Is This Tomato “Sustainable”?

Jay Dockendorf PhotoAccording to the label, this tomato traveled all the way from Canada to a New Haven “sustainable” farmers market.

It was for sale inside a box that read, “Native Hot House Tomatoes / 3 for $2.00 / Each for $0.75.”

Same goes for the cherries on sale at Beinecke Plaza on the Yale campus last Friday. Labeled “Connecticut Grown! $2.00 per lb,” they sat in a box marked “Cherries: product of the State of Washington.”

Over the past three weeks, strawberries from California and potatoes from Massachusetts were also for sale, along with honeydew melon, blueberries, broccoli, and yellow zucchini either labeled as grown within Connecticut or not bearing any label at all.

The sales took place at New Haven’s newest outdoor produce market, a weekly “Uncommon Market” organized by Yale Sustainable Dining, which advertises the events to the university community through weekly mass emails. It promotes itself as selling “sustainable” fare.

“Not exactly native,” grumbled one shopper checking out the labels at last week’s market.

As the market demonstrates, the definition of “sustainable” is amorphous. Does it mean organic, to protect the earth and consumers from pesticides? Does it mean local, to avoid burning fossil fuels in travel and to support nearby farmers?

Whatever it means, the question didn’t seem to concern most shoppers interviewed at the Uncommon Market. Most said they would ultimately rather buy cheap than local, organic produce. They weren’t up on the specifics of the market’s claims.

“It’s all from the Yale farm, right? Some of it?” asked Loren Olson, an undergraduate at Yale.

None of the produce for sale at Uncommon in fact comes from the Yale farm, a separate entity and department that sells its produce at CitySeed’s Saturday Wooster Square farmers market. CitySeed is a not-for-profit organization separate from Yale that runs weekly markets in neighborhoods throughout town.

Only some of the Uncommon Market produce bears any outward indication of its origins. Unlike at CitySeed markets, there are no representatives from the farms on hand to answer questions about the produce for sale.

Olson’s friend, Courtney Defeo, said she was sure that all the produce was sustainable, however, “I don’t really worry about sustainable; I’m just happy it’s cheap and tastes good,” she said.

Margaret Gorlin, a first-year graduate student in the behavioral marketing department of the Yale School of Management, said she generally buys produce from farmers markets because it tastes better than produce from supermarkets. Last Friday she bought tomatoes, peaches, blueberries and bread at Yale’s market. It was “slightly more expensive at the Wooster Square market,” she said.

“Yeah, I guess it is sustainable, and I really like that it comes from local farms,” she said.

“I definitely check [that produce is local] when I go to the supermarket, but not at the farmer’s market and not here,” she added.

The Dole strawberries came from California, where the fruit is still in season.

“But I don’t think it’s that big of a deal – I’d rather have strawberries than not have strawberries,” Gorlin said.

Tim Shea, who works for Yale University Press, normally buys produce from Stop & Shop. He said he found out about Uncommon through Yale Sustainable Dining’s Friday emails, which it has been sending for three weeks now. “It’s a good pitch,” Shea said. He was not aware that the produce was nationally distributed, but had assumed that Yale was somehow subsidizing the cost. “I prefer to buy local but practically speaking I go for price,” he said.

The market, which takes place on Fridays at noon in Beinecke (downtown inside Wall, College, Grove, and High streets), is the product of a collaboration between Uncommon, the “alternative” food set-up in Yale’s Commons building, and Yale Sustainable Dining, the department responsible for managing all of Yale’s dining halls. This is the market’s first year of operation.

FreshPoint, the distributor that handles all of Yale’s food purchases, was responsible for bringing together the goods for sale at Uncommon Market, according to Yale Sustainable Dining Purchasing Manager Gerry Remer.

In an interview with the Yale Daily News in 2009, FreshPoint Connecticut Executive Vice-President David Yandow said of his relationship with Yale, “Our goal here is to support local farmers. Big time.”

CitySeed permits only food grown in Connecticut to be sold in its markets. “All of our markets are producer-only, so everything that is brought to market is grown or produced by the vendor selling it,” Executive Director Erin Wirpsa Eisenberg reported via email. “We allow some exceptions to that—for example, sometimes we have markets at which no farmers are growing concord grapes, so we will allow the farmers who are attending that market to bring concord grapes in from other sources outside their farm.”

Yale cannot make that kind of commitment to local farmers, according to Sustainable Dining Manager Remer. “We serve 14,000 meals a day, so it’s impossible for us to have individual farmers coming to our back door,” she said.

