Whether you support the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative — “Every Family Needs a Farmer. Do you know yours?” the tagline asks — it outlines at least one goal that the produce industry should be keen on: boosting the volume of fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and locally grown produce at traditional grocery stores.

Growers: Get to know us

Chris Koger
Food for Thought

According to the USDA, consumer demand for locally grown food is expected to vault from an estimated $4 billion in 2002 to as much as $7 billion by 2012. That demand is supported by the rapid growth of farmers markets, with a 13% increase to 4,685 known markets in the U.S. from 2008-09, the largest single-year increase since the USDA started tracking those numbers in 1994.

There’s no corresponding number to how much is sold as locally grown through traditional grocery stores, but it’s snowballing, with Wal-Mart’s “Heritage Agriculture,” Hannaford Bros.’ “Close to Home,” Tops Markets’ “HomeGrown,” and numerous others.

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) also seeks to boost marketing opportunities for smaller growers and help establish a link from growers to consumers — although the USDA overstates the need for this, posing it as an imperative.

Some fruit and vegetable marketers of all sizes have been introducing themselves to end consumers for years, and the floodgates have opened, in no small part because of the Internet and social media.

The Know Your Farmer program was criticized by three U.S. Republican senators who said the administration focuses on small-scale agriculture.

The senators have some valid concerns — though not in the allocation of federal funds to KYF2-related programs, which see a pittance compared to the money going to so-called big agriculture corporations.

It’s more of a perception issue, that an apple from a 10-acre plot a couple of miles away has been grown with more care, and, yes, love, than one from Washington.

That plays into some wrongheaded beliefs, ones that I see on a daily basis on tweets, blogs, news articles, and reader reaction to news stories. In responding to the recent lettuce recalls, one pro-organic nonprofit tweeted that eating organic averts foodborne illness.

That’s flat-out wrong.

Suppliers must continue to look for ways to enter the locally grown/know your farmer arena, whether through new relationships with other growers, developing programs in their home state or just telling their story on the Web.

Remember: Not long ago, organic produce was a niche market. Indications are that the locally grown movement will follow in its footsteps, to a degree.

E-mail ckoger@thepacker.com

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