KING KULLEN SPOTLIGHTS LOCALLY GROWN PRODUCE

BETHPAGE, N.Y. -- As a sign of its commitment to the "Grown on Long Island" campaign, King Kullen recently rolled out an assortment of locally harvested asparagus, spinach and bagged lettuce, with more locally grown produce scheduled for distribution to its stores in the coming months.This season marks the fifth year of the collaboration between King Kullen, Harbor View Foods, Port Jefferson, N.Y.,

BETHPAGE, N.Y. -- As a sign of its commitment to the "Grown on Long Island" campaign, King Kullen recently rolled out an assortment of locally harvested asparagus, spinach and bagged lettuce, with more locally grown produce scheduled for distribution to its stores in the coming months.

This season marks the fifth year of the collaboration between King Kullen, Harbor View Foods, Port Jefferson, N.Y., and the Long Island Farm Bureau to promote and sell locally grown produce, said Joe Gergela, executive director of the Calverton, N.Y.-based Farm Bureau.

Every year since the program's inception, the retailer has purchased more local produce and increased sales, Gergela said. This year is no different. King Kullen has agreed to buy more fruits and vegetables from local growers, and has set a sales goal of $3 million, he said.

The retailer's participation in the "Grown on Long Island" program has been a windfall for the area's farmers, who increasingly rely on the supermarkets to buy and market their produce, he added.

"The whole idea is to promote regional pride, and get consumers to identify our products as Long Island and quality," Gergela told SN. "We have very excellent-quality fruits and vegetables."

In stores, local produce is grouped together, with the Farm Bureau's copyrighted "Grown on Long Island" logo pictured on signs or on individual product stickers provided by the growers. On its Web site, King Kullen touts the program. "We carry a wide selection of Long Island-grown produce," the retailer said. "Come in and experience the best Long Island has to offer." Company officials declined SN's request for an interview.

Farmers here grow just about everything "from A to Z," Gergela said. The region's mild weather makes it possible to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables all the way through Thanksgiving. For years, farmers wanted their local stores to do more to market the produce. About five years ago, Gergela approached officials at King Kullen to seek their support for a formal program promoting the regional products. The company's response was better than Gergela could have hoped for.

"My friend Tom Kullen and his brother Brian were very open to trying to cooperate with us," Gergela said. "I acknowledge Tom Kullen in particular. He thinks it's important for his stores [to sell local produce], and we think it's good for our farmers."

The program's success is gratifying for all parties. "We're delighted," Gergela said. "The growers are delighted. It's been a growing market for them."

Gergela is not alone in his belief that consumers would rather buy local produce if given a choice. In recent years, quite a few states have launched campaigns and enlisted support from retailers to highlight the bounty produced within state boundaries.