The market is “offering [New Haven residents] an opportunity to get some produce into the area that they might not have otherwise had anymore,” Remer said, referring to the closing of Shaw’s Supermarket on Whalley.

Remer also mentioned cherries. “As much as they can get from local farmers, we have gotten. But we do supplement that with other products that there’s been a big interest in; we’ve brought in cherries that are not local,” she said.

Local cherries are grown in the area. They were sold by Chaplin Farms three weeks ago at CitySeed’s Fair Haven market. “We didn’t have access to them,” she said.

Chaplin Farms (of Chaplin, Conn.) has since run out of those cherries. A spokesperson for the farm said over the phone that mild weather and rain are believed to have caused an early harvest for many fruits. “Peaches are out, and plums are out,” she added.

As for the upcoming produce offerings at Uncommon market, Remer said, “As we go into the summer, it becomes more and more local.”

Here is a link to a calendar showing the seasonality of Connecticut-grown produce.

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posted by: shipley on July 27, 2010  12:29pm

It’s a shame that the produce isn’t all local, like what CitySeed offers, but at least Yale Sustainable Dining is bringing fruits & vegetables into town to sell.  The loss of Shaw’s is a tough blow.

It’s interesting that the prices are supposed to be higher than CitySeed’s prices.  I would think that the large California farms like Dole would bring prices down.  Makes me feel even better about buying from CitySeed’s farmers.

Does the Goatville market commit to locally grown produce as CitySeed does?

posted by: Dawn on July 27, 2010  12:33pm

If Yale is going to do all that whining @ what they cant do, then dont do it! Or better yet, tell the truth that this is NOT local produce!!
City Seed goes all the way with HOME GROWN IN CONNECTICUT fruits and Vegetables..THey are so home grown u can visit the farms!!!! Truth in advertising..I know it may be foreign concept to some but then this is the Bush alma mater….

posted by: cjzurcher on July 27, 2010  12:36pm

Awesome story. This is information everyone should be aware of. What’s the carbon footprint of that tomato? How much gasoline was used to transport that tomato from Canada when we have LOTS of tomatoes growing right in our own back yards, literally, here in Connecticut? Definitely posting this to CT Environmental Headlines! This is what we’re talking about.

posted by: SJB on July 27, 2010  1:08pm

“I’d rather have strawberries than not have strawberries”

There you have it. Sustainability hits a wall because the consumer has spoken. She must have strawberries.

posted by: streever on July 27, 2010  1:48pm

Shipley, the goatsville market is run by local farmers/bakers/cookers, so yes, it is very committed to their food and produce.

I mean it’s great that they sell fruits & vegetables, but come on, farmer’s markets are markets of farmers. When you have a company selling a farmer’s wares, it’s no longer a farmer’s market. Yale should simply call it an outdoor market & remove the “sustainable” from the title.

People wanting strawberries from California and wanting to be sustainable is mutually exclusive. Instead of pandering, I’d hope that Yale would uphold reality & either acknowledge that they aren’t sustainable or not sell them. You do not get to have it both ways.

posted by: calabash on July 27, 2010  2:00pm

There are arguments against locally produced food.

It can be more ecologically friendly to grow produce in warmer climates than New England. Growing food in warmer climates uses up more energy, and the economies of scale in warmer areas may compensate for transportation costs.

The potato famine in Ireland is an argument against relying solely on local produce.

Non-locally produced food fights poverty. Developing countries are very reliant on food exports. Not importing their food would have devastating economic consequences.

Focusing on local food leads to protectionism and farm subsidies—a form of welfare.

It’s very easy to be delusional about ecological remedies.

Sure, electric cars have no emissions, but how do you think that electricity is generated.

Cloth diapers cut down on disposing to land fills, but don’t forget about all the fossil fuel that goes into cleaning dirty diapers, or, if you use a diaper service, picking up and delivering diapers.

It is very important not to be short-sighted and to add all the costs of producing a widget or a tomato.

Remember to act locally, but don’t forget to think globally.

posted by: Ridiculous on July 27, 2010  2:05pm

Come on!!  Many things come to mind:

1. Yalies should walk two blocks to the REAL farmer’s market held in front of City Hall.  Doing something “special” for Yalies is embarrassingly ignorant when real local farmers actually provide goods two blocks away.

2. Yale should be embarrassed as well to basically be providing large distributors another market for their goods without the markups that create local jobs in a grocery store.

