People Behind the Plants | Nina Gray
The rich red color, the scent of the vines, and of course – the summer-fresh taste. At Backyard Farms, we take a lot of pride in the quality of our tomatoes. It truly is our passion but we also follow a lot of rules, regulations and best practices to make sure our tomatoes are the best they can be. And when it comes to making sure all of our employees know all the latest policies and are doing everything they need to be doing, Nina Gray is our Queen of Quality.
Nina joined us just over 5 years ago as a Picking Team Leader where she was responsible for making sure the pickers she supervised were as productive as possible, without cutting any corners. It was here that she developed her interest in quality since our pickers are our “first line of defense” in making sure only the best tomatoes make it to the shelf of your favorite store. Since 2016, Nina has been our Quality Assurance Manager an important position that has her regularly roaming our greenhouse as well as our pack house answering questions from our employees and asking them plenty of her own questions. Nina also randomly pulls tomatoes off the packing line, cuts them and tastes them to make sure they’re as flavorful as they are colorful.
A typical day
Ensuring the quality of our entire 42-acre greenhouse operation involves some pretty long days. Usually, Nina’s day begins at 7:30am and ends anywhere between 4 and 6pm. In addition to the sampling tasks we mentioned above, Nina does a lot of essential paperwork and documentation for our internal and external inspections. She also makes sure our employees are following all of our food safety rules and regulations, such as no food in the greenhouse and no tobacco use of any kind on the premises.
Favorite part about Backyard Farms
Nina said her favorite part about Backyard Farms is the people. “The people make everything. If you have good people you have a good product. If you have happy people you have a better product” she said. This says a lot because when you get right down to it, our people have a direct impact on Nina’s day. Every employee makes the occasional mistake but we’re lucky to have a dedicated and detail-oriented team that listens to Nina’s requests and understands that she has a reason for every task she assigns.
One thing you are most proud of?
One of Nina’s key responsibilities is helping Backyard Farms successfully pass our food safety audits and maintain the certifications necessary to comply with state and federal laws as well as our customers’ requirements. “We just passed the SQF Level 2, in the elite category” she said. “And that’s a really big deal.” SQF stands for the Safe Quality Food Program and is an especially strict certification program. Having this certification means that supermarkets like Hannaford, Whole Foods, Shaw’s and Walmart can purchase our tomatoes with confidence knowing that we don’t just talk about quality, we’ve been verified by a tough independent auditor.
The one thing you want people to know about Backyard Farms.
“The people really take pride in their work and the final outcome of the product. They want to be able to say hey, I grew this. They strive to be prideful” said Nina. She recognizes she can’t be successful without a strong team. “We all need each other,” she says. “That’s why I do everything I can to keep an open mind and listen to our employees’ ideas because they are so connected to our plants and how they react to the latest procedures and techniques.”
Hobbies outside of the greenhouse
Nina recently returned from a well-earned vacation where she visited family in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. She loves crocheting at her home in Winslow crocheting and spending time with her grandchildren!
Favorite tomato recipe
This was an easy answer for Nina, tomatoes with mozzarella, basil and balsamic!