Natural Foods Merchandiser

Cultivate knowledge on farm tour

I was working at the Bloomingfoods Co-op in Bloomington, Ind., and marveling at the abundance of produce that filled the wet rack: full displays of bok choy, four types of lettuce, bunched beets, broccoli, Romanesque broccoli (you know, that one that looks like M.C. Escher was having some fun with Luther Burbank), escarole and so on.

This was in the beginning of January, when snow flurries were in the weather forecast and local produce items were a memory like summer's warmth.

Haven't you ever wondered how growers get those 24 heads of lettuce to fit perfectly in the box every time?

During the visit, I spoke with the management and crew about good organic retailing practices, the changing organic industry and about how we should focus our marketing efforts on local offerings. We also talked about how to grow sales as the faces and expectations of the new organic customers change, and how to take care of the customer who wants a store that has certified organic with lower prices.

While I was flying home, I started thinking about the abundance on Bloomingfoods' stands. The fact is, no matter how much you buy from local growers and are dedicated to spreading that message, if you live in the Midwest or any other place where there is snow on the ground in January, you have to rely on produce that comes from some distance away in the winter. That usually means California, Florida, Mexico or beyond.

Where I am going with this?

Believe it or not, it's to this year's farm tour at Natural Products Expo West. I've chosen to tour Purepak in Oxnard, Calif., because it has a name all of you have seen when you check in your produce orders, has been around for 22 years, and grows more than 57 different fruits and vegetables year-round.

Farms like this keep your stand full in the winter. I figured this was the perfect opportunity for retailers to learn more about this side of the industry. After all, haven't you ever wondered how growers:

  • Get those 24 heads of lettuce to fit perfectly in the box every time?
  • Ice broccoli so that it can last during a cross-country journey to your store?
  • Ship delicate items like strawberries and hardy produce like celery?
  • Grow or process to ship internationally? (Purepak exports its certified organic fruits and vegetables to Japan, Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Great Britain.)

I know I've wondered about these issues, and I can't wait to find out the answers.

Crop availability depends on how Mother Nature has treated the farm this winter, but we may be able to see artichokes, beets, broccoli, carrots, Napa cabbage, celery, chard, cilantro, collards, kale, lettuce and even some strawberries.

Doesn't it seem amazing that so much could be growing in one area at the same time? Not when the farm is situated along a beautiful stretch of Pacific coastline. Because of moderate temperatures, rich topsoil, adequate water and a long harvest season, farmers can often grow double, sometimes triple, crops on the same piece of land during a year.

A large farm with diverse crops in an awesome location makes this year's tour a unique opportunity. Aren't you curious about this type of operation? Or have a staff member who could gain some knowledge and benefit from this experience?

Sign up by calling 866.458.4935 and we'll take care of the rest.

The tour is from noon to 5 p.m. Satur?day, March 15. We provide the transportation, lunch, stimulating conversation and a great tour. Enjoy the ride along the California coast and come away with a greater knowledge of organic agriculture.

I'll see you on the bus.

Mark Mulcahy runs Organic Options, an organic education and produce consulting firm. Contact him at 707.939.8355 or markdmulcahy

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIX/number 3/p. 37

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