Trying to capitalize on demand for locally grown produce, part of a major specialties purveyor is partnering with smaller farms.

Coosemans strikes partnership with Virginia local growers groupOver the summer, the Jessup, Md.-based Coosemans D.C. Inc. began working with Blue Ridge Produce, an aggregator of local produce.

The Culpepper, Va.-based Blue Ridge buys and sells from a variety of Virginia farms, serving as a buying broker which markets cabbage, squash, greens, carrots and strawberries to 16 Whole Foods stores as well as some institutional sales, said Jim Epstein, a Blue Ridge partner.

Lolo Mengel, Coosemans D.C.’s co-owner and general manager, said the partnership has Coosemans marketing production grown by smaller farms to contacts they normally couldn’t reach and at the same time helps expand Coosemans’ offerings.

“It’s nice to be able to promote the local growers and have this very large program we can offer to our regular customers,” Mengel said. “As we are already going to so many accounts, servicing all the wholesalers and a majority of East Coast retailers, they will be able to take their product and this helps to reduce the fuel and pollution because our trucks are already rolling. It promotes that sustainability concept.”

Also run by partner Mark Seal, who used to work in grower purchases and wholesale sales, Blue Ridge buys locally and markets to local buyers for its network of growers in the Shenandoah Valley and Richmond, Va. area.

Local produce is experiencing high demand, Epstein said.

“More and more retail chains have expressed an interest in having more of their food sourced locally,” Epstein said. “Now, it’s in that transition period. Many say they’re getting their food locally. If it so happens they receive a load of watermelon from a local farm, they sell it as local. But there’s no concerted effort to supply locally sourced produce consistently and across a broad range of produce. We’re trying to provide that quality, quantity and do it consistently.”

Seeking relationships with growers in other regions, Blue Ridge plans to move into sourcing product from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida growers during the fall and winter, Epstein said.