There once was a time when the terms “locally grown” and “organic” were used almost interchangeably.
Not so, today, say marketing agents of organic produce.
“About 10 years ago, they were absolutely associated, and then they got a real separation, which was a little infuriating to the people who were into local-sustainable movement,” said Gwen Gulliksen, sales and marketing director for Harvest Sensations in Los Angeles. “Small family farmers always sort of meant that to be organically grown product.”
Then along came U.S. Department of Agriculture certification standards for organics, which changed the dynamic, and basically forced small-scale growers out of organics, Gulliksen said.
“With the organic standards, particularly in California, a lot of farmers found they couldn’t afford certification,” Gulliksen said. “They didn’t change their practices — they just can’t now say they’re organic, which made it a little tricky for people. Particularly here in California, we have a lot of product that’s organically grown, always has been, maybe better than the USDA standards, but they can’t afford the certification or the process to keep it, the paperwork and all, and it all adds up for a small family farmer.”
Consumer perceptions may be harder to change, though, said Scott Mabs, sales and marketing director with Porterville, Calif.-based Homegrown Organics Farms.
“I think for the consumer there still is a relationship there,” he said. “Organic is considered better than conventional in the consumer’s mind. Whether local is considered better than organic or organic is considered better than local, we can’t say at this time.”
The old connection between homegrown and organics persists, at least to some degree, said Tom Deardorff, president of Oxnard, Calif.-based Deardorff Family Farms.
Even if some local product doesn’t qualify for organic certification, it still helps fill a market need that organics also serves, said Mike Bowe, Cincinnati-based vice president of Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc., of Coral Springs, Fla.
“I think the locally grown items do better in that local area, even though they’re not necessarily organic,” he said. “But there are organic products grown throughout the U.S. in local areas.”
Convincing customers of the distinction between homegrown and organic isn’t always easy, Bowe said.
“It’s tough to convince them sometimes — it’s in the labeling and marketing.”
The connection between homegrown and organic is strong because the two often are intertwined, said Bruce Klein, marketing director with Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus, N.J.
“I think the ideal situation is if you can get some locally grown organics,” he said. “I think people are looking for organic more. They’re usually tying it together, because people buying organics are concerned about the environment, concerned about the carbon footprint, how far it has to come from. They’d prefer to buy product that was grown closer to where they’re purchasing it for the carbon-footprint aspect of it.”
That’s often a point of confusion, said Jim Roberts, Boston-based vice president of sales, Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla.
“I think some folks assume because it’s locally grown it’s organic,” he said. “Clearly, that’s not the case.”