Ideas on How to Boost American Produce from Vegetable Industry Insiders

Grown-in-the-USAEarlier this month, we published an opinion article asking how to get Americans to value American produce. Several of you had suggestions:

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Include “Grown in” Labeling

Your recent editorial about buying American produce struck a chord. Just as a general comment, I would say that promotion to the end-user is non-existent if I am any example.

Many people have no idea of production — of any kind, much less that of their food.

Just the other day, I met a group of kids in a nearby nature preserve. They were having a snack and offered to share. One of the options was an apple I did not know. I asked one of the teachers where the apples came from. It took some searching to discover that they were evidently from Arkansas. I did not see the bag and was surprised. Arkansas is not known for apple production.

At any rate, that information should be prominent. It should be a feature!

Couldn’t something as simple as packaging be a little more informative if not promotional? How about website information or even a QR code that might lead to further education?

I live in Wisconsin, barely 30 minutes from the area that produces the bulk of the nation’s cranberries. Just to my south, Hartung Bros. raise tons of vegetables.  I am surrounded by Amish farms who supply Organic Valley. Alsum cranks out potatoes not too far away, and the entire state is dotted with wineries and microbreweries. Agriculture surrounds us.

Yet, even here, most of the people I meet have no idea of any of that. And they may have lived here for generations.

When I pick up a bag of carrots or a head of lettuce, some grapes or cherries, I want the producer’s name and location to hit me in the eye. And I want them to tell me something right that instant. Then, I will know immediately that I am eating American produce.

Matthew “Mac” Cheever, WI


It’s Time for Growers to Get the Spotlight

Our food industry and advertisers have done an excellent job of pushing cheaper and cheaper food to our citizens. We’ve allowed family farmers and farmworkers to be continually pushed to the bottom of barrel. Agribusiness and advertisers have done an excellent job of convincing people that if they spend 5 cents more for something they are stupid.

Let’s look in the mirror. We don’t tell people they are stupid if they buy a Mercedes Benz. But, we tell people they are stupid if they pay the true and real costs of production for their food and taking care of our natural resources and our personal health.

Our healthcare system is staggering under the impact of dietary choices, largely the impact of farm subsidies that subsidize the wrong things. Follow the money and you’ll find the answer to your question.

Anne Schwartz, Blue Heron Farm, Rockport WA  


Bring the Farmer to the Store

My take on this is you have to connect the farmer to the food. That’s the power of small farms and direct markets that you see in those relationships where the buyer gets to interact with the farmer.

But of course, the scaleability of this has always been the obstacle. Stores have tried the glossy photos and the “farm fresh” campaigns. But I think there is too much distrust in that type of thing and just seeing an image of a happy, fresh-faced farmer isn’t enough.

Yet…we have sooo many new possibilities with technology these days. Like, what if there was an interactive ‘ask a farmer’ type experience within a grocery store produce aisle? And, can you man (or woman!) those with REAL farmers? I think of all the million and one questions I was asked by folks when I would sell veggies at a local farmers’ market.

I also think both the grower/farmers and the distributor/sellers need to rethink these things. Farmers have traditionally wanted to be hands off on the sales end of things. That’s their buyers’ problem. But that’s not good enough anymore. On the other hand, farmers must be compensated for their time and expertise to help out. It’s got to be a partnership. 

Georgie Smith, Freelance Writer


Use Existing Technology to Promote Produce’s Farms of Origin

I’m a fan of embracing technology for traceability and leveraging it’s value to consumers at the same time.

For many American farms growing vegetables on a larger scale, the products don’t hit the store shelves with the grower’s label. Many Americans will only see the brands of the larger processors.

If you could scan your bag of salad, as an example, on your mobile phone in the store and see where the product inside was grown (even when blended to see that info for the bag’s mix) along with a brief grower bio — that would be huge!

I feel it could increase consumer confidence and drive value for American grown produce at the same time. We need a value-add that will be worth the sometimes higher cost on the store shelf. This could help leverage “locally grown” for various regions of the U.S. as well. 

Stephanie Pharris, Supervisor – Supply Chain Management, Duncan Family Farms