( Courtesy SWFL Fresh )

Reviving an idea that promoted Florida produce following a natural disaster, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has a new “buy local” program, SWFL Fresh.

It’s a throwback to a 2017 post-Hurricane Irma plan, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the importance of moving Florida produce “really quickly,” Jessica Ryals, sustainable food systems agent with the UF/IFAS Extension Collier County, said in a news release.

The SWFL Fresh brand campaign was developed by Ryals’ group, farmers and the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.

“Right now, we are in the process of getting farms to create their public profiles on the website and applying for funding for a marketing campaign,” Ryals, who is educating consumers about local food and connecting farmers with resources, said in the release.

SWFL asks residents in that region to purchase products from Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee and Sarasota counties.

The ultimate goal, Ryal said, is to address distribution challenges that growers, particularly small- and medium-sized operations, face getting products to consumers.

“Following the shocking loss of crops and equipment (after Irma), governments in Southwest Florida decided something must be done to protect family farms and community providers that would eventually make these growers and the local economy more resilient,” she said in the release.

Producers can enter their information on the SWFL Fresh website.

The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services have similar programs. The FFVA’s program is designed specifically for specialty crops and the department of agriculture’s Florida Farm to You program is for all agriculture products.

For more coverage of what companies are doing to reconnect with consumers during the pandemic, see The Packer's COVID-19 webpage.

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