The stores frequently include the growers’ names in the ad and on a department sign. “It helps consumers who are aware of local farms and enables them to support their friends and neighbors,” he says.
Growers who are serious about getting product into Farm Fresh Markets based in Virginia Beach, Va., must meet with Chris Van Parys, vice president of produce operations.
“When I meet with a grower for the first time, it will be in a store so they get a feel for what we are doing. There can be misconceptions that (we) want the lowest cost. But they need to see the quality we expect,” Van Parys says.
The 37 Farm Fresh stores are owned and supplied by Supervalu Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn. Approved growers send their product to the Richmond, Va., Supervalu distribution center. “That’s helpful to me. I can’t call 37 stores and ask how the green beans look,” Van Parys says.
Supervalu also handles food safety issues with growers. “Because someone shows up at the door with cantaloupe doesn’t mean we’ll buy it. We have to know that in fact it is grown with proper herbicides and pesticides with proper food safety. All melons need a chlorine bath so they are bacteria free. Supervalu gets documentation. The grower also must carry insurance,” Van Parys says.
All this reflects the times in which we live, he adds. Twenty years ago he would have accepted 90 percent of the product brought to the back door. Today, food safety is first, he says.
WORK WITH THE STATE
Regardless of whether you have a warehouse to help handle your local grower buying decisions, you can work with your state department of agriculture.
Before Van Parys meets with a potential area grower/supplier, he calls a representative from the Virginia Department of Agriculture. Each growing area is in a zone with an overseeing manager. “They can tell who’s growing the right way, who has the best seeds, the best-yielding crops and when it’s best to promote,” he says.
Blaich with Clemens Markets contacts the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture for a list of growers who want to work with retailers. “We’re also on a list they provide to farmers of supermarkets that want to use a local farmer,” he says.
More states are developing promotional programs to raise awareness and build the local economy. Adopt a state slogan in your department and display the point-of-sale materials that many states offer.