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Locally Sourced: Q&A with Devin of Sardilli Produce & Dairy Company

Locally Sourced

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I was first introduced to Sardilli during a visit to SAGE’s Cheshire Academy in Connecticut, when their white truck pulled out of the mist of a still-dark morning. Later that day, I found myself rinsing the deep green leaves of the crisp, cool Swiss chard that had come in on that same truck. I couldn’t wait to learn about the company that brought such fresh, beautiful produce to our dining halls.

The next afternoon, I arrived at the impeccably clean Sardilli plant in Hartford, where I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Devin Sardilli, Vice President of Sales and third-generation owner of the wholesale produce and dairy distribution company that supplies 15 of our schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts with produce, dairy, butter, eggs and cheese.

Here’s what Devin had to say about his family’s successful business.

How did Sardilli get started? We’ve been in the produce business since 1955. My grandfather started with a fruit stand on the side of the road. But in New England, your fruit stand’s closed in winter. It was hard for my father’s family growing up. My father had me when he’d just turned 18, and my brother was on the way. He couldn’t go two to three months without an income, so he decided to start a wholesale company.

How did you get started in the family business? I’ve done this since I was nine years old. In the summers, I’d go to work at midnight with my grandfather and work ‘til eight in the morning. He’d drive me home and drop me off, and I’d go to sleep. And then he’d pick me up the next night and we’d do the same thing.

And why did you stay? I love to eat, I love to cook, and I love the chefs. I have the utmost respect for them, line cook or executive chef, for anyone in the food business. We’re open seven days a week—because the grocery stores are open seven days a week, restaurants are open seven days a week, boarding schools are open seven days a week. There’s really no break. You might be off work, but you’re thinking about work. That’s just the food business.

What’s your philosophy on local sourcing? We purchase as many local products as we can. If green squash is growing in both Florida and Connecticut, we buy it here, even if it’s cheaper or more efficient to buy it from Florida.

How do you choose partners? A lot of our local farmers did business with my grandfather, so we’ve continued those relationships. When I first started, I’d pick up a vegetable at a grocery store. My wife would say, “Come on, let’s go,” and I’d say, “Wait, I wanna call this farmer.” Since then, we’ve had over 2,000 different vendors. We work with 30 to 40 local farmers, and we add four to five farmers a year. We spread our business among as many growers as we can.

What support do you offer to local growers? We meet with a lot of growers in January and February to help them pick popular, profitable crops from their seed catalogs, rather than having everyone grow cucumbers or squash. One farmer this year grew poblanos, jalapenos, lemon cucumbers, shishitos, graffiti eggplant, heirloom eggplants, cherry peppers—all things he wasn’t growing last year.

How do you reduce food waste? Our quality assurance team goes through the warehouse every day and pulls anything of poor quality out of inventory. That product gets donated to the food bank daily. Our donations last year resulted in 140,000 meals for the homeless. Right now, our processing food waste is recycled into mulch or topsoil. We’re working with a company that’ll burn it for energy.

Sardilli’s service, quality, and local sourcing make it a favorite of SAGE Managers like Cheshire Food Service Director Keith Garfield:

“I’ve been a Sardilli customer for the past eight years—they’re the best produce and dairy company in Connecticut! They source as many local products as they can, and deliver the freshest produce possible to Cheshire. I drive by their farms on my way to work, and it’s nice to know that the produce in the fields will soon be in my kitchen, and that I’ll be serving these local, fresh, great-tasting items to our community.”

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