Locally grown pays dividends for Ohio veg growers - The Packer

Locally grown pays dividends for Ohio veg growers

06/04/2010 01:21:19 PM
Andy Nelson

Ohio grower-shippers of fresh-market vegetables continue to cash in on the locally grown phenome-non.

“Our customers are saying it’s not running out of steam, it’s actually gaining,” said Ken Holthouse, general manager of North Fairfield, Ohio-based Doug Walcher Farms.

There are many advantages of a strong local program for grower-shippers, Holthouse said. Shipping closer to home means lower fuel costs.

“And if there’s something wrong” with a shipment, Holthouse said, “you can bring it back and fix it.”

Retailers like Meijer do an excel-lent job of promoting locally-grown. Meijer’s Sunday circulars, advertisting its Family Farm to Family Store program, are particu-larly effective, he said.

But Meijer is far from the only one.

“Giant Eagle, Kroger — every-one wants to have locally grown,” he said.

Demand for locally grown Ohio vegetables continues to rise, said Kirk Holthouse, general manager of Willard-based Holthouse Farms of Ohio Inc.

Fortunately for Holthouse Farms, customers’ definition of local is fairly liberally interpreted, Holthouse said.

“I think that people think 200 miles,” he said. “If somebody in Indianapolis wants squash, and the only other option is Georgia, we would be considered locally grown. It’s not local, per se, but it’s way closer than Georgia.”

Top local markets closer to home include the Ohio cities of Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo, as well as some areas of Michigan, Kirk Holthouse said.

Among the 25 or so summer vegetables the company ships, those garnering the highest demand in locally-grown programs include cucumbers, squash, peppers and hard squash, he said.
 
On the marketing side, Holthouse Farms ships product in boxes stamped “Ohio Proud,” Holthouse said.

Riding the locally grown wave is a joint effort between individual companies, retailers and institu-tional support from places like Ohio State University, which vigorously supports local, Holthouse said.

“We have real good support, and we feel we do a good job on it,” he said. “We work hard to protect our label.”

Rising demand for locally grown will likely keep more of the vegeta-bles shipped by Willard-based Buurma Farms Inc. in the Midwest this summer, said Loren Buurma, co-owner. The company also ships from Boston to Miami on the East Coast.

“There’s great demand for home-grown, and a lot of interest in our product in the Midwest,” he said.

Retailers provide great support, but shippers help out as well in getting the local message across, Buurma said. Buurma Farms, for instance, will ship in open-top display boxes at retailers’ request, or in bags tagged with a locally grown message.

Locally grown is nothing new to Urbana, Ohio-based Michael Farms Inc., said Scott Michael, president.
 
“That’s the company philosophy we’ve had since I was a kid,” he said. “We were basically a whole-sale version of a farmstand.”

They still are, in fact, said Mi-chael, who runs the company his father started with brothers Todd and Kurt, who are vice presidents.

From the beginning, when Mi-chael Farms was strictly a potato shipper, it was company policy, Michael said, not to ship spuds into other spud-growing regions.

“The vast majority of our prod-uct stays within 150 miles, and half of it is picked up at our facility,” he said. “It’s always been that way, before people were talking about ‘locally-grown’ as such.”

Big retailers like Kroger and Meijer Inc., as well as companies from cities including Indianapolis and Cincinnati, are among those who bring their trucks right to Michael’s door to load product, Michael said.

Despite locally grown being nothing new to Michael Farms, the company is still eager to ride the present-day bandwagon.

What’s changed, for one, is that customers are now asking for photographs and information about the Michael family to help sell the product at retail.

“We’re trying to make the most of it,” he said.

One thing locally grown doesn’t mean to Michael Farms is “cheaper.” Michael said customers used to ask for discounts because their vegetables didn’t have to be trucked in from far-flung locales.

But Michael told them because it was local, it was higher-quality, and therefore they shouldn’t accept a discount. For the most part, they’ve accepted that argument.



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