3. Is Yale paying taxes for this clearly for-profit venture?  It competes directly with local farmers at the farmer’s market.  Is Yale paying property taxes for the space used?  Is it (or its customers) paying sales taxes on the goods purchased?  I don’t care if the local farmers are because they pay lots of taxes already on land and they are providing a unique good.  Yale does not pay taxes on its land.

4. Yale should be ashamed that it is undermining a legitimate set of community markets.

SUPPORT CITYSEED! Not fake Yale distributor markets!

posted by: robn on July 27, 2010  2:31pm


Freedom of speech is a great thing, so try not to lie so much.

Growing food in New England is perfectly easy and efficient as long as you’re not trying to grow hothouse tomatoes during wintertime.

The Irish potato famine was a product of monoculture, not localism.

Most developing nations dependency on imports is a political problem, not an agricultural capacity problem.

Electric cars are more efficient that internal combustion vehicles and their central source efficiency (power plant) is more easily controlled and upgraded.

posted by: ok on July 27, 2010  2:54pm

re: calabash:
The Irish potato famine is a terrible example of the dangers of relying on local produce! British rule, with its colony-as-export mindset & policies, played just as large a role in the famine as the blight itself.
It is, however, a good example of the dangers of monocropping (growing enormous fields of the same plant), which is basically begging for serious, intractable pest issues, and which is the favored method of most chemical ag farms.

As to the notion that “focusing on local food leads to protectionism and farm subsidies”—how EXACTLY do you think they produce such cheap corn etc. out there in the midwest? Have you ever had a look at the Food & Farm Bill? The companies that produce almost everything you’ve ever eaten have been on that welfare for years now.

You’re not wrong that there are arguments against buying local; most of yours, however, are pretty ridiculous.

posted by: Ben Berkowitz on July 27, 2010  3:00pm

Upper State Street Market is all locally grown.

posted by: eastchap on July 27, 2010  3:12pm

CitySeed, in addition to maintaining several sustainable supportive programs, operates convenient markets (even for Yalies) in different venues around New Haven 5 days a week!  See more at

Has Yale attempted to joint venture a market at Beinecke or elsewhere with CitySeed?

posted by: Bruce on July 27, 2010  3:16pm

While the word “sustainable” gets used for a variety of things, the meaning is very clear.  A “sustainable” product does not deplete resources.  The word “Native” is even more obvious. I would say that those tomatoes were sold under false pretenses.  This seems illegal.

posted by: ROBN on July 27, 2010  3:41pm


The FDA can barely get their stuff together on an accurate way to manage the label “Organic”. To my knowledge there is no reg on the label “sustainable” and…as Nutmeggers should already know, there’s a sucker born every minute.

posted by: davec on July 27, 2010  3:53pm

Yale is once again the boor coming in late to the party.

Get those photogs out there and post the images to the .edu website and alumni magazine before the whole embarrassing mess gets shut down.

If the Yale Sustainable Food Project has a table at this ‘market’, they should make tracks fast.

posted by: Edward Francis on July 27, 2010  4:00pm

Where is the Goatville Market located? I’d like to pay it a visit.

posted by: H on July 27, 2010  4:38pm

@davec The article seems to be clear that the yale sustainable food project is definitely NOT involved in the market—they sell their CT-grown food only at the CitySeed market.

But Yale could take a page from Harvard: they’ve had a public farmer’s market from REAL farmers, not Freshpoint, for years up in Cambridge.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on July 27, 2010  5:12pm

I don’t have much to add to robn or ok’s posts other than large mono-crop farms cannot create self-regulating ecosystems in the way that smaller crop-diverse farms can. The insects, birds, rodents, and other wild animals that tend to destroy crops can create a food chain when the crops are diverse, which can be supplemented by the farmer having a rifle and a couple dogs.

It’s at the intersection of State and East Streets in a small grass lot next to a parking lot.

posted by: Legalese Speaks on July 27, 2010  5:26pm

From the CT Department of Agriculture:

Usage of “Connecticut Grown”, “Native”, “Native-Grown”, “Local”, or “Locally-Grown”

Every year we receive phone calls regarding this, here is the state statute that refers to it:

The following section provides a description of proper usage of those terms.  Proof that products were grown or produced in Connecticut is required.

          Sec. 22-38. Advertising of Connecticut-Grown farm products. Advertising of locally-grown farm products.

