“Front Porch” Q&A With Peter Truitt

One of the newest members of the Burgerville supply chain family is Truitt Brothers, a Salem, Oregon-based leader in the shelf-stable foods industry and sustainable food production pioneer.  As part of the company’s commitment to preserving wildlife and natural resources, as well taking care of their employees and using sound manufacturing practices, Truitt Bros. became the first Food Alliance certified processor in the country in 2006.

David and Peter Truitt were still in their 20’s when they purchased the original cannery that houses one of the company’s divisions today. Now David manages the field and operations aspects of the business, building direct relationships with local growers and overseeing the processing of over 40,000 tons of pears, beans, plums and cherries each year – including the local cherries in Burgerville’s new Northwest Cherry Chocolate Milkshakes and Smoothies! Meanwhile, Peter focuses on building similarly close relationships with customers, and championing the true value of sustainable food production in the Northwest and across the country.

Okay, so that’s the formal intro. On a personal note, I love working with Peter Truitt. We conducted the interview below through email, yet somehow Peter made it feel like we were having a conversation together while sipping lemonade on his front porch. So, in the spirit of building meaningful relationships from the farm to the processor to the milkshake straw, here is my recent virtual porch conversation with Peter Truitt.

Alison: What is your favorite time of year in the Pacific Northwest?

Peter: First choice: summer because I grew up in Louisiana where the summers were unbearably hot and humid.  I still marvel at our utterly tranquil summers, even with the occasional heat spells.  More importantly summer in the country is fascinating with all the farm activities whirling away during the long light of day.  A drive down a country road watching all the farm trucks, combines and tractors toiling away reveal a side of life that is almost shocking in its newness.  Of course it’s not new, but this life is all but invisible during the remaining 3 seasons.

A very close second choice is the spring, a long lasting re-emergence of life from the dark/ gray days of winter – farmers tilling their soil/ readying their crews and equipment for the summer show time right around the corner.

Alison: How has the role of food preservation in American agriculture changed since your family started in the industry?

Peter: Wow; that’s a big question.  Food preservation has always aimed to provide safe food when it isn’t available fresh (and, it should be mentioned, modern day food processing seeks to make finished/ semi finished foods available in a culture driven to convenience).  After all, that’s what drove Napoleon to invent canning in order to feed his troops in the Crimea during the winter.  That hasn’t changed but the form of packaging and processing has changed a lot and that’s where the biggest changes exist.  Frozen/ refrigerated preservation evolved to stop degradation; shelf stable processing (canning etc.) sought to reduce process times in order to better preserve beginning nutrients, colors and textures.  Both systems have evolved to make more varieties of food products available.  Packaging has changed to better suit user and consumer preferences and to permit a wider range of processing possibilities.  Packaging materials, process methods and the general science of food have all influenced the direction of food processing.  Recent consumer concerns about social and environmental impacts of food processing have changed a processor’s role in the middle into a more responsible participant in the value chain from farm to table.  In other words it’s not good enough to make a good product.  A responsible processor takes responsibility for food safety first of all, but then also for the integrity of relationships both upstream and downstream, and finally for responsible employment and citizenry.

Alison: What are you learning about what it takes to bring sustainable food production to scale?

Peter: I’m learning how gratifying it can be.  In order to finally complete a task of this sort, some important pieces have to be assembled – consumer, operator, distributor, product development and process groups and last but far from least, suppliers (growers/ ranchers/ orchardist).  It takes longer than one would hope and it absolutely must conform to growing/ harvest cycles.   Once created a value chain of a new sort has an altogether new foundation.

Alison: Tell us a favorite Truitt Brothers story.

Peter: All I needed to know in processing life, I learned canning green beans, a simple but dignified product.  I learned (and still do) integrity with growers, principles of quality which are utterly non negotiable, principles of respecting people who do the tedious work of taking a rough agricultural product and making it presentable and appetizing, and finally principles of honesty when dealing with our customers.

Alison: What are you looking forward to?

Peter: Spring…

Truitt Bros. processes local cherries for Burgerville’s Northwest Chocolate Cherry Milkshakes and Smoothies, the Food Alliance certified pumpkin we serve in milkshakes and smoothies in the fall, and other seasonal ingredients for our menu including pears, apples, beans and cranberries. Visit the Truitt Brothers website to learn more about their company and their unique contribution to our sustainable food system.