Demand for locally grown vegetables in the Carolinas is strong this season, and grower-shippers expect to have quality to match this spring and summer.

Patterson Farms, China Grove, N.C., expects to begin harvesting round and roma tomatoes, squash, bell peppers and zucchini in mid- to late June, said Doug Patterson, vice president.

“It’s a typical start,” he said. “I think we’re pretty much on schedule.”

That’s despite the trying growing conditions this spring, Patterson said.

“The weather’s been a struggle,” he said. “It’s been very wet, hard to get into fields.”

Fortunately, Patterson said, the company prepared ground in fall for spring plantings, and so was able to get in on time.

Tomatoes will ship into October and other vegetables grown by Patterson Farms into September, Patterson said.
Bell acreage is up about 10% this year for the company, Patterson said. All other vegetable acreage is similar to last year.
Patterson reported good expected quality and yields on all vegetables in 2009.

The spring leaf lettuce deal was going great guns in late April for Wilson, N.C.-based Fresh-Pik, said James Sharp, president.

“The quality is superior and demand has been extremely good,” he said. “We don’t have enough supply to fill demand for our crops here. We’re looking forward to a good season.”

Fresh-Pik began shipping romaine, green leaf and boston lettuce in late April, right on time, and expected to ship through about mid-May, Sharp said.

The company’s lettuce mix is similar to last year, and continues to be a good local alternative to lettuce from the other end of the country, he said.

“Our customer base is real pleased with it,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s displacing iceberg, but it is displacing West Coast product.”
Virginia Fork Produce Co. Inc., Edenton, N.C., expects to begin shipping green beans about June 6, a typical start to the deal, said Leonard Small Jr., owner.

The company’s bean deal will likely run up to about the Fourth of July this year, he said.

Cold, damp weather has taken its toll, with crop losses up to 20%, Small said. All of the damage should be on the very front of the deal, however, with normal volumes to follow thereafter, he predicted.

Of course, harvesting it is one thing, Small said. Selling it, given the recession’s effect on consumers, could be another.

“With the economy the way it is, we don’t know what demand will be,” he said. “It’s very scary. You just hope you can sell your crop.”

Of course, part of the problem with beans is unrelated to the economy, Small said. The commodity also has convenience-minded consumers looking askance at it.

“You have to cut it, snap it — your average 25-year-old will buy canned instead,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I think the fresh market is going to kind of struggle.”

Virginia Fork’s sweet corn deal, meanwhile, is set to begin about June 23 and run through about July 20, with similar acreage as last year, Small said.