David Hickman says he likes having the power of state government behind his Virginia-grown vegetables.
“They have marketing specialists that contact the chains and let them know when product will be ready — not only potato but green beans and other vegetables that are produced in the state, and they promote Virginia produce all over the East Coast at trade shows, and when they make a contact with the chain stores, they follow up, not only in Virginia but all along the East Coast,” said Hickman, vice president of Horntown, Va.-based Dublin Farms.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services runs Virginia Grown and its www.virginiagrown.com website keeps buyers and sellers connected. The site has market news, the latest on a growing network of farmers markets and contact information.
“It’s pretty fun to be a part of. It has grown steam in the last three or four years,” said Russell Brown, salesman with Oak Grove, Va.-based Parker Farms.
Brown said Virginia Grown logos are popping up in more places each year.
Virginia Grown’s growth parallels the evolution of buy-local movements across the country, Hickman said.
“Buy local is helping us market within the state of Virginia, particularly with the major chains,” he said.
Retailers and restaurants are asking for local product first, Hickman said.
“They are featuring local produce and want in-state potatoes in their stores,” he said.
The reasons vary from economic to environmental, Hickman said.
Mostly, though, consumers today want to know where their food comes from, and they want to feel as though they have some connection with its origins, Hickman said.
“I think in the past the stores more had generic potato bags year-round, but now I find they’re wanting more in-state potatoes in their stores with bags that identify as being in-state,” he said.
Retail and foodservice customers want that knowledge, too, and Virginia tries to accommodate them, said Butch Nottingham, marketing representative with Virginia’s agriculture department.
Among the department’s initiatives are regular farm tours for buyers, he said.
“Virginia has a wealth and diversity of geography, and we found one of the best ways to develop good relationship with buyers was to bring them here and show them around a little bit,” Nottingham said.
Similar programs are ongoing in other states across the Mid-Atlantic region.
Growers and shippers say they make the most of the marketing opportunities the homegrown movement presents.