Not too long ago, large grocery chains eschewed locally grown produce, opting to buy fruits and vegetables from across the country as well as importing them. These days, it seems, some chains are listening to their customers, who are more interested in locally grown produce.

Gary Gray, a regional commercial horticulture agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Clanton, says he has been contacted by two grocery store chains recently.

"Both wanted to establish contacts with local growers,"" Gray says. "That's good news for both growers and consumers."

Gray says growers will benefit by having more markets for their products.

"Consumers will have the opportunity to buy fresher produce," he says. "It means vegetables and fruits may only be hours or days from the farm instead of having been picked a week ago and then shipped.

"The growing interest in eating locally produced foods, whether it be produce, eggs, meat or dairy products, is probably also linked to some degree to consumers' concerns about food safety."

He says he believes that consumers are interested in knowing more about where and how their food is produced.

No matter the reasons for the expanding interest in locally grown foods, Gray says it is good for local farmers and consumers.

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