Retailer finds success in buying from the Amish

09/12/2007 12:00:00 AM
David Mitchell

(Sept. 12) There are some obvious impediments to sourcing produce from Amish growers, who don’t own phones, trucks or use electricity.

None of that prevents Kalona Organics LLC, Kalona, Iowa, from supplying a dozen Iowa Hy-Vee stores with locally grown, certified organic product from Amish and Mennonite growers.

Andrew Lary, organic produce manager for one of West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee’s three Iowa City locations, said the locally grown product has made up about half of the organic vegetables in his store this summer.

“It’s been really successful,” he said. “I think it’s going to grow even more. People are concerned about how far their food is traveling and the impact that has on the environment. Not only that, it’s fresher because it’s local.”

Kathy McCarthy was the perishables manager of Hy-Vee’s Marion, Iowa, store last year when that location tested Kalona’s products seven days a week in the produce department and also offered them in an outdoor market at the store on weekends. When McCarthy became Kalona’s regional sales manager in November, she set up a 12-store test for this season.

“It’s been over and above what we expected in the first year,” she said.

Though the Amish don’t have phones in their homes, one grower has a phone booth on his property — in a corn field — near Kalona. McCarthy is available to the growers at her home, office and by cell phone.

“We have the communication worked out quite well,” she said. “I get out to the farms every week.”

Growers overcame the electricity issue by using a gasoline-powered generator to cool an 80-pallet storage facility. Twelve family farms from Kalona and Washington, Iowa, use horses and buggies to deliver their products to that farm, and a third-party logistics company picks up the produce and delivers it directly to Hy-Vee stores three times a week.

Lary, whose store is 15 miles from the distribution point, said the store receives deliveries once a week.

“It’s very good quality,” he said. “The only thing I’m going to push for is getting it more frequently.”



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