Locally grown produce movement resonates in Michigan

06/09/2011 10:26:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

The locally grown movement has taken Michigan by storm, and even nationwide suppliers headquartered in the state are taking advantage of the opportunity to market their products closer to home.

“More and more customers are requesting visits to the farm or fliers with local farm information and pictures to hand out to their customers or post at store level,” said Todd DeWaard, sales manager for Hudsonville, Mich.-based Superior Sales.

DeWaard said the trend holds over in the foodservice side of the business, a growing business for Superior Sales.

“Chefs continue to want to tie the food to the farmer,” DeWaard said. “They request visits to the farm as well as specific varieties of produce to be grown.”

Hearty Fresh offers its customers a locally grown logo that can be added to packaging. Talbert Nething, general manager, said the logo is used for products in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio when the retailer requests.

“The local movement has been strong the last five years, and continues to remain strong,” Nething said.

Last summer was the first without the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s Select Michigan program, which offered Michigan growers and local retailers assistance with promoting local products. The program has been back on the table in this year’s budget talks, but has not reemerged.

“It was a good program, and I would like to see it come back,” said Todd Miedema, marketing director and principal in Hudsonville-based Miedema Produce Inc. “But people are naturally looking for local choices.”

Bruce Heeren, vice president of Michigan Fresh Marketing, Belding, said while the company enjoyed the positive support of Select Michigan and the focus it placed on promoting Michigan-grown products in the state, the company has been able to continue to focus its efforts on promoting local products.

For Grand Junction, Mich.-based MBG Marketing, part of an international blueberry operation, locally grown programs offer the opportunity for the company to focus on its grower and their contributions to local and regional economies and stewardship of the land, said Larry Ensfield, vice president of operations.

“Naturipe Farms plans to continue its focus on local and regional programs this summer, offering merchandising support and materials tailored to each region,” Ensfield said.

The company has events planned for the Great Lakes during the 2011 season, including the National Blueberry Festival on Aug. 11-14 in South Haven, Mich.

Miedema said it’s important for companies like his to give local retailers the tools they need to promote their local products.

“We’ll let retailers know what local products we have and where they’re coming from,” Miedema said. “Retailers want to promote them as such.”

Miedema said the foodservice side of the business is especially interested in local, but that the shelf-life has to be there.

“They will use whatever local products they can use, but they’re not going to sacrifice it for quality,” Miedema said. “They have to have the best quality they can find because they need products that can go through cutting and chopping and other added steps.”

Miedema said he has noticed local restaurants and chains promoting their local ingredients, and was surprised this year to eat at a small restaurant in the northern part of the state and see his own company’s name listed on the menu.

Russell Costanza, owner of Sodus, Mich.-based Costanza Farms, said most of what he grows ends up within a 5-hour truck ride of his farm.

“A lot of our business is being directed to our local chains,” said Dave Miedema, president of E. Miedema & Sons, Byron Center, Mich. “The plan is to keep more of it around here, and we’re pretty excited about that.”



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