Tortillas with a Mission
Finger Lakes Fresh offers artisan tortillas made from local grains
By Robert Rieger
When Daniel Chapman, Business Development Manager of Finger Lakes Fresh, describes the success of the company’s tortilla business, he talks as much about employment and local agricultural opportunities as he does food quality, tasty recipes and delighted customers.
Available since the summer of 2014, the tortillas are selling well and production at the facility located in Groton is growing. “Consumers love the unique flavor and consistency of the tortillas,” Chapman says.
The tortilla recipe, developed in consultation with Stefan Senders from Wide Awake Bakery in Trumansburg, includes a blend of whole wheat, corn, spelt and rye. More than 50 percent of the product includes organically grown and locally sourced grains, mainly from Farmer Ground Flour in Trumansburg. No dough relaxers or fillers are used in the recipe. Finger Lakes Fresh is planning to offer corn tortillas later this year using their own masa and locally grown corn. “We wanted to feature whole and artisanal grains that are grown in New York,” Chapman says. Across the country, tortillas are one of the fastest growing bakery items.
Finger Lakes Fresh is a subsidiary of Ithaca-based Challenge Workforce Solutions, which since 1968 has provided employment services to people with disabilities or other barriers. Challenge supports more than 1,000 individuals each year, placing them with area employers or in one of its own social enterprise businesses.
At Finger Lakes Fresh, in addition to tortillas, the staff prepares dehydrated apples, fresh-cut fruits and vegetables for school lunches, and helps with the company’s produce aggregation. This involves working with small farms for co-packing and distribution services. Everyone on the 25-member staff is cross-trained to work in all areas.
A team of five staff members generally focuses on tortillas. Aung Too, a Burmese refugee, is the Tortilla Production Supervisor. “He has learned the whole process and leads the team,” Chapman says. “It’s a real success story.”
Available in six-inch and ten-inch sizes, the tortillas are distributed primarily through Regional Access in Trumansburg and available at Wegmans and GreenStar Cooperative Market in Ithaca, Lansing Market, Sure Save in Trumansburg and several Whole Foods stores in the New York City area. Students from Cornell, Ithaca College, Hamilton College, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Cortland and SUNY Oneonta can enjoy the tortillas in their cafeterias as the staff uses them in recipes and wraps.
Jen McKean, Lead Perishable Stocker at GreenStar, enjoys talking with customers about the tortillas. Her enthusiasm is based on experience. “At home, we make breakfast tacos, filling the tortillas warmed on the stove with scrambled eggs, peppers, onions and salsa. They’re delicious.”
Robert Rieger is from Lansing and he writes about local food and agriculture.
Photo by Robyn Wishna
This piece is from our July/August 2015 issue. For more from that issue, click here!