Only farm products grown and eggs produced in Connecticut shall be advertised or sold in Connecticut as “Connecticut-Grown”. Farm products grown and eggs produced in Connecticut may be advertised or sold in Connecticut as “Native”, “Native-Grown”, “Local” or “Locally-Grown”. Farm products grown and eggs produced within a ten-mile radius of the point of sale for such farm products or eggs may be advertised or sold in Connecticut as “Native”, “Native-Grown”, “Local”, or “Locally-Grown”. Any person, firm, partnership or corporation advertising farm products as “Native”, “Native-Grown”, “Local”, “Locally-Grown”, or “Connecticut-Grown” shall be required to furnish proof that such products were grown or produced in Connecticut or within a ten-mile radius of the point of sale, as applicable, if requested to do so by the Commissioner of Agriculture. Any person who violates any provision of this section shall be fined not more than twenty-five dollars for each violation.

posted by: CitySeed! on July 27, 2010  5:29pm

Upper State Street market does not have the same strictly CT-produced rules that CitySeed markets have.  It is just an outdoor community market with some farmers and some resellers of processed foods. They may or may not have actually grown the produce they sell.  Still better than Yale’s market though.

posted by: calabash on July 27, 2010  6:39pm

“Freedom of speech is a great thing, so try not to lie so much.”

“You’re not wrong that there are arguments against buying local; most of yours, however, are pretty ridiculous.”

Nice to see reasoned arguments instead of ad hominen attacks.

Must of struck a raw nerve with such vituperative responses.

All I was saying is that many of the questions re localism vs. globalism or organic vs. chemically produced are empirical questions that have empirical answers.

If thousands of grapes from Chile cost less to produce and deliver in cash and energy than local, then, “Por favor, dame las uvas chilenas.”

Things are more complex than are dreamed of in your knee-jerk ideology. Neither I nor you can’t count the number of lives that have been saved over the years from non-organic farming.

And here’s a bit of my ad hominenism: Organic/local is an indulgence for affluent local East Rockers and Yalies who feel good by impoverishing third world humanity.

posted by: leslie on July 27, 2010  8:45pm

oh calabash.  so so cynical.  balance it with some locally grown idealism.  local is free in my backyard in the hill, where i grow a variety of fruits and vegetables.  im not naive enough to think it will last me all year; but im making a lot less trips to the supermarket this summer.  and im pretty sure the cityseed farmers markets accept wic coupons which helps to extend the benefits of fresh.  organic/local/sustainable is not only for the affluent.  in fact, it has been the way of poor folk for centuries.  sure the yups love it, but theyre just trying to catch up.

posted by: fingers on July 27, 2010  10:41pm

I know my tomatoes are native grown. I grew them from seed in my backyard greenhouse…then transplanted them to my garden. Got grape toms last week.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on July 27, 2010  11:10pm

Price and cost are two very different things. The cost of globally produced goods is far greater than the cost of locally produced ones. Massive transportation subsidies and separately funded government agencies that address environmental damage, however, mask and absorb the true costs so that we can pay low prices at the super market, even though we are paying the full cost through taxes, which create enormous inefficiencies and help to bankrupt families. If we simply paid the full price for food up front we would realize local is the way to go and we would get rid a large majority of the environmental and health kick-back (hidden) costs.
I would agree that simply cutting our imports to this country would have ill effects globally, but if we plan for it, those effects can be diminished and absorbed with replacements. A good example would be to take any South American farm community that depends on the US importing their produce and show them how to create self-sustaining agricultural communities in the model of 18th century Italian villages.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on July 28, 2010  1:07am


This is so TACKY!  What’s the matter with FreshPoint for pulling a pathetic stunt like this??!  And shame on the rubes who are falling for it! 

“Native Hot House Tomatoes” with stickers from Canada. Strawberries with the Dole label clearly on the box.  This has all the look of a handy way of just getting rid of the leftover produce from a week of meals in the Yale dining halls.  Nothing wrong with that—except for this pathetic farce of pretending it’s a “farmers’ market.”  And the sanctimoniousness of pretending it’s a service to the Inner City now that Shaw’s has flown the coop.

Bleah. Remainder your produce at bargain-basement prices if you want.  Much better than putting it in a dumpster.  But don’t dress it up as some form of Ecologically Responsible Social Service.  And for heaven’s sake, don’t flat-out lie on the signs.  That’s just, yeah, tacky.

posted by: dana b on July 28, 2010  4:32am

I don’t care.  Here’s to “green fatigue” and navel-gazing “environmentalists”. I invite others to avoid reading all future articles on gardening, sustainable food, etc.

posted by: Sally Tamarkin on July 28, 2010  7:41am

Am I superconfused? This is incredibly shady. How can something from California be “native” in CT?

