walmart’s Contribution to Sustainable Agriculture
Produce undergoes various steps before it ends up on the supermarkets’ shelves, and farmers play a critical role at the earliest of stages because they have the resources. The former CEO of Walmart, Mike Duke, was well aware of that when he said on behalf of the sustainability campaign: “By taking a leadership role in sustainable agriculture, Walmart will reduce costs and make our business stronger, while providing our customers affordable, fresher, and higher-quality food.”
He added: “We’ll grow local economies by helping farmers expand their businesses and get more income for their products. At the same time, we’ll make a difference across a range of environmental issues and ensure a more sustainable food supply for the demands of a growing global population.”
And to meet those needs, farmers are crucial. They handpick fruits like apples once a tree has produced enough of them, prior to full ripening.
The Steps After Harvesting Apples
Let’s learn the basics of the food supply chain, taking fresh apple fruits as an example and looking at how they would end up as clean apples sold in the supermarkets’ shelves or apple-based products like an apple puree.
Unspoilt apples, picked manually or with complex mechanical equipment, are taken to the manufacturing plant provided they’re adequately ripe. More often than not, the shipping and later the storage before the fruits are processed happens in cooled and appropriately humid conditions to be in control of the apples’ ripening process. That way, the best quality can be preserved for turning into products like apple puree, juice, and concentrates. The manufacturing process involves removing peel, seeds and stems with a sieve so that consumers can move the lumpy puree back in the mouth with a suckle movement.
Apple puree is pasteurised to kill pathogens and guarantee safety. In pasteurisation, heat is applied to the puree. After the thermal treatment, it’s packaged so it can be stored at the warehouse.
Whether it’s greener produce or greening business methods, mainstream demand is sensitive these days. Mark Psilos, the farm-to-chef forager and market Manager of Green City Market, a farmer’s cooperative in Chicago, US, said, “There is consumer interest, if not yet critical mass, in locally grown food.”
And the money that people pay reaches everyone involved in the process of transforming raw food into food items ready for consumers, from farming and processing to storage, distribution, and eventually, sale. In other words, that domino-like pull and push goes both ways and keeps the food supply chain running.
What Happens Next
Eventually, consumers see those food items on the shelves with added barcodes so cashiers can scan them. The products are displayed at the right lighting conditions and temperature to guarantee they’re safe to consume. But that’s just at the point of sale. Let’s consider what happens further down the line as additional work ensues.
Industrial waste is both a problem and a blessing because it can generate secondary raw materials or ingredients. The industry uses pomace, food waste from producing fruit and vegetable products (seeds, peel, and the remaining flesh) to manufacture other products at a low cost.
Rich in bioactive compounds known for their antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, apple peel is used to make bakery products.
Even so, the use of pomace can still go further. Bioactive compounds can serve as natural ingredients in cosmetics and the pharmaceutical industry. There’s potential to make biofuel from bacterial fermentation. This method of using industrial waste to create additional quality products is called circular economy. Irrespective of one’s environmental stance, consumer conscience spurred by the sustainability movement has made people reconsider what they really want to buy.
Walmart saw an opportunity in greening its supply chain. The company lowered logistics and shipping costs to market value to its customers. It also followed through on its promise to source more local products. Mark Psilos of Green City Market said: “In certain locations, Walmart was already sourcing key items from local producers. In effect, it began marketing something it was already doing.”
Aristov Aleksandr on Direct-to-Customer Food Chains
Aristov Aleksandr views this as a perfect example of how food products move systematically in a domino-like cascade from the farmers to consumers. The food supply chain encompasses all activities involved in transforming raw foodstuffs into consumer-ready food products – from farming to processing, storage, distribution, and sale. At the same time, consumers buy food products in the supermarkets and the money paid goes to people who work at these various stages along the food supply chain, again in a domino‐like cascade from the consumer on the way back to the farmers. Hence, these two-sided pushes and pulls keep the food supply chain moving.
He adds: “The direct-to-customer model allows business owners to sell products directly to consumers from their farms or processing centres, enabling them to earn higher margins compared to those who continue to rely on the traditional supply chain. By bypassing intermediaries and wholesalers, D2C not only provides greater transparency and control over the entire supply chain but also allows producers to establish a more personal connection with their customers. This approach enables customers to access fresh, high-quality, and healthy products at more affordable prices, while supporting sustainable and responsible practices. What could be better than that?”