Fueling the Local Food Wave

With the cost of diesel fuel approaching $5 per gallon, it is debatable how far peaches and other produce can be shipped before it is no longer profitable! With an informal survey of friends in the produce industry, I am told that the freight cost to bring a tractor-trailer of peaches from California to the East Coast exceeds $9,000 (as much as $6 per 18-pound box)! These costs are transferred to the consumer in higher fruit prices, but the grower does not realize a higher profit. 

South Carolina peaches bearing the “Certified SC Grown” logo are becoming popular among local consumers. Photo courtesy of the South Carolina Department of Agriculture

In order to help in the promotion of local (in-state) produce, many state Departments of Agriculture are partnering with local producers, processors, wholesalers, and retailers. In South Carolina, for example, a certification program has been created to brand and promote South Carolina products. The Certified South Carolina program promotes not only fruit and vegetables but many other products as well. The promotional slogan is “Nothing’s Fresher. Nothing’s Finer.” 

A similar program exists in Georgia with the slogan, “Georgia, Always in Good Taste.” This type of program is also popular in Canada. In Ontario, for example, the “Pick Ontario Freshness” program has a slogan and song, “Good things grow in Ontario.” Some of the TV commercials are hilarious. 

Make It Worth The Trip 

Educating consumers on how food is produced and where it comes from continues to be a challenge in today’s hectic society. Progressive efforts at agritourism by savvy family farmers can make a real difference in the bottom line. I once visited such a farm where individual trees could be rented on a yearly basis, and that Elberta peach or Delicious apple tree was yours — you paid to rent it and you got to pick it all for yourself when the fruit was at peak ripeness. What a neat experience for a family! If you could not use all the fruit yourself, you could surely share it with friends. 

Another farm had a large pond with a giant slingshot on one end. For a fee, you could shoot a small pumpkin across the pond to get close to a target for a prize. I think it was $5 a shot. The clever aspect was that you did not actually buy the pumpkin, but rather the opportunity to shoot it. At the end of the day, the pumpkins would be collected on the other side of the pond and reused the next day if they were still in good condition. 

The real trick in making the local food experience work for the city dweller who makes the short trip to the rural farm is that the experience is fun, the people are friendly, and the food is fabulous. That means treeripened peaches, ready to drip off the chin. It also means value-added products to take home — preserves, jams, jellies, salsa, etc. These same city folks will think nothing of paying $6 for a small jar of preserves. It is all part of the experience, and each time those preserves are spread on a piece of toast, fond memories are elicited. 

Some might say that with high gas prices, the urbanites may not make that jaunt to the country to enjoy the summer farm experience. Based on roadside markets I’ve visited so far this season, that argument doesn’t seem to be playing out. People will pay for things that they value. May you and yours have a prosperous and fruitful summer and may you find ways to make your customers thrilled to be eating fruit and fruit products from your farm! 

This column by Dr. Desmond R. Layne, “Fueling the Local Food Wave” appeared in the July 2008 issue of The American Fruit Grower magazine on page 35.