High demand greets local produce market

07/07/2010 11:02:28 AM
Jim Offner

Homegrown is the operative summer term for produce suppliers in Washington and Oregon.

“It’s really strong,” Mark Adams, owner of Seattle-based Northwest Specialty Produce, said of demand for locally grown produce.

“People in the state of Washington are really, really set on local produce.”

He said interest is keener in the Pacific Northwest than other areas. Adams said that he lived in California for 30 years and found that the growing region was not a specific selling point for produce there.

“I’ve been here 14 years, and it really stands out, how strong the market here for local produce is.”

Eager market

If it grows in the area, it will sell, Adams said.

“The stores really push it with signage and all kinds of point-of-purchase stuff,” he said. “That’s where it really goes.”

For some items, the homegrown season is a short but sweet proposition, said Dale Hayton, sales manager for Valley Pride Sales, Mount Vernon, Wash.

“For us, our broccoli is very, very well received here locally, and the potatoes, as well, and across the country, too. The berries create quite a bit of excitement. It’s a very short window,” he said.

The raspberry deal runs in July. Blueberries run mid-July and through September. Blackberries go from August to mid-October, he said.

Weather has slowed down the onset of the homegrown season this year, Hayton said, adding that a succession of heavy rainfalls blew through the area beginning around May 20 and through mid-June.

That could affect volume this year, Hayton said.

“There’s definitely going to be down yields on a few items,” he said.

“And we’re not going to know a whole lot until we see things come out of the ground a little more. It’s been challenging, that’s for sure.”

Tom Lively, senior account representative with Eugene, Ore.-based Organically Grown Co. said Oregon had one sunny day in May.

Things were little different as June came on, he added.

“We beat the June record for rain in three days,” he said. “It’s all a very mathematical process: We need heat units and lots of them.”

Volume in some crops will be down dramatically, Lively said.

“We had a grower that was supposed to have 30,000 cases of asparagus and ended up with about 3,000,” he said.

“It was a complete collapse. It was never warm enough for the stuff to come up, and when it finally did, it was windy, and the spears were all curved. A lot of our farmers have struggled. It makes the guys who put greenhouses in look real smart.”

Weather causes delays

By mid-June, Lively said he was looking at delays in many crops.

“Stuff I’d be looking for in July won’t come until August, the way this has gone,” he said.

Sam Caruso, partner in Tualatin, Ore.-based Caruso Produce Inc., painted a perhaps even more dire picture.

“Our local buyers talked to farmers who say they haven’t seen it this bad in 50 years,” he said.

“There’s virtually no rhubarb. We’re typically shipping it to Washington to be mixed with the apples on trucks. One of our growers, we order a pallet and he sends two. He’s always trying to get rid of it.”

Backyard competition

Of course, produce suppliers also have to contend with competition from home gardens, said Matt Roberts, sales director of CF Fresh, Sedro-Woolley, Wash.

“That’s the other issue,” he said.

“You’ve got lots of people with lots of local products at the same time. On some items it makes sense, on others it doesn’t. Lettuce or row crops, everybody’s got it in their gardens. It kind of depends on the product.”

That competition aside, there should be plenty of sales opportunities during the 2010 homegrown season, said Maureen Royal, who handles sales for Portland, Ore.-based Bridges Produce.

“It’s huge, very big, and there’s a number of different ways that they market it,” she said.

“There are a lot of growers that will work through us and we market a portion of this crop. There’s a lot of home delivery services in the area, with some high-end produce deliveries. They provide organic beef and dairy products, along with produce.”

David Rinella, owner of Portland-based Rinella Produce, said the homegrown season is always an exciting time for vendors.

“People love buying local over here,” he said.

“We have great local farmers in this area. They’re great to work with. They know what the f.o.b. price from California is, and that’s what they’re going to get. And more power to them. Generations have beaten farmers so bad, they’ve educated themselves.”



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