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© Allison Usavage

Finger Lakes Fresh Tortillas

The Finger Lakes Fresh Food Hub produces and sells New York State tortillas made with locally grown and milled flour. The Food Hub employs community members with employment barriers through Challenge Workforce Solutions and is promoting the distribution and consumption of locally grown agricultural products.

A Q&A with Derek Murphy, Manufacturing Operations Manager at the Finger Lakes Fresh Food Hub.

What is the project?

The tortillas represent what we’re trying to do here at the Food Hub. The idea of the Food Hub is to be a local aggregator. We’re supposed to be taking products and providing new markets for those products. So, we’ve got a lot of value-added procedures that we perform to fresh produce… we cut, chop, and repackage in different sizes and to different specs for a lot of food service clients. By doing those things we basically transform a product from one thing into another that is then sellable to additional markets than the farmer would be able to sell to.

The same idea applies to the tortillas. We’re using Farmer Ground Flour, which is our local grain here… it’s quite literally a 40 minute drive from this location in Groton. We’re taking their flour and making New York State tortillas out of it to retail throughout New York State and hopefully farther.


© Allison Usavage
What change are you trying to make?

Really what we’re trying to do from the food standpoint is bring really high quality local products to consumers who want to buy them, and we’re trying to do it at a price point that works. We’re competing with every other major tortilla producer out there. I think that a lot of times people talk local, people want to eat local, but when it comes down to it, I feel like local gets mixed or missed in the shuffle. We’re trying to put it in people’s faces and put it in a form that people are used to.


Who are the tortillas good for?

I think the tortillas are good for everybody! What’s great about the tortillas is that they’re healthy. We don’t use lard or shortening, not to say those don’t produce an excellent tortilla as well, but from a heart-healthy standpoint just using vegetable oil is attractive. The other main piece is that there are no preservatives and no dough relaxers. A lot of these other large scale bakery operations bring in dehydrated dough relaxers and preservatives that are already mixed in to the flour that they’re using. They open up the bag, dump it into the mixer, add water, and there you go. We work with Stefan Senders at Wide Awake Bakery and we really adopted his whole baking ethos. We’re doing artisanal baking with a large commodity item like a tortilla.


© Allison Usavage
How did the project start?

What really started the idea for this project was the greenhouse, Finger Lakes Fresh. When growth really started happening and we realized that people like our lettuce and we need to build more, Finger Lakes Fresh started thinking about expanding and building a second facility. And when they started crunching the numbers for that facility they realized that it really made more sense to blend more things into a project of that scale. So really the Food Hub spawned out of wanting to build another greenhouse.


How does this impact our community?

This project has a triple bottom line in terms of impact on our community because we are, first and foremost, a local business that employs local people. We employ the Challenge Workforce, and we also employ people within Tompkins County.

The second point is economical. Because of the business we’re in, trying to incorporate more New York State product to a regional consumer, we’re trying to pump money into the local agriculture here and we’re producing a product that is sold here as well.

The third is simply that it’s local food. We’re really trying to draw on the local food movement as a big piece of this project. We’re creating a value chain that provides access to New York State produce.


© Allison Usavage
How can we take part?

This project is going to be successful from receiving support and feedback on several levels. We’re going to continue to try to receive money on a state level to get this going, and I think there need to be incentives by the state to support a project like this. For example, all school districts should be buying food that comes out of the New York State Food Hub, especially when we’re offering it for the same exact price as everyone else. It’s those sort of large accounts that are going to drive the business and drive the volume through a place like this. We need support that way.

And then the other support is the awareness piece… people spreading the message about what we’re doing here. Buying our products, talking about our products with other people: all of that makes a difference!


Any final thoughts?

Not to beat a dead horse here, but people should really put their money where their mouth is. People who say they want to buy local and want to support local: this project is a perfect example of that. These are the types of projects that are going to continue to forward providing access at a financially viable level for the base consumer. Those consumers need to know about where their products are coming from and the more that that happens the more that this is just easily going to fall into place as a model, as a structure, for the way that every state in this country provides food to their population.

or pick up a pack of Finger Lakes Fresh Tortillas at Wegman’s, Greenstar, The Lansing Market, Brookton Market, or the Piggery. Learn more about the Food Hub with this video introduction from Challenge.


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