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From their website: "Squash, Inc. opened for business in 1973 in the early days of the food cooperative movement. Since then we have grown into a full-service distributor of fruits and vegetables, as well as butter, eggs, cheese, and specialty foods. We have never forgotten our roots. A cornerstone of our business remains providing our customers with locally produced products whenever they are available. As responsible corporate citizens of the Pioneer Valley we believe now, as we did then, that it is our job to preserve the strong agricultural tradition that has made Western Massachusetts such a special place to live and work."
The commitment to their mission extends to the way Squash does business. Their customers receive individual and personal attention. Squash is happy to split cases, locate and deliver special products, and offer advice on seasonality and the best deals. They do their own buying from local growers and in the Boston Market. Unlike all the other distributors in Western Massachusetts, they do not use brokers. Their buyers work only for Squash and by extension their customers. For all intents and purposes, all of Squash's customers have their own buyer in the marketplace selecting the finest foods for their table.
Buying fresh, local produce is a fairly recent phenomenon, right? Wrong. Squash, Inc. in Western Massachusetts has been distributing high-quality produce for more than 40 years, long before anyone else was even thinking about the importance of eating local food, let alone actually eating it.
Eric Stocker, co-owner of Squash, Inc., sums it up nicely: "We were local before local was cool."
He elaborates, "It makes sense that a Squash truck making a single delivery to its restaurant customers is much more efficient than fifteen farmers delivering their own fresh produce to each business. Each restaurant could deal with fifteen different farmers, but why? I look at it as two different businesses: the people who grow the food and the people who distribute the food. We can be mutually beneficial to each other, and still give a fair price to our customer. We've got to work it out so everyone is happy." It's a win-win-win situation.
Squash, Inc. grew out of the food co-op movement of the early 1970s. People would put in their orders for the week, a truck would go and pick up all the orders two times a week, and at the end of the day all the food was gone, having been picked up by each individual family who ordered it. At first, one restaurant said, "We want to be able to buy our food from you guys. It is the best out there." Eric Stocker recalls, "We had the truck, we were going to the market anyway, let's do it." As food co-ops disappeared over the years, Squash had to reinvent itself. Throughout it all, they have always been involved with the local growers. It's why they're still here and what informs their values. Dedication to both its suppliers and its customers is the reason Squash succeeds. This dedication is at the center of its daily operations.
Squash was recognized in October of 2015 as a Local Hero by CISA, Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture.
Co-owner Eric Stocker was raised by parents who instilled in him the value that “it’s not all about me; thinking of other people is important.” They also instilled in him the Yankee sense of independence; “some might call it Yankee curmudgeonliness!” He saw his parents work hard, building up their business one nut and bolt at a time.
He shared this story: “Legend has it that the two guys who started Squash back in 1973 used to hitchhike to Boston with a couple hundred dollars in cash, where they would rent a U-Haul and show up at the Boston Market with their cash and a U-Haul, load up the truck, and drive it back to Western Mass, where they would sell the food to food co-ops and everything would be gone by the end of the day.”
The entire business was designed around the idea of distributing local food to area restaurants and colleges in the area. While other areas were buying food from Sysco and other giant distributors, Squash, Inc. was providing local foods to local businesses.
When the business began, the innovation of distributing local, fresh (and as much organic as possible) food was the basis of the business. It remains a cornerstone of the business to this day.
There are many societal and environmental benefits of eating local food. First, it is fresh. It is picked when it is ripe, not weeks prior to ripening so that it can be shipped to far-away locations and ripen on the way. This means the food tastes better and is better for your body. Studies have shown that eating fresh, local foods benefit the body for health reasons as well. For example, fresh local honey provides health benefits that honey transported from other locations does not. It is also a more environmentally friendly way to live, because the food is trucked within a two-hour distance; planes or trains are not required to get the food to its final destination. This uses fewer fossil fuels and less manpower to get the food to where it will be consumed—in local restaurants and institutions.
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Eric Stocker, Co-Owner