The locally grown produce trend has really taken hold with businesses and consumers in the past couple of years.

Peach State could go bananas

Fred Wilkinson
Food for Thought

I’ve had conversations with friends and acquaintances who tell me how much they love locally grown produce and that they would like to buy it more often — exclusively even, if possible — and that it would be a good thing if people got back to eating “local” produce in season.

While I can appreciate the homespun appeal of that line of thinking, I have to admit I kind of enjoy seeing the disappointed looks on their faces when I ask them where they would get their bananas if they were to adopt a strictly local produce diet.

But if some researchers’ work in Georgia plays out, residents of the Southeast might be able to enjoy bananas and maintain their buy-local cred.

Greg Fonsah, an economist with the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is part of a banana research group that is betting a fast-maturing banana could become a viable commercial crop in the Peach State or elsewhere in the Southern U.S, according to a University of Georgia report.

Fonsah — whose banana market experience includes stints at Del Monte Fresh Produce and Aloha Farms Inc. in Hawaii — and his colleagues have researched banana cultivation in Georgia since 2003.

Their leading contender is a variety called veinte cohl, which is smaller than the familiar cavendish variety and is a little tangier with a slight citrus taste, according to the report.

The variety requires a short growing season that allows it to grow well in Georgia and the Southeast, Fonsah says. Shoots can be planted in April and have fruit ready to harvest in October.

Florida and Hawaii are the only places in the U.S. that produce bananas commercially, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Florida’s production is mostly specialty varieties, while the Aloha State’s crop is consumed in state.

So a handful of Floridians and Hawaiians can go local for bananas, but 99% of bananas Americans eat are imported — mostly from Latin America.

Even though Georgia bananas may be technically feasible, the economics may not pan out.

The veinte cohol variety sells for about $2 per pound, according to the report, about three to four times the price of conventional cavendish at retail.

Still, Georgia bananas could find a niche. I’ve long been a fan of buying brown paper grocery bags full of Louisiana satsumas at roadside stands in the fall when driving through Alabama on my way to the Gulf of Mexico.

If I could buy Georgia bananas in the same venue, I would.

I have a hunch plenty of other curious travelers would too.

E-mail fwilkinson@thepacker.com

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