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OPN Connect Newsletter 274 · June 23, 2022

Locally Grown Crops Vying for Attention


Summer has dawned, which means regional growers all over the country are starting to bring their crops to market. And while there is a noticeable shift on the conventional side of the ledger causing year-round commercial grower-shippers in the West to reduce their acreage, the impact is less noticeable in the organic sector. Short seasons and summer bug pressure limit the number of seasonal growers offering organic produce.

David Hahn, director of procurement for Four Seasons Produce in Ephrata, PA, alters his sourcing a bit during the summer, purchasing more conventional and organic vegetables from the East Coast. About 50 percent of Four Season’s total sales consist of organic product.

Organics Unlimited July 2022

David Hahn, Director of Procurement, Four Seasons Produce

Production from the Lancaster region in Pennsylvania, where Four Seasons is located, is just beginning to ramp up. “We do source from Lady Moon Farms [a large, well-known organic grower-shipper with production in several Eastern states], and there are a few other local organic growers in Eastern Pennsylvania that we use,” Hahn said.

While there is a noticeable shift toward locally grown produce in the summer on the conventional side of the ledger, which causes year-round commercial grower-shippers in the West to reduce their acreage, the impact is less noticeable in the organic sector.

With most of Four Season’s customers being independent retailers in the Mid-Atlantic region, Hahn said they love the local production when it’s available. “We do cut back our orders from our organic California suppliers. They are aware of this, and they plan for it,” he said.

Chelan Fresh July 2022

Eastern Pennsylvania—where traditional Amish growers practice organic farming—produces steady supplies of many organic vegetables, Hahn said, but when production moves up to New York, there are far fewer organic growers. Overall, local production is a win-win for the company, Hahn said, as Four Seasons can feature local growers while greatly reducing its freight costs. With a fleet of company trucks constantly delivering to customers throughout the region, Four Seasons can pick up local produce for the backhaul during the short summer production window.

Lady Moon Farms' organic leafy greens

Duncan Family Farms July 2022

The tricky part with organic production from the East, Hanh said, is the ability to be quick and nimble as many growers only have small production windows. Earlier this week, for example, there were promotable supplies of many of the organic leaf lettuces, but the weather was starting to heat up, so those supplies would only last for another couple of weeks.

Overall, local production is a win-win for the company, Hahn said, as Four Seasons can feature local growers while greatly reducing its freight costs.

“Our top three local organic crops with promotable supplies right now are all the kales … that would be number one. Number two would be rainbow chard, followed by red beets,” Hahn said.

Joe Eisinger, director of organic buying and sales for Nathel & Nathel, headquartered at the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, NY, sources most of his summer organic vegetables from the same western suppliers he uses all year long. His philosophy is to be a consistent buyer and receive consistent supplies in return for that 12-months-a-year commitment.

Cal-Organic July 2022

 


Joe Eisinger, Director of Organic Buying and Sales, Nathel & Nathel

Organic greens from the Lancaster district in Pennsylvania and organic tomatoes from local growers were two categories Eisinger was buying earlier this week as these crops mature. But in general, he sticks to the West Coast, where he said the freight rate remains expensive, though it has come off its earlier highs.

The tricky part with organic production from the East, Hanh said, is the ability to be quick and nimble as many growers only have small production windows.

NatureSafe July 2022

“It’s not $10,000 anymore,” Eisinger said of the cross-country rates that were prevalent in January and February. “The freight rate has stabilized around $9,000. It’s the new normal.”

Of course, the West Coast is noted for its many commercial growers with year-round production, but it also has a fair amount of local growers with seasonal supplies of organic vegetables that do alter the buying habits of retailers.

Jonathan Kitchens, Purchasing Manager, Earl’s Organic Produce

Misionero July 2022

Jonathan Kitchens, purchasing manager for Earl’s Organic Produce, located on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, said the summer does offer opportunities for purchasing organic vegetables from smaller, local growers. At the same time, many of the local organic growers sell directly to their local independent retailers, which results in a slowdown of retail orders for the wholesaler.

Of course, the West Coast is noted for its many commercial growers with year-round production, but it also has a fair amount of local growers with seasonal supplies of organic vegetables that do alter the buying habits of retailers.

The current inflationary situation is having an impact on retail produce sales, Kitchens said. “As prices have gone up, we have seen a drop in units sold.”

Global Organics Group

Nonetheless, the summer months do bring back some local, organic consumer favorites. Kitchens said California’s production of organic cherry tomatoes is in full bloom, with organic heirloom tomatoes starting in Santa Barbara and production working its way up the coast as summer heats up. Organic sweet corn from the well-known Brentwood district in Northern California is now available and will be for the next several months, Kitchens said, with great promotional opportunities for retailers across the country.

4Earth Farms July 2022
Giddings Fruit July 2022
Stout Ag Tech July 2022
OPS 2022

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