Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series
Name: Green Top Farms
What they do: Green Top Farms is a catering and food service company that relies on local supply chains and sustainable practices to build “a more sustainable, more equitable food system.” They serve farm-to-table prepared food to NYC schools, offices, community centers, and more, offering many corporate event catering services, school lunches, and food pantry boxes. They focus on sourcing food from small farmers in the Northeast and developing menus that are rooted in seasonality and sustainability. According to a letter written by lead chef Anup Joshi at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, “Our menus have revolved around local apples, milk, eggs, cheese, vegetables, beans, and even tofu…as we have scrambled to shift our operation to feed the most people with the least headache.”
How they do it: Josh Lee, a “fifth-generation farmer-turned-NYC public school teacher,” wanted to connect urban communities with nearby local food producers and farms. “Farmer Josh” was working as a special education teacher in the Bronx, where he saw firsthand the effects of poverty and nutritional insecurity on children. In 2014 he left teaching to start Green Top Farms with his college roommate, Tommy Thekkekandam, hoping to use farming to feed kids and help communities affected by food apartheid. The company began with a $300 investment to grow microgreens hydroponically in Astoria. While driving for Uber to help make ends meet, Josh met Al Raddock, who would become Green Top Farms’ COO, on a ride to JFK International Airport.
Customers who purchased the company’s microgreens began to request prepared salads, and eventually an office in NYC requested catering. As more and more requests for prepared food came in, it became clear that hydroponic farming wouldn’t be sustainable for their model, so they moved into sourcing locally-grown produce and catering with those foods a year later. Their very first local partner was Satur Farms.
When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and offices closed in March 2020, Green Top Farms’ orders vanished overnight. The management team took voluntary pay cuts in order to avoid laying off any of the hourly staff, and the company began selling CSA-style prepared food packs (see our explainer on CSAs HERE). They also began providing meals and crafting produce boxes for schools, older-adult centers, food pantries, and any other organization that asked for meals. They also became NY’s only in-state distributor of the first three rounds of the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program, creating boxes with what Josh Lee describes as the “freshest, most beautiful produce you’ve ever seen” from Satur and other regional farms. After that program ended, they became a meal creator for the GetFoodNYC program.
Latest project/campaign: During the COVID-19 pandemic, Green Top Farms launched a nonprofit arm called Farm to Tables in Need, which provides meals that are distributed through multiple community partners, including NY Common Pantry, River Fund, Urban Upbound, Wide Rainbow, World Central Kitchen, Encore Community Services, and more to residents in underserved communities. To date, they have distributed more than 10.1 million pounds of fresh produce, meat, and dairy, and 2.3 million individually prepared meals to New York City residents in need.
Today, as offices have begun reopening, Green Top Farms has returned to doing some corporate catering. And they also intend to continue making meals for older-adult centers (including Encore Community Services) and schools/education centers (including KIPP Charter Schools and Harlem Children’s Zone).
Profit/nonprofit: For profit
Interesting fact about how it is working to positively affect the food system: Paulette Satur, owner of Satur farms, credits working with Green Top during the pandemic with helping to keep the farm afloat when she and other local producers were at risk of going under after restaurants closed.
Additionally, Green Top Farms’ kitchen is halal certified, and they were one of the very first halal meal producers for the GetFoodNYC program.
Location: Queens, NY
- Catering and Culinary Services: Green Top Farms caters farm-to-table meals to offices, community centers, schools, and more. They also provide in-house culinary services to offices. Menus are seasonal and the majority of their ingredients are sourced from New York and New Jersey.
- Food Pantry/Soup Kitchen Meals: Green Top Farms has provided meals to various emergency food distributors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Number of staff: 60+
Areas served: NYC-wide
Year Started: 2014
Leadership: Chief Executive Officer Josh Lee, Chief Culinary Officer Anup Joshi, Chief Operating Officer Al Raddock, Chief Financial Officer Tommy Thekkekandam
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org