Given the growing demand for local produce across the nation, the best thing the Kentucky Department of Agriculture could do for the state's growers and retailers, according to spokesman Bill Clary, was to open lines of communication.
It was this thought that led the department to establish its MarketMaker:Kentucky website, which connects buyers and sellers of fresh produce throughout the state. Launched in February, the site utilizes a county-by-county search tool that lists and maps businesses based on location and market demographics.
A cooperative effort, MarketMaker brought together government, a prominent food marketing firm and the University of Kentucky's agriculture extension program.
“Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, what we try to do is reach out to people who have expertise, or who have people out in the field,” Clary said. “We can work together and not duplicate effort.”
Kentucky isn't the only state developing new ways to promote the sale of local produce. From Maine to Idaho, agriculture departments and budding agencies have tapped into the consumer's desire to bite into fresh food that skips the long haul. Like Kentucky's new website project, most of the programs seek to promote and connect as opposed to entrenching themselves in distribution or similar logistics.
Illinois, Iowa and Missouri now also use the MarketMaker website format.
Idaho's Bounty, a co-op program based in the state's Hagerman Valley region, looks to connect consumers and retailers with local growers through its developing website, modeled after the familiar “shopping cart” format utilized by the Oklahoma Food Cooperative that allows members to select their food and pay online.
“A lot of the food producers here are shipping out of state, and now they have to compete with this large industrial organic market,” said James Reed, director of Idaho's Bounty. “They would love to sell in state, but they don't have a distribution system.”
In addition to brokering contact between interested parties, states are also promoting local produce through good old-fashioned marketing. Many programs allow participating retailers and growers to use catchy, colorful logos to draw attention to locally grown food.
Maine's “Get Real. Get Maine!” program distributes logos emblazoned with the title slogan to participating businesses that sell state-grown produce. The accompanying website provides educational material for producers, retailers and consumers.
The program recently announced a partnership with the Maine Potato Board, which represents 400 producers, dealers and growers. On board to sell Maine potatoes are Hannaford Bros. and Stop & Shop.
“It keeps your money working in the local community,” spokeswoman Jane Aiudi told the Kennebec Journal. “It helps preserve Maine farms, because the surest means of farmland preservation is to have profitable farms.”
New York's “Pride of New York” initiative, developed by the state's agricultural department, works with retailers on a case-by-case basis to develop marketing programs aimed at promoting local food sales. According to marketing and promotions manager Tim Pezzolesi, customization like this helps retailers entice the customer base they know so well.
Supermarkets that have approached Pride of New York about marketing campaigns include Gristede's, Price Chopper, Pathmark, Shop Rite and Wal-Mart Stores.
“Banners, individual signs about producers, point-of-purchase materials — there's a wide variety of marketing initiatives and pieces that we can offer them,” Pezzolesi said. “We want to make sure that it meets their needs the best.”
Established in 1999, Colorado's “Colorado Proud” program — in addition to providing product logos and signage — puts out a restaurant guide every year filled with member businesses, publishes a monthly recipe in the Denver Post, and pays for extensive television advertising during prime growing seasons.
According to spokeswoman Wendy White, Colorado Proud's membership grows by 100 businesses per year.
“It's really encouraging to see this take on national importance,” White said. “I think you're seeing a lot more people looking for local products these days.”
David Kephart, owner of Salida, Colo.-based Simple Foods Market, has been a member of Colorado Proud for a little more than a year. He said his stores place an emphasis on organic and locally grown foods, and that promotions such as Colorado Proud help draw attention to an important shift in food culture.
According to Kentucky Proud's Clary, promoting locally grown food helps independents like Simple Foods Market create a distinct identity. For chain supermarkets, he explained, it's a way of telling a story.
“From the large retailers' standpoint, there's a good story to tell there about how they're connected to the community,” Clary said. “For the independent, it gives them an interesting niche.”