Surveys and sales numbers show demand for locally grown produce continues to increase, but regional and seasonal factors cannot be denied.
Herds of locavores grazing their way through North America’s grocery stores will never find locally grown bananas, no matter how faithfully they forage.
“Nothing’s abating the local trend. Consumers like it. Chefs like it. There’s no slow down,” said Kathy Means, vice president of industry relations for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del. “But there are challenges because of seasonal considerations.
“So, local is not the be all, end all. It is part of an integrated system. Mainstream media sometimes likes to say it’s ‘either/or’ but it isn’t.”
A case in point is the Vidalia onion. Only retailers in the 20 Georgia counties where the trademarked onions are grown can offer locally grown Vidalias.
However, Wisconsin’s Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc. grocery chain uses its growing connections campaign to connect customers with Vidalia growers.
Roundy’s vice president of produce procurement and merchandising Steve Jarzombek told attendees at the United Fresh Produce Association trade show in June that the chain sources locally grown produce as often as it can, but when it comes to commodities such as bananas and Vidalia onions it just isn’t possible.
“It’s all about communicating with the consumers,” Jarzombek said.
“They want to know that the farmers in their home town are doing OK. When the farmer isn’t from their home town, they still want to know who they are.”
That’s why Roundy’s customers see a giant photo of the Dasher family of G&R Farms hanging above the Vidalia onion display in their local grocery stores.
The photo of Walt, his mother Pam and his uncle Robert Dasher is displayed with information about their family-owned growing operation in Glennville, Ga.
The Halverson family, potato grower-shippers operating Black Gold Farms, Grand Forks, N.D., has developed a different strategy to meet retailers’ demands for locally grown.
Marketing director Leah (Halverson) Brakke said the strategy is working.
Black Gold has growing operations from the Gulf Coast to North Dakota. As harvest begins in the south, special bags are used for retailers in the region to promote the locally grown aspect of the spuds.
As crops mature and harvest works its way north, bags are switched out to match the growing region in current production.
“It allows us to leverage the window of opportunity with limited growing seasons,” Brakke said.