Saturday, September 19, 2009

Visit by Representatives from Ingles, Albert's Organics, and Appalachian Harvest

On Friday, representatives from Ingles Supermarkets (http://www.ingles-markets.com/), Albert's Organics (http://www.albertsorganics.com/), and Appalachian Harvest (http://www.asdevelop.org/buy.html) came to the Haywood County Extension office in Waynesville, NC to talk to growers interested in growing organic produce for them.  There were about forty people in attendance, including a number of well-established organic farmers.  Jim Ray, VP of produce operations for Ingles, described the commitment Ingles has made to organics. Ingles buys much of its organic produce from the other two companies represented at the meeting. 

Albert's Organics is a national distributor interested in buying a large variety of fresh produce from farmers of all sizes.  They are opening a new distribution center in Charlotte, NC next week; thus the interest in finding more local farmers to supply them.  One caution that was presented, however, was to not expect to get a large price premium for organic produce when you sell on the wholesale market.  The Appalachian Harvest presentation was the longest and of most interest to many people.  Appalachian Harvest is a program of the non-profit organization, Appalachian Sustainable Development.  It is a network of about 65 certified organic farmers in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina producing 30 fresh produce items.  The participating farmers all abide by certain quality standards, use uniform packaging and labeling, and are certified organic under a group certification.  The service costs the farmer 27% to 35% of the price they receive for their produce.

I thought it was a great meeting.  New market opportunities were presented for local farmers.  Some of the larger conventional farmers, in particular, might now want to consider transitioning to organics.  But the very frank discussion showed some of our smaller organic farmers that they are better off sticking with their established direct markets.  As Jim Ray said several times, "Take care of your current markets!"

If you are considering transitioning to organic production and want to learn more about it, plan on attending the new class that is starting on Tuesday, Sept. 22nd at the Buncombe County Extension office in Asheville, NC.  See area extension agent Sue Colucci's blog for more information: http://wncveggies.blogspot.com/2009/09/beginningtransitioning-to-organics.html.

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