Whole Foods Market Inc. is expanding a program linking small growers with consumers in some of its Florida stores.

Whole Foods expands program linking growers, consumers

The Austin, Texas-based grocer is supporting Community Supported Agriculture through an effort in five of its south Florida stores that allows growers to drop off boxes of produce for customer purchase, according to a Feb. 7 article in the Miami Herald.

Whole Foods started testing the concept in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., -area stores in late 2010 with two farms but is preparing to introduce it across the state. The only limiting factor is the space the stores have to hold the growers’ boxes, according to the article.

Through lining up consumers and farmers, the community-supported agriculture program historically has cut out grocery stores. Russ Benblatt, a Whole Foods spokesman, said the program remains a logical extension of Whole Foods’ support for local agriculture. The chain attempts to source 20%-30% of its produce locally.

“We know that more and more people are embracing eating local and we want to provide them with more alternatives,” Benblatt said in the article. “There are a lot of small farms in Florida that really can’t supply our stores because of the size of the farm or space.”

The program has shoppers spending $20-40 a week to buy fresh produce straight from the farm. While helping to keep small growers in business, Whole Foods hopes the shoppers shop inside the stores as well, according to the article.

One downside is that community-supported agriculture customers cannot order their produce and remain limited to what growers haul in fresh, the article stated.

Whole Foods plans to expand consumer interest in community-supported agriculture by trying to teach shoppers about the benefits of the concept and promote its programs through point of sale materials. The signage will show consumers how they can join community-supported programs.

Tomato grower Martina “Teena” Borek, of Steven Borek Farms Inc., Homestead, Fla., was quoted in the article saying such exposure remains favorable for small growers.

“I see this as the future of our business,” Borek said. “The CSA is how the small family farm will survive. You have someone to buy your crop that appreciates it.”

Borek won the state’s Woman of the Year in Agriculture award in 2004.