I am not sure I understand the difference between shopping at Stop and Shop and shopping at “Uncommon Market.” Either way you are buying produce that traveled far and wide to reach New Haven, right? Which makes what you’re getting the furthest thing from “sustainable.”

On second thought, the difference is that if you buy it from major grocery chain, it’s more likely to be accurately labeled.

Come on, dudes: patronize the CitySeed markets that have stricter, higher standards, accept WIC and support New Haven’s communities and farmers that sell at their markets. And have cool t-shirts.

posted by: Morris Cove Mom on July 28, 2010  9:17am

Calabash, what are you talking about?  Stop with the random quoting.

The importance of buying local is to stop the 90%+ of cost that is tied to transportation costs, which include fuel, emissions, and a general imbalance in food production.

Read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Mineral, and learn something.  Or come to the East Haven Farmer’s Market on Sundays 9am-noon behind East Haven city hall.  Vaiuso is the biggest seller, and two others, local families, make up the rest.  You buy from them, you are truly supporting locals.

posted by: Steve Ross, Human on July 28, 2010  11:10am


“Organic/local is an indulgence for affluent local East Rockers and Yalies who feel good by impoverishing third world humanity.”

Come on. What’s your utopia look like, Calabash?

posted by: Toni on July 28, 2010  4:52pm

BTW, let me make a plea to move the Wooster Square Mkt. around the corner to the HSC parking lot. Parking is plentiful and there is room for many vendors. Then, we can get you some volunteers from the student body!!

posted by: Kumbaya on July 29, 2010  9:35am

Calabash is correct that locally produced food consumes less energy in its production than food shipped over long distances—a good deal of energy consumed by food production is consumed on the farm, and not in transport to market.

For instance, see

or this (which is somewhat more obnoxious in tone)

There are plenty of advantages to locally produced food—it is usually fresher, it can build stronger communities through economic diversification, and farmers’ markets within walking distance of where people live reduce the need to drive to supermarkets in the suburbs (especially now that Shaws is no longer here, in the case of New Haven).  But reducing energy usage does not always go hand in hand with local production.

And with regard to this market, it is always bogus to mislead buyers about the products you are selling.

posted by: Kumbaya on July 29, 2010  10:22am

Typo: missed a crucial negative in my previous post.  Should be “Calabash is correct that locally produced food NEED NOT consum less energy in its production than food shipped over long distances”

(unless the editors want to quietly fix this!)

posted by: Mr. Green on July 29, 2010  11:14am

I guess Canada is now considered “native”.

Can’t some of these big shot Yale attornies sue for blatent false advertising?  Seems like an open and shut case.

posted by: Lauren on July 29, 2010  1:47pm

Wow, Yale is misrepresenting this market. How exactly is it sustainable?? Call it what it is, a mini Stop & Shop tent set up at Yale. It’s not supporting local growers, the vegetables are not grown in a way that promotes good soil health and tons of fossil fuels are burnt so it can travel cross country.

posted by: yale '10 on July 29, 2010  2:52pm

As a Yale student, I at least want Yale dining to be honest about where its produce comes from, or, better yet, to actually live up to all its rhetoric about locally sourced produce. The worst part is that this irresponsibility on the part of Yale Dining is undermining the amazing work that the Yale Sustainable Food Project is doing.

posted by: T(e)d '10 on July 29, 2010  5:51pm

Lack of transparency coming from Dining Services??? No way!

I’m a recent Yale grad, TD ‘10, and I find this situation really unacceptable. I don’t actually shop at this market, but if this is another example of Yale touting its green image without using its clout to actually help local farmers…

If the goal is to bring produce downtown (since Shaw’s closed), then let that be the emphasis, and cut the greenwashing.

posted by: Yale College 2013 on August 6, 2010  10:25pm

This market is just another example of Yale Dining’s misappropriation of the “Sustainable” label (explored a few months ago in a Yale Daily News article:  As a frequent volunteer at the Yale Farm and an environmentally conscious student, Yale Dining’s consistent refusal to be up front about their food sourcing is both frustrating and offensive; I don’t doubt that they mean well, but it’s far past time for their practices to line up with their intentions.