AV Thomas Produce's organic sweet potato production has grown significantly over the years. ( Courtesy AV Thomas Produce )

Peppers, potatoes and other vegetables have built up their own following in the organic section.

Pete Aiello, owner and general manager of Uesugi Farms, Gilroy, Calif., was excited about his organic green bell pepper program in the Hollister, Calif., area in early August.

The company grows several varieties of bell peppers and mini sweet peppers.

The “hot” green bell pepper deal was expected to last until late August, but Uesugi Farms’ organic corn deal that began in early August was expected to continue through September.

The company handles other organic vegetables, including beans, squash and eggplant, on a seasonal basis.

Sales of organic vegetables are definitely up from just five years ago, Aiello said.

“Each year, it seems we’re selling more than we did the previous year,” he said.

The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, is looking forward to another strong year of organic Fair Trade Certified colored bell peppers, mini peppers and cucumbers from leading Mexican greenhouse grower Divemex, said Chris Ford, organics category manager.

“We anticipate this program will grow during the upcoming season, which begins in early September,” he said.

Last year, Divemex opened a new organic greenhouse in Ahualulco, Jalisco, Mexico, complementing the organics the company grows in Etzatlan, bringing its total offering to nearly 40% organic, he said.

Sales of organic vegetables have been up consistently since Darrell Beyer was named organic sales manager at Oxnard, Calif.-based Boskovich Farms Inc. three years ago, he said.

Kale is by far one of the biggest movers, he said. Spinach also does well along with organic bunched carrots and green onions.

“It’s just not going to stop,” Beyer said. “The ball of yarn is rolling and growing.”

Demand also is on the rise for organic sweet potatoes.

Livingston, Calif.-based AV Thomas Produce started its organic sweet potato program on 10 acres in 1988, said Jeremy Fookes, retail sales specialist. Today, that number has grown to 2,000 acres.

Central California has become a leader in organic sweet potato production because temperature extremes in the winter and summer tend to minimalize pest pressure, he said.

Several colors, flavors and textures of organic sweet potatoes are available, ranging from orange-skin, orange-flesh varieties like the beauregard and covington to the purple-skin, white-flesh Asian varieties.

AV Thomas Produce is the exclusive supplier of the Stokes purple-skin, purple-flesh variety, he said, which is marketed by Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif.

In the non-sweet potato segment, organic accounts for about 2% of the volume and 4% of the dollar sales, said Ross Johnson, international director for the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission.

During the year ending June 30, dollar sales grew 10% and volume increased by 2%, he said.

“There are some farmers who are doing it, and it is a category that is growing — albeit pretty slowly at this point in time,” Johnson said.

Most of the organic potatoes are in the fingerling and potato medley category, he said.

 
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