Local markets remain a main focus for growers in Kentucky and Tennessee, who expect the region’s season to be a nice one.
Brian Knott, president of Grow Farms, Louisville, Ky., sources product from growers in Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as surrounding regions, and he’s been pleased with what he’s seen so far.
“For the most part, things look normal and good,” he said.
Eric Beale, president of J.E. Beale Produce, Inc., Lebanon, Tenn., said he expects the weather in central Tennessee to cause delays.
“I think things are about two weeks late. There’s been a lot of cool weather and rain, and a lot of guys didn’t get things planted as early in April as they usually would have,” Beale said.
Others say the slow start was a concern, but the season doesn’t seem to have been negatively affected.
“The wet spring had us scared, but really, it’s not as bad as it might have been and things have started pretty much on time,” said Billy Krause, operations and sales manager for Crossville, Tenn.-based Tennessee Vegetable Packers.
Jim Walker, president of Louisville, Ky.-based Creation Gardens, agreed.
“I think we were a solid two weeks behind, but the weather patterns over the last 30 days have been terrific, so we’re likely making up that ground, and the outlook is really good,” he said.
A few growers who set plants out early might have seen some damage, but it wasn’t widespread.
“It was a challenge to get the initial crops out, and some guys who tried to set early may have seen fields stunted back or lost some beans,” said Jonathon Mixon, farm manager for John Mixon Farms, Rutledge, Tenn.
Knott had one grower lose his first setting of cucumbers.
However, some packers haven’t seen a delay at all.
“Everything has been pretty normal. Lettuce has been consistent. Really, as a whole, everything’s been pretty good,” said Lee Pittman, owner and president of Dixie Produce Inc., Chattanooga, Tenn.
Knott said the local market is growing more every year. He considers his entire business locally based, with all deliveries getting to customers by the next day, if not the same day.
It’s also getting more personal.
“Retailers want more photos of growers and they take those and use them to market the product,” Knott said.
So far, growers have been receptive to these strategies, according to Knott.
“The growers I have that grow for me will do everything they can to help. They understand by providing those pictures and stories, it helps their bottom line, and they always want to make customers happy,” he said.
This trend has affected the way local growers make their money each year.
“Overall, local sales are becoming a bigger portion of our bottom dollar,” Mixon said.
Growers are also selling produce directly to consumers at non-traditional outlets such as farmers markets.
“Most growers are getting involved in the local demand by doing more with farmers markets. Most of our neighbors are moving in that direction as well,” Mixon said.
Restaurants are also a driving force for local produce.
Pittman said the company deals mostly with foodservice customers, which doesn’t create a lot of opportunity for promotions each year. However, he agrees that local products can get people excited.
“They get really excited about local tomatoes, and strawberries, but the strawberries are done now. They are a big deal in April and May,” he said.
To help promote when these items are in season, Pittman said the company tries to use social media as a tool.
“We put specials and local, in-season items on there, to help tell people when we have local peaches or other items,” Pittman said.
Tomatoes and peaches are among the most popular locally grown items in Kentucky and Tennessee, he said.
Knott has found industry shows to be helpful in increasing demand for local produce.
“We have a booth at those shows every year,” he said, mentioning The Packer’s Midwest Produce Show in August as one that’s coming up.
Knott said the company doesn’t always attend shows on the West Coast.
“Our business is considered 100% local, so we try to find opportunities to share that when the shows aren’t too far away. Those shows are big marketing tools for us,” he said.