OLATHE, Kan. — Sysco Kansas City is letting area suppliers know that local is in.

The broadline foodservice distributor’s division, in the Kansas City suburb of Lenexa, invited local growers to meet face-to-face with company officials Oct. 27 at its first “It Takes Two, the Farmer and You Local Food Fair."

More than 60 individuals representing 30 organizations attended, including the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., and restaurant chains including Sheridan’s Frozen Custard, along with health care facilities and other institutional foodservice.

Volume foodservice turns out for Sysco KC local food fair

Ashley Bentley

From left, Jim Sheridan, president of Sheridan’s Frozen Custard, and two representatives from a new concept from Sheridan’s called Stacked — Kenny Keeler and Rob Corliss — talk with John McGuire, warehouse sales manager, and Jody Fritz, metro liaison, both of Garden Fresh Vegetables, an O’Neill, Neb.-based year-round greenhouse tomato and cucumber grower.

“They’re interested in local product. I get asked all the time for local product, but I don’t have the volume to satisfy that demand,” said Pat Cipolla, director of produce for Sysco KC. “We’re doing this to let everyone know we are striving to support local farming 100%. We’re committed, and we need everyone else to be committed.”

Although it wasn’t peak time for produce grown in the Midwest, Sysco had St. Joseph, Mo.-sourced apples, Rich Hill, Mo.-sourced acorn and butternut squash and fresh greenhouse tomatoes from O’Neill, Neb. Representatives from Sysco’s local vendors to talk about their programs.

“It’s a way to get them all in one room and to facilitate discussion,” said Dan Roberts, merchandising manager for produce at Sysco KC.

The company passed out what it called commit forms to buyers upon arrival so that they could compile a list of products they were interested in.

“Sysco has a great program for local produce, and we’re a solid participator,” said Nona Golledge, director of dining services for the University of Kansas, Lawrence. “I think it’s great to see what’s out there and if it will work in our operations.”

Sysco KC uses a weekly e-mail blast to buyers to keep them up to date on what is in season from local producers. Cipolla said sometimes he’ll send out daily e-mails for produce because the window of availability is so short.

“The window for some of this stuff is only two or three weeks long, so when we’ve got it we have to get it out,” Cipolla said.

Produce distributors like Sysco and retail business from Independence, Mo.-based Balls Food Stores are giving local growers a bump in business. Many of the growers are expanding into commodities they have never dealt with before to fill the need for a variety of local products.

Twin County Community Farms, a network of 40 Mennonite families based in Rich Hill, Mo., plans to add apples to its lineup for next year, Cipolla said.

Ben Mazelin, son of Wayne Mazelin, one of Twin County’s growers, said his family farm finished up acorn, spaghetti and butternut squash the week of Oct. 18 and should finish out the season with greenhouse-grown leafy greens. The farm plans to break for a few months, and then start next year’s planting with onions in February. The first crop to be harvested should be leafy greens again, in April.

Cipolla said Sysco is planning to work with Twin County for herbs, a first for the farm, next year.

Garden Fresh Vegetables, O’Neill, Neb., added 14 acres of greenhouses for tomatoes and cucumbers, said John McGuire, warehouse sales manager. The company also plans to try some new crops in the coming season.

“For us we’re here because many buyers don’t even want to touch a tomato in the winter because it’s off-season,” McGuire said. “We’re here to let people know they can get a good local tomato in the winter.”

The grower’s first planting in the new greenhouse is scheduled for Nov. 1.