Customers Remain Loyal To Local Organic Food

When times are tough, people look for places to cut back. At the grocery store, for example, a consumer might decide not to pay that extra dollar a pound for organic peppers. But local organic growers say customers are staying pretty loyal to local organic food. Emily Reddy has our story.

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When times are tough, people look for places to cut back.† At the grocery store, for example, a consumer might decide not to pay that extra dollar a pound for organic peppers.† But local organic growers say customers are staying pretty loyal to local organic food.†Emily Reddy
has the story.

[sifter noise]
Sunil Patel is sifting compost in an unheated outbuilding near a snow-covered garden plot.†

I usually just move it back and forth and do a shake like this.

Patel is making an organic potting soilÖto start plants in the greenhouse for the coming season.† Heís the head farmer at Greenmore Gardens, outside of State College.†

It was started two years ago as a small CSA.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.† Which means what it sounds like.† CSA farms sell produce directly to community members, called shareholders.† You pay a lump sum before the growing season then pick up boxes of produce throughout the season. Patel is gearing up for this summer.

Iím trying to get all my shopping and planning and everything finished now so whenever the actual doing comes Iím veryÖmuch more ready than last year.†

Greenmore Gardens uses only organic growing techniques. It started two years ago with just a few shareholders.† In the summer of 2009, during one of the worst economic downturns in decades, Greenmore grew to 45 shareholders.† Patel plans to expand even more this year.† He has big long-term plans for the farmís 25 acres.

It can be a pretty high producing farm in the future.† We have a lot of pasture which I would love to grow animals on.† Eggs, and chicken and maybe pork.

[crowd noises]
Snyder ñ We see nothing but growth in the future.†

Bryan Snyder is the Executive Director of PASA, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.† I talked with him last week at PASAís 19th annual Farming for the Future Conference in State College.† Men and women in plaid shirts crowded the hallways and exhibit halls of the Penn Stater Conference Center.

We have a record crowd here this week, which is an indication that even during economic hard times our community is looking up and feeling very optimistic.

Snyder says he thinks organics at the grocery store are probably being hit the hardest.† He says CSAs and farmers markets are doing better.

Kim Tait - We ended up being completely flat at the end of the year, but a friend told me flat was the new up.† So I felt good, we were flat.

Kim Tait was a part of a panel discussion at the conference called, ìMarketing Organics in Challenging Economic Times.î† Tait owns an organic certified farm just outside State College. Itís also a CSA farm, with 180 members. Tait says sheís had no trouble getting members; sheís full up for this year already.† What she has seen drop are wholesale sales of specialty food items.

People were hard pressed to be paying 6 and 7 dollars for a jar of chutney or whatever it was.

To make up for wholesale losses, Tait reached out to the local community.† She found groups that agreed to use her products in their fundraising drives.†

My advice would be market locally because when times get tough, people are going to support local.

Fellow panelist Elaine Meder-Wilgus agreed with Tait.† She owns Websterís CafÈ, a local book store/coffee shop.† She told the crowd she added organic and local foods to her offerings when customers requested them.

[They never learned to cook. They donít have time to cook and theyíre not interested in cooking.] They said, Elaine, we love your restaurant because we can come in and pick up something thatís organic and local. Listen to the customer.†

Meder-Wilgus said when she started her coffee shop in 1999 she was the only one selling fair trade, organic coffee.† Then, it was more about ethics.

Everyone told me I was crazy.† They said thereís no market for that.† And I was like, I donít care.† Now the coffee shop up the street is doing local and fair-trade.† Yes, it costs more.† But in the end itís just the right thing to do.

Meder-Wilgus says she buys as many organic ingredients as she can. †

To me, it just makes sense that things should be organic when you can.† Some things you just canít find organic locally.

But thatís changing.† Here in Central Pennsylvania, consumers have more organic and local options than in the past. Pennsylvania Certified Organic is a USDA accredited non-profit that certifies farms as organic in Pennsylvania.† According to PCO, the number of farms they certify has doubled since 2004.†

[sifting noise]
And that doesnít even include farms like Greenmore Gardens that use all-organic growing techniques, but are not certified organic.

Farmer Sunil PatelÖ
The roots of CSA are people connected to their farmer.† Thatís why certifying a CSA is almost redundant.† The point is to have individual certification.

Greenmore Gardens does plan to get certified in the future. Certification will let the farm sell to venues that demand certified organic produce.† Iím Emily Reddy, WPSU.†