Budget cuts and limited state funding aren’t slowing the promotion arm of New York’s fruit and vegetable growers.

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Albany, is aggressively promoting the Empire State’s locally and regionally grown summer offerings.

Like many other states, New York is low on funding for its agriculture marketing program.

The agency is using two disbursements of $130,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture specialty crop grants, however, to keep its Pride of New York promotional program running, said Jessica Ziehm, the New York agency’s director of communications.

The department has seen retailers working with local producers in cooperative advertising, Ziehm said. Some supermarkets were promoting the local produce they offer.

Individual Pride of New York members were using the cooperative advertising funds to publicize and invite people to visit their farm’s fresh fruit and vegetables, she said.

Produce manager farm visits

New York is working to increase awareness of the state’s logistical advantage in providing local and regionally grown produce through retail produce manager visits to New York grower-shippers.

On June 9, a group of 150 produce managers from Tops Markets LLC, Williamsville, N.Y., visited Eden Valley Growers, Eden, N.Y., one of the supermarket chain’s main New York suppliers.

The managers of the western New York chain learned about locally grown produce and the process growers undergo to grow and pack the vegetables,

“As consumers don’t often get to meet the farmers, a lot of times produce managers are the face of fresh and local produce,” Ziehm said. “These visits are an opportunity for produce managers to become a stronger voice for their industry and to gain an appreciation for locally grown produce.”

Dave Walczak, Eden Valley’s sales and operations manager, said the visit was rewarding and the event garnered local television news coverage.

“The produce managers got a feel for what a grower really goes through,” Walczak said. “Many had never been out in a corn field before. We were in full tassel already even at the beginning of June.”

Walczak said the group also visited Eden Valley co-op board president grower David Zittel of Amos Zittel & Sons, who answered questions on crops and challenges vegetable growers face.

To connect growers with retailers, the department since 2002 has employed a retail promotions specialist who during the past year has focused on the retail part of the Pride of New York program. The specialist works closely with retailers by showing them how to source New York-grown products.

Wholesale focus

“We have often found produce managers overwhelmed and don’t know where to look for local produce,” Ziehm said. “The same goes for farmers. We have really seen a need for this and this is helping retail produce managers see where they can easily source local produce.”

For the past year, the department has employed a wholesale and distribution specialist who works to join the state’s growers with major New York-based wholesale distributors.

The agency helps large foodservice distributors such as Sysco Corp., Houston, and other regional distributors carry New York-grown produce.

The program has helped the distributors assign special numbers to and has placed the Pride of New York in the products’ codes so buyers can easily purchase New York-grown offerings, Ziehm said.

To help buyers understand what products are in season, Maine’s Paper & Food Service Inc., a Conklin, N.Y.-based distributor, has issued sell sheets that include the Pride of New York logo.

The steps are small but significant victories for New York growers, Ziehm said.

Regional promotions

Cooperative advertising grants help the agency distribute federal funds and allows Pride of New York grower members to double their local advertising efforts through a 50-50 funding share, she said.

The program produced some strong promotions last season, Ziehm said.

To support regional promotional programs, the agency is funding a third program through the USDA grants.

The New York department has identified 11 New York regions for participating in the I Love New York regional promotion program.

The department in June was reviewing applications where grower-shippers can apply for up to $13,400 of the $150,000 specialty crop grant, Ziehm said.