Derek Azevedo, Vice President of Bowles Farming Company, says the most common question he asks produce buyers is, “How do you recognize and reward your most sustainable growers?”
Few of them have answers, he says.
Behind his question is a deeper issue: how can the produce industry change American awareness of what it means to consume American-grown produce?
Few realize modern U.S. growing techniques embrace sustainable methods — even among conventional growers. Nor are they aware how high employment and safety standards are.
Now, imports are not inherently bad. They are why we can consume so many fresh vegetables in the depths of winter.
But so many abundant imports blur the line for consumers. To them, a grape tomato is a grape tomato. They don’t perceive a difference between grape tomatoes grown in Florida or California and those grown in Mexico.
The clamshells are similar, the tomatoes look alike, and the taste is close enough.
And why would they notice where it’s grown? Their only clue comes from the small print on the label.
Time to Build Trust in American Grown
Our industry desperately needs to build consumer awareness of how you farm and why American-grown means something positive.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Azevedo points out that retailers succeeded in increasing the value for organic produce. But it’s often been at the expense of attitudes toward conventional production methods.
Many consumers now think growers dump excessive amounts of pesticides on their fields, polluting waterways, with no thought to the consequences. They don’t understand how much you use conservation-minded methods. Nor that just about every grower wants to reduce inputs for financial reasons.
Then there’s labor. Political rhetoric has created images of U.S. growers practically enslaving their immigrant workers.
It’s time Americans understood the high standards our industry is held to. And how not all countries abide by the same rules. If they want ethically grown produce, then their best bet is to buy it from growers who must abide by American standards.