In recent locally grown news — one of about 1,000 stories that seem to appear every day — I was happy to see a woman from Independence, Mo., a town on the other end of the Kansas City metro area from us here in Lenexa, Kan., get her 15 minutes of fame.

Local or not, produce is everywhere you want to be

Andy Nelson
Markets Editor

Mary Apple got the attention of President Barack Obama when she presented him with a potato (a potato from Apple, go figure) in the shape of a heart, during Obama’s trip to “The Late Show With David Letterman.”

For the record, the president’s appearance occurred before the story of Letterman’s, um, interactions with some of his staff members (which brought to mind another Democratic president) was made public.

In typical locally grown fashion, the president sent the potato back to Independence, according to a story in the Oct. 17 Kansas City Star. That heart-shaped spud was nice, but the first lady no doubt only permits ones grown within a 25-mile radius — and preferably on the White House lawn.

Believe me, I’d be delighted to stop having to talk about “locally grown.”

But the Powers That Be and the mainstream media won’t let it go, and so, as a semi-responsible scribe, it’s my duty to continue to make obvious rhetorical parries to their obvious rhetorical thrusts.

One of the latest comes from none other than Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who recently extolled the virtues of locally grown and encouraged more Americans to jump on the bandwagon.

This is particularly amusing, given the secretary’s home state: Iowa. I’d like to know exactly what locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables he has in mind for Iowans during the months of, oh, November, December, January, February, March, April and May.

What gets wearisome about parrying the locally grown fanatics is that, to avoid coming off like a shill for Big Ag, you have to state the obvious: that the locally grown phenomenon, properly understood, is great.

Here’s a perfect, recent example. The Michigan Apple Committee is encouraging hotels, bed and breakfasts and other places in the Wolverine State where folks pay to sleep to offer their guests Michigan-grown apples.

It’s a great idea. People accustomed to Washington apples, or New York apples, get to try something new.

Hotels get to differentiate themselves, to avoid being Just Another Holiday Inn Express, where everything’s the same, regardless of town or state.

But does that mean that I, in Kansas City, shouldn’t be able to enjoy Michigan apples because we’re outside their locally grown sphere of influence? Of course not. Given the huge Michigan crop, we’re able to do just that this fall, as a matter of fact.

And not just Michigan: a couple of weeks ago, I was able to get a New York empire at my local Price Chopper, something I can’t remember ever doing. This week’s circular has them at 99 cents a pound.

Near and far

That is the real, not the rhetorical trend: namely, getting fruits and vegetables from farther away.

I didn’t attend the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit conference this year in Anaheim, Calif., but I was struck by something that kept popping up in our coverage of it, and in discussions with coworkers and with industry members who were there.

One, there was a lot of talk about “local.” And two, there was possibly even more talk about the opposite of local — the increasingly global character of the fresh fruit and vegetable industry.

In his keynote address, PMA president Bryan Silbermann talked about the growth of locally grown.

But he also talked about the importance of catering to the emerging middle classes in places like China and India. Also at the show, PMA announced its new Australia/New Zealand office.

Somehow I doubt if the purpose of that venture is to convince more New Zealanders to eat more locally grown New Zealand apples and kiwifruit, and Australians more Aussie citrus.

So here’s hoping Mrs. Apple from Independence sends that potato back to the president, maybe with a note:

“It may be a Missouri spud, Mr. President, but if Idaho can ship its spuds halfway around the world, I don’t believe halfway across the country is too far for mine. And please feel free to share some of your White House-grown veggies with us. I’ll promise not to tell the first lady.”

E-mail anelson@thepacker.com

What’s your take on the locally grown movement? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.