Situated several hours from Atlanta and in close proximity to other leading southeastern cities, grower-shippers of Georgia vegetables are ideally positioned to take advantage of interest in regionally grown produce.

Joey Johnson, president of J&S Produce Inc., Mount Vernon, Ga., said the proximity to major cities helps shippers supply more produce to retailers wanting to promote locally and regionally grown product.

Johnson said J&S has received more buyer inquiries.

“We notice a lot of the people we sell to want locally grown produce,” he said. “It’s more and more on the minds of buyers. They are definitely interested in getting locally grown produce. It’s a big thing now.”

Johnson said his growers sell regionally grown produce to customers in North Carolina and South Carolina as well as in Florida.

J&S sends trucks of product to Tampa, Fla., and Orlando, Fla., retail chain distribution centers during Florida’s off-season. Those shipments, he said, are merchandised as locally or regionally grown product.

Adam Lytch, southeast grower development director for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said L&M is seeing large retail and foodservice interest in the movement.

He said customers are asking more about regionally grown products.

“It’s certainly the growing trend now,” Lytch said. “I can see it continuing to grow, especially as people are more concerned and connected with their local economy and are trying to keep all of the money they can in their local economies. It’s a trend that’s here to stay.”

Lytch participated in a panel discussion on locally grown produce at the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure 2009 spring convention in March in Tampa.

Daniel Whittles, director of marketing and product development for Rosemont Farms Corp., Boca Raton, Fla., which markets for Lewis Taylor Farms Inc., Tifton, Ga., said customer interest in locally grown produce has continued to expand.

“Everyone is looking for not so much of an advantage, but for things that are unique and appeal to consumers,” he said. “There’s nothing objectionable about the whole concept and ideal of locally grown to the average consumer. There is more compliance in the food safety area with the regional deals.”

Weaknesses in the deal, Whittles said, involve food safety standards for the smaller growers. Today, there is some expectation that the small growers will be required to participate in some type of food safety program, he said.

Tim Greene, director of marketing and farming for Hollar & Greene Produce Co. Inc., Boone, N.C., agreed with Whittles on the food safety challenge.

Greene said the locally and regionally grown movement has a learning curve.

“There are a lot of benefits, and people are starting to hear more about it,” he said. “I don’t think people really understand it yet. It’s more of a little bandwagon they hop on. ‘Let’s get on regionally grown.’”

Greene said the difficulty is in defining locally grown. He said regionally grown involves production within a three- to four-state area while many people consider locally grown to be produce grown in their own town.