New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials marked Farmers Market Week on Wednesday, Aug. 6 with a visit to the Bordentown City Farmers Market in Bordentown City, NJ.
Gov. Chris Christie proclaimed Aug. 3-9, 2014 as Farmers Market Week in New Jersey and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, likewise, proclaimed the week National Farmers Market Week to remind consumers to visit these markets this summer and fall.
"The Department of Agriculture encourages New Jersey residents to support community farmers markets and our state's agriculture industry," Secretary Fisher said in a press release. "Farmers markets like the Bordentown City market not only provide access to the freshest Jersey Fresh produce, but act as a neighborhood gathering place where people can meet the farmers who grow their food, exchange recipes using the fruits and vegetables and have an enjoyable time."
Secretary Fisher was joined at the market by James Harmon, USDA Food & Nutrition Service director of special nutrition programs; Paul Hlubik, state director of USDA Farm Service Agency; and other state, county and local officials.
"USDA is pleased to see the farmers market sector mature and grow here in the Garden State, seeding new business opportunities for farmers, ranchers and food entrepreneurs," Harmon said in the release. "Farmers markets are often the first place consumers can meet their local farmers and are a building block for expanding local and regional food systems."
"The beauty of buying locally from your community farmers markets is that not only are you, the consumer, guaranteed some of the Garden State's freshest, most delicious, healthiest food choices at a convenient location and a competitive price, you also are contributing to the local economy," said Hlubik. "That farmer is your neighbor buying goods and services from other businesses in and around your local community, creating jobs, adding a scenic vista, contributing to a healthy environment — all keeping your community vibrant. In my two careers both in USDA and as a farmer, I'm dedicated to promoting your neighborhood farmer for generations to come."
There are 148 community farmers markets in New Jersey, eight of which are new this season. Farmers who attend these markets sell produce they've picked at the peak of ripeness within 24 hours of sale to ensure the best taste and highest quality. Many of the farmers accept WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers and SNAP food stamp cards.
Weis Markets launched its annual Your Neighbor’s, Our Farmer local produce program, which highlights the contributions and commitment of 13 local farmers that provide produce to some of Weis Markets’ 163 stores.
“When we talk about our selection of local produce, we want to do more than just talk the talk,” Kurt Schertle, Weis Markets chief operating officer, said in a press release. “When customers visit the produce section in one of our stores we want them to know that the produce comes from the state in which they live, and to introduce them to the hardworking men and women that provide our fresh produce, many of whom have been suppliers of ours for two generations.”
In 2014, Weis Markets will purchase more than 25 million pounds of locally grown sweet corn, green beans, peaches, nectarines, apples, lettuce, mushrooms, