Slate Foods: Persistence Drives Change

Julia Van Loon, founder and CEO of Slate Foods, Inc., has a history of finding creative solutions to daunting challenges. From her twenty-plus years of working in Long Island schools modernizing menus, sourcing local foods, and overseeing procurement, Julia has spearheaded food reform initiatives within K–12 schools.

As she began to develop a new business that would bring New York raised beef into schools, her husband encouraged her to investigate cull cows from dairy farms. Purchasing cull cows, normally destined for auctions, directly from local farms offered a significant benefit—the cows could be harvested and processed in the region where they were raised.

“The farmer saves on hauling and commissions to auction. We increase throughput to slaughterhouses and processors for future value-add production. Along that chain also we find our local logistics and warehousing partners whose revenues are all boosted from this program,” Julia said. “The most significant benefit for buying directly from the farms is that the community feeds its own.”

First, she partnered with Ken Jaffe of Slope Farms to develop a program which would produce and distribute their sustainable New York beef and beef products to schools and other institutions within the state.

“At that time, we only produced for Long Island and started to create a warehouse model for piggy-backing distribution with USDA commodities. We finally went to contract with the Office of General Services (OGS) on the Long Island facility and I used this model to enlist more warehouses across New York state,” she said.

But she wanted to do more. In 2016, she launched Slate Foods, Inc. a processor and distributor of New York beef products. That same year, she won the Food + Enterprise PitchFest, which provided confirmation that this program would be a great success. Today, she partners with two dairy farms and one beef producer and each practices enhanced on-farm antibiotic protocols.

“Since I spent years as a consultant to K–12 schools, my extensive knowledge of the National School Lunch Program has enabled me to understand each step of procurement, operations, and guidelines to seamlessly transition from commodity to local with a broad network of warehouses and logistics partners,” she said.

Today, Slate Foods also supplies schools with hot dogs and meatballs and has just completed its final test of a New York state roast beef which debuts in Spring 2023. The company sells to ten purchasing groups, such as BOCES and Co-Ops, which oversee at least 50 school districts using Slate Foods products. While serving children is at the core of Slate Foods’ mission, she is equally committed to bringing local, sustainably produced foods to other institutions, such as healthcare and senior living facilities.

“These other outlets deserve and require the same [attention], perhaps a more corporate governorship impedes progressive procurement strategies as they are private,” she said. She also sells to several food banks through Nourish NY, which carried her through the pandemic. Her advice to others seeking to influence significant change: “Seek out and join other like-minded producers and logistics companies to learn and partner wherever possible. It’s a matter of relationship building to help keep the markets stable.”