Demand for locally grown produce remains steady, as consumers in the Mid-Atlantic region, as well as around the nation, continue to take an interest in the roots of the food they buy.
Whether in retail stores, farmers markets, wholesale facilities or restaurants, the support of local and regional agriculture has never been greater.
“People like to know where their produce is coming from these days,” said Dawn Collins, promotions coordinator for the Allen, Md.-based Mar-Del Watermelon Association.
The association has planned many events to promote Maryland and Delaware watermelons this summer. Last year watermelon sales were about $33.3 million from both states.
Mark Powell, chief of marketing and agribusiness development for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said it will join the Mar-Del Watermelon Queen for some in-store promotions.
“Farmers are optimistic this year, as the local deal is really driving up demand for their crops,” he said.
“We’re also benefiting from a growth of stores moving into the Maryland market. For example, Wegmans, Harris Teeter and Whole Foods are all expanding the presence here in the next few years.”
Powell also plans extensive advertising and promotions from June through October.
“All of our advertising in the Baltimore-D.C. area pushes Maryland consumers to look for Maryland-grown produce,” he said. “Gov. Martin O’Malley will host his annual Buy Local Cookout on July 25. It’s a great event, with a few hundred folks gathering in Annapolis to sample dishes prepared with Maryland-grown produce and other Ag products.”
Many grower-shippers in the Mid-Atlantic states participate in locally grown programs. Jimmy Carter, owner of Oak Grove, Va.-based Parker Farms, said he participates in the Virginia’s Finest program.
“We work with retailers around here such as Wal-Mart and Harris Teeter that want to promote product that’s grown here in the state,” he said.
Besides providing fruit, Parker Farms might assist with setting up ads or providing photos of its operation, he said.
Carter added that because so many people want to know where their product is coming from, the farm hosts tours.
“We’ve had everyone from retailers to organizations that want to know what produce is all about, how it’s handled and even about labor issues,” he said.
The local food movement has been beneficial to most area growers, such as Steve Balderston, co-owner of Colora, Md.-based Colora Orchards, which grows apples, peaches and nectarines packed under the Colora Orchards Produce of USA label.
“I’ve been getting calls from schools, (community-supported agriculture programs), institutional foodservice, even supermarkets wanting to offer local product,” he said. “It has been very good for us.”
“The buy-local movement is positive, helping small to medium growers with new markets at farm stands, community-run farmers’ markets and CSAs,” said Dover-based Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee.
He said his marketing staff is working to promote farm stands and farmers markets through a variety of channels, including the Delaware Fresh mobile app and that many of the in-state chain stores feature local produce, with demand high for sweet corn and melons.