In the wake of trade deals that have left some U.S. produce growers unhappy about an influx of imported fruits and vegetables, the new American Grown campaign is taking its message to consumers instead of lawmakers.
American Grown is kicking off its campaign at the Southeastern Fruit and Vegetable Conference Jan. 11 in Savannah, Ga., with testimonials from groups representing Florida and Georgia growers.
Bud Chiles, the group’s campaign director who grows organic blueberries at Jubilee Orchards, Tallahassee, Fla., said the American Grown program is a culmination of many factors. That includes the North American Free Trade Act’s replacement, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which didn’t include seasonal protections requested by growers who compete against Mexican imports.
Tomato growers, primarily in Florida, spent most of 2019 pushing for a more stringent measures against Mexican imports as well.
Chiles, son of former Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles and a former candidate for that office, said it’s time for growers to organize and make a case to American consumers.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, but without something like this, we’re not going to make it,” Chiles said, referring to farmers across the nation, regardless of what they produce.
When he started farming with the 50-acre Jubilee Orchards six years, ago, Chiles said it became clear almost immediately that imported Mexican blueberries were putting pressure on U.S. growers. Since then, Jubilee has switched to 100% organic to better compete, he said.
“Our story is the American family farm story, and we’re definitely willing to embrace farmers across the board, from meat products to grains,” he said.
At the group’s first meeting in late July, at least 100 people showed up and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried spoke. Since then, members started a social media campaign, encouraging growers and consumers to take and post pictures of imported products in retail produce departments.
“That little bit of pressure on retailers has really demonstrated (our message), and we’re looking to put rocket fuel on that effort,” Chiles said.
The group is targeting smaller family farms, and “has no problem with corporate farms, as long as they aren’t part of the problem,” with massive imports and growing profits while farms go out of business, Chiles said.
Charles Hall, president of the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, which co-sponsors the conference, is speaking at the kickoff, along with Chiles and presidents of Florida and Georgia blueberry groups.