The City of Ate Interview: Whole Foods "Forager" Natasha Calvert on Buying Local for a Living
Natasha Calvert is originally from Denver, and began working at Whole Foods in 2006. She recently moved to Texas, where she's a "forager" for local products, traveling around meeting purveyors, producers, growers, ranchers and the occasional chicken. Then she helps bring those products to the store's shelves. Here's how she does it, and how she got there.
When you think of your childhood in a culinary sense, what comes to mind?
I grew up in a large family where cooking was a strong tradition. Every Sunday we'd have a large dinner, and my mother would make homemade cinnamon rolls. I have over 20 cousins on each side, and we'd have very large dinners together. So, from a very early age, I was exposed to from-scratch cooking. I learned you can really make anything from scratch.
In college I continued to explore cooking concepts and ideas. I've always taken a lot of cooking classes. Then a Whole Foods opened in Boulder and I fell in love with the store.
What was your first job in the food industry?
I graduated with a marketing degree and took a few jobs in that role, but never felt like I found my true calling. So I sought out a position with Whole Foods Market mainly because I loved the company and their vision. I got a job at one of their stores in Denver. It started as a comprehensive marketing role but grew into other things.
Your official title is "Texas Local Buyer," but this position is also labeled as a "forager." What does a buyer/forager do?
"Foraging" sounds romantic, but it's really just a small part of our partnerships. What I do is really more of an overall support position for the local producers.
When I started, this position wasn't very established; it's sort of developed over time. I think part of the reason this position has come into play is because as we've grown larger as a company it's become harder and harder to stay connected with our local producers. And, so in each of markets we wanted to have a person dedicated to face-to-face time with our vendors.
Aside from purchasing products, what do you do for your vendors?
We try to offer ways for them to better market themselves or package their product, which helps them grown in our company. A lot of times we try to do so by connecting them with the resources they have in their own communities. I think Texas has a lot of really fantastic small business programs. And a lot of small producers are very willing and open to helping each other.
What do potential vendors need to know about entering the market, specifically with Whole Foods?
That's kind of a tough question, just because there's so much to know. Obviously starting a small business is very daunting and I think what strikes me the most about local producers is that they're so brave, dedicated and willing to do something that is in reality somewhat risky.
What do you mean by brave?
I think many of our local producers have had secure, Monday through Friday jobs, where the income was steady. But, becoming a small business owner there's a risk of inconsistency and no guarantee it will be a success.