Appalachian Harvest looking for farmers to grow organic produce

February 10, 2008

Appalachian Harvest, an organic farming cooperative, is searching for new farmers to help meet the growing demand for organic produce. They have a need for more than a dozen different types of organic produce that will go into more than 600 supermarkets throughout the Eastern and Southern parts of the United States.

“Right now, we have more demand than supply when you look at what our partners are wanting,” said co-op marketer Robin Robbins. “Over the last 10 years, organic has become evolutionary because that grocery shopper wants better quality and they want to know where the food comes from.”

Early estimates based on projected grocery chain and consumer preference shows Appalachian Harvest will need to grow above its 30-farmer group to fill orders that will approach nearly 9,200 boxes of organic product per week.

“Some farms and some definite fertile soil are just sitting out there dormant. We are letting farmers know that their livelihood is still viable and can be very profitable. There are standards to be met, but we feel certain our area farmers can meet that demand,” said Robbins.

Robbins says the orders for organic produce such as sugar snap peas, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, peppers and beans is directly related to a growing population that wants to eat healthier.

“Some people are just discovering organic, while others have already made it a part of their daily diet,” she said.

“I don’t think there’s an exact science to it, but I think more people think about what they put into the mouths of their children than their own, and with all of the health-related issues that are going on in our society, they want something that does not have all the chemicals or fillers.

“Something else that gives us an advantage is that nutrients and vitamins packed into those fruits and vegetables then packed in our operations are on a truck and in the store within 36 to 48 hours at the latest. That is how we operate, and it is what our market partners expect. Plus, the product is bringing a great price per pound.”

Supermarket chains such as Food City, Kroger, Ukrops, Whole Foods and Earth Fare are already signed on for product placement and produce orders for 2008 with Appalachian Harvest.

“We cannot be more thankful for our markets. The thing is we want to help them, they want to return the favor, and we need the farmers and the dedicated acres,” said Robbins.

According to a story published last week by the Associated Press, farmers continue to set aside farmland for organic crops, but it is still very marginal compared to other land use. Only half of 1 percent of all U.S. cropland and pastureland is used for organic products.

Some farms make the transition to organic in a relatively short time, while some take nearly three years to complete, but the reward for farmers is great.

For example, the AP reports organic corn that sold for $200 per ton last fall is now being priced at $500 per ton.

Customers who go into the grocery store to buy everything from organically grown watermelons to free-range eggs are willing to pay more for the quality of organic.

“(Free-range eggs) are one of our most popular items right now. Because of the regulations, the customer is getting a fresher, more enriched egg that is better for them,” said Robbins.

Supermarket chains want to raise their orders with Appalachian Harvest for free-range eggs. The present order of 1,000 dozen per week barely meets demand.

“The opportunity is there, and we have everything the farmer needs to get started. The commitment is the only thing needed now,” Robbins said.

For more information contact Robbins at (276) 608-8547 or Appalachian Sustainable Development at (276) 623-1121 or visit their Web site:

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