Photo: Jesse Straight, Whiffletree Farm, Warrenton
Local farms instrumental in a region-wide fresh food effort
By Natalie Ortiz and Jessica Lesefka
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Tom McDougall, Founder of 4P Foods, a local food hub which works with local farmers in Fauquier and surrounding areas and “believes in a future where nourishing, sustainable, and delicious food is not a privilege, but a right.” He spoke with us about his twofold goal of supporting local farmers and increasing the availability of farm-fresh food to area consumers.
What is 4P Foods?
We are a food hub that delivers fresh, local food to our customers, either to their homes or to central pick up locations. We aggregate, store, market, and distribute local & regional food from over 200 farmers. Or mission is to make it as easy as we can for our clients to get farm-fresh, healthy food delivered every week.
What type of foods do you offer?
We offer a full range of produce, meat, and dairy products.
What areas do you service?
We deliver to Culpeper, Fauquier, Loudoun, Fairfax, Prince William, Alexandria, Arlington, Montgomery, and Washington DC.
What does 4P stand for? How did 4P Foods come to be and what is your purpose?
Growing up, my father was a grocer in upstate New York. As the grocery industry consolidated, I witnessed his role change from purchasing locally to nationally and internationally. As a teenager, I worked my summers on a farm in a community which at one point was entirely farms, but slowly got sold off to developers. After living overseas, all of these experiences came together in 2014 when I took my life savings and started 4P Foods, where Purpose, People, Planet, and Prosperity are all important. Our purpose is to create a just and equitable regional food system with the goal of ensuring that all people have access to farm-fresh, healthy food, grown using sustainable and humane practices and that the people who produce that food are able to earn a fair and dignified living doing so. That’s why 4P foods sources from environmentally responsible family farmers in the Washington DC foodshed. Some of our favorite farms are in Fauquier County and the surrounding area.
What Fauquier County growers & producers do you work with? What products do they provide?
One of our favorite farm teams is Jesse Straight and Jonathan Elliot from Whiffletree Farms, where we get all our eggs and grass-fed beef and pork. We also work with Rick Crawford at Berry Simple Farm outside of Bealeton who supplies us with blueberries, asparagus, & unique products such as purple potatoes. Jimmy Messick of Messick’s Farm has a great U-pick strawberry field, pumpkin patch, and more that we purchase from at various points throughout the year.
Straight says, “We are grateful to 4P for their consistent and significant support of our farm and business. By delivering straight to people’s homes and workplaces, they are doing the hard work of making local, sustainable food very convenient to their customers. This is one of the weak links in local, sustainable food systems — trying to give customers the convenience they have come to expect with conventional food systems that has a well-established network of storage, distribution, and outlets. I know how hard this work is and I truly appreciate what 4P is doing.”
Local Farmers providing products to 4P Foods: L-R Rick Crofford, Berry Simple Farm; Raymon Ayad, Superfood Farm; and Cliff Hawbaker, Hamilton Heights Dairy
Do you service Fauquier County?
We are excited about a potential partnership with Highland School to have their campus as a pickup point for members of the community. We are also in talks with the Pepsi distribution plant on Route 29 to offer 4P as an amenity to their employees. Beyond that, we would love to grow our customer base in Fauquier, as some of our favorite farms are in the county. It only takes three orders to form a drop-off point, which can be a business, a school, or a residence.
How is 4P different from other models such as CSA (community supported agriculture)?
We differ from your typical CSA primarily in that we offer flexibility, both in the timing of when you receive your share(s), and by having the option to choose what you receive. We also operate 52 weeks out of the year, and we’re able to do this because of the network of farmers we work with here, in the Mid-Atlantic, and beyond. With a full range of produce, meat, dairy, and value-added items year round, we give our members the easy option of supporting a better food system, while also giving them the convenience of delivery and choice that many consumers have come to expect and demand. We want to empower our consumers to make the choices that are best for them; this flexibility and transparency allows them to do that.
There has been a lot of talk about how changing our current (industrial) food system will help us better support local small & medium sized farmers. Why is this important and how does the 4P food hub model support this change?
There are a lot of indicators that suggest the industrial model of producing and distributing food is very efficient, but it can also be wildly unhealthy – both for our physical health, and the health of our planet. Eating from a more diversified, local and regional food system generally means more nutrient dense food that is tastier, healthier, and has a smaller environmental impact. Resiliency, in my mind, is a critical aspect of a strong food system of the future, and it can be achieved through the growth and connectivity of food hubs that serve local farmers, which is what we work for. We want good food to be the norm, not the exception.
How does 4P help fight food equity & insecurity?
Every week, we donate one bag of food to one of our partners for every 10 bags we deliver. Our partners include Local Food Bank Partners, YMCA Capital View, and our main partner, the Fauquier Food Bank, where the team is wonderful about helping their shoppers to learn creative ways to cook and consume the fresh produce.
What do your customers like about 4P?
Our customers identify with our mission: the dual support of local farmers working to grow great local food, and supporting those in underserved communities by providing access to good food. One customer explained, “Every week, we look forward to our bags from 4P and reading about the awesome farmers that put their time and love into growing the produce. You can taste the difference in the quality of meat and vegetables compared to the grocery store. 4P includes recipe ideas and storage tips to make sure your fruit and veggies stay fresh, and their team is friendly and responsive to customer feedback. 4P is not just farm to table in mission; they put it into practice. 4P identified a need and implemented practical steps towards food equity & sustainability. The passion, commitment, & hard work of the 4P team is inspiring!”