Homegrown program marks two decades in Ohio

06/07/2013 12:50:00 PM
Jim Offner

Ohio’s program for homegrown agricultural products, Ohio Proud, marks its 20th anniversary in 2013, and it comes at a time when local produce is more popular than ever, vegetable growers and shippers say.

“It gets a lot of traffic,” said Scott Michael, president of Urbana, Ohio-based Michael Farms, which runs its own farm market from July through October.

Local is the theme of other stores, such as Wholesome Valley Farm, which sells homegrown produce and other food items that are chemical-free, said Mary Kein, a cashier in the store.

“We’re trying to keep it local,” she said. The store is open all year.

Ohio consumers are in step with buy-local trends across the country, said Loren Buurma, co-owner of Willard, Ohio-based Buurma Farms Inc.

“I think the chains that I work with have done a tremendous job with the homegrown,” he said.

Independents and chains likely will be lining up for Ohio vegetables again this year, said Ben Wiers, president of Willard-based Wiers Farm Inc.

“We have a strong feeling that it’s going to go in that direction. Everything we’re getting from our customer base is moving in that direction,” Wiers said.

The term “homegrown” carries numerous definitions, but Ohio produce consumers generally define it as close to home as possible, Wiers said.

“The consumer wants product grown in their region, in their state, if at all possible,” he said.

Wiers said his operation and others in Ohio are fortunate to have “local” connections to the state’s major cities.

“We’re very close regionally to a very large percentage of the population, so everything with the homegrown program is very beneficial for a company like us, to have that opportunity to service more customers,” he said.

Wiers said his company is getting “good feedback” from customers in Ohio, which bodes well for a successful season in 2013.

Foodservice purveyors also aggressively promote Ohio-grown product, he said.

“In fact, next week, I will be with one of our customers in foodservice, and they definitely want to come up with locally grown at the restaurant level also,” he said.

Diners prefer to see homegrown items offered on menus, Wiers said.

“That’s become a big player in our business,” he said.

The Farmers Produce Auction in Mt. Hope, Ohio, sees strong sales of locally grown produce to retail, as well as foodservice, buyers, said Jim Mullet, the auction’s manager.

“It has really taken off,” he said.



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