Florida grower-shippers witnessed the locally grown trend in its early stages and are responding to consumer calls for regionally grown produce.
Many offer ways to help their retail and foodservice customers throughout the Southeast and beyond satisfy shoppers who want to know more about where their produce is grown and how it’s handled at the farm and in distribution channels.
Loxahatchee, Fla.-based J&J Produce Inc., which grows and markets for other growers from Florida to North Carolina and Tennessee, strives to identify with consumers.
It does that through the company’s website and Facebook page and through connecting with smaller growers.
J&J works to support the small, local, family-owned grower and help it sell its produce to retailers without either side sacrificing quality or food safety standards.
Brian Rayfield, J&J’s vice president of sales and marketing, says the family-owned, year-round corporate farming business defines “local” as production areas in states that touch another state. Its Georgia production, therefore, is “local” to Florida, Alabama and other surrounding states.
As a first handler, J&J provides its production and postharvest guidance, which includes traceability compliance and marketing skills, to many smaller operations such as growers that grow on fewer than 50 acres.
These smaller growers couldn’t handle the numerous expenses involved in compliance, Rayfield said.
Such actions remain necessary since the definition of local can change during the winter.
While J&J farms more of its own acreage in its native south Florida during the winter, it wants its northern customers to know J&J is like a neighbor and tries to show how it handles its crops through environmentally responsible methods and packs everything compliant with food safety regulations.
“The industry thinks locally grown is more for the summertime,” Rayfield said.
“The locally grown topic takes on a different twist in the wintertime. The product is less locally grown at destination. Product from Florida growers is local to Florida but what will people in North Carolina or elsewhere consider local grown in the winter?”
The program, which J&J started in 2010, is successful and Rayfield says J&J, which grows on or manages more than 3,000 acres, plans to expand it this season.
Let them see for themselves
To better familiarize its buying customers with its products, Immokalee, Fla.-based Lipman, which used to market its production through Six L’s Packing Co. Inc. and Custom Pak, developed one of its production areas into a showcase for the grower-shipper’s tomatoes and vegetables.
Through consolidating a significant part of its Immokalee-area production into one farm, its “Access to the Acre” initiative provides Lipman’s customers personal access to its production.
The 5,000-acre farm, near Estero, Fla., between Fort Myers and Naples, Fla., also contains Lipman’s Redi Plants breeding and variety research and development program, which is breeding a new Campari-like hybrid tomato.
Kent Shoemaker, Lipman’s chief executive officer, said the vertically integrated growing and repacking operation is ready for customers to visit and experience production firsthand.
“Customers are more interested in talking to the farmer than ever before,” Shoemaker said.
“A lot of outfits are becoming much more attentive to those issues and want to know where we are farming and want to see the crops in the ground. They want to send someone with their boots on the ground and see these crops.”
Some customers want to visit the fields because of food safety concerns, while others are curious about where their food originates, Shoemaker said.
Shoemaker said the farm allows easy access for Lipman’s customers to view its tomato and vegetable production during their travels to the state’s other growing regions.
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