As the buy local movement grows in New Jersey, suppliers and retailers are broadening the definition of “local” to include produce grown in the Eastern U.S. Some growers are even trying to promote New Jersey product as local in markets outside of the state.
“It’s local to the Eastern coast,” said Frank Dandrea, president of Dandrea Produce, Vineland, N.J.
“We are growing a very high quality product with nutritional values that will probably exceed West Coast product because you are getting it to the consumers’ table much closer to harvest.”
Dandrea said Dandrea Produce expanded its operations this year to farms in North Carolina, allowing the company to give its local leafy green deal an additional two weeks.
“Local is very big now, and, with food safety issues in the past, a lot of people are confident in local produce,” said Ben Casella, field representative for the New Jersey Farm Bureau, Trenton.
“The problem is that the local definition could mean North Carolina or South Carolina peaches, depending on whose definition they’re using.”
Jerry Frecon, agricultural agent at the Rutgers New Jersey Ag Experiment Station in Clayton, agreed that some definitions of local are causing concerns because they can place New Jersey peaches in direct competition with Michigan or California peaches marketed as local.
“There’s not a definition of what local is,” he said. “To some stores, local might be in the state, others might be a multi-state area, others might be east of the Mississippi River. There really is not a national standard for what’s local.”
Frecon said that improvements in transporting and handling fruit have led to more quality, tasty fruit arriving from other areas, but New Jersey growers have also improved on fruit maturity and handling.
While some larger New Jersey growers are optimistic about promoting locally grown produce outside the state, others are finding their local marketing edge only goes so far.
“The Jersey problem is you can always push product anywhere in the country. The only problem is when local produce starts,” said Paul Ordille, co-manager for the South Jersey Produce Co-op Association Inc., Vineland, referring to competition with local deals in other states.
“Jersey always sells until other states catch up with us in the season.”
Peter Furey, executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, said he thinks New Jersey growers have a good shot at developing relationships with chains looking to beef up their locally grown credentials.
“In the outlook, we can be tasting a bigger share of that market as time goes on,” he said. “Not only farmers markets, but our wholesale deal can benefit as well.”
Furey said there may be wholesale channels to market products like South Jersey tomatoes, sweet corn and peppers.
“You take a Wegman’s that sets up a relationship to buy all its sweet corn from a local farmer,” he said. “In years past, they would access that through a terminal market, but they have honed in and tailored their marketing and their buying pattern to local farmers, and that becomes a great customer that previously might have not existed.”
Furey said buy local does not just mean retail at the farmers market stands, but it can penetrate the wholesale deal as well.
“Warehouse buyers in the New York metropolitan area may be looking for produce that they can say meets the locally grown definition,” he said.
“It might be coming from Maryland or South Jersey up to Connecticut, and that’s a wholesale transaction, but it’s part of this buy local movement.”