In New Jersey, “local” produce is left up to the consumer to define, but that conclusion came after a long process of heated discussion, said Peter Furey, executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau.
“It was an interesting process to try and define what local meant,” Furey said. “Once we sat down as an industry, all hell sort of broke loose. It was so difficult because everyone had a different definition.”
Proposed definitions ranged from a four-hour truck drive to inside state borders, and even something as simple as direct marketing by farms to their neighbors.
Finally, the solution seemed to be in the labeling of the product rather than the actual definition.
“We pulled back on the distance or geography boundaries and instead called for self-labeling,” Furey said.
Companies marketing their produce as locally grown must include their location, which will allow consumers to decide exactly how local an item is.
The new definition means companies will need to exercise some self-regulation.
“If a New Jersey farm has a division in South Carolina and they are selling that produce as locally grown up here, they’d have to defend that if someone filed a complaint,” Furey said.
But he doesn’t expect to have many issues.
“Most companies aren’t looking for any bad publicity from a complaint like that,” he said.
Many are happy with this definition, because despite the popularity of the Jersey Fresh program, the opportunity to sell product out of state as “local” is helpful.
“We can’t sell all we grow in New Jersey, but other states are within 100 or 150 miles, so to me, that’s still locally grown,” said Tom Sheppard, president of Cedarville, N.J.-based Eastern Fresh Growers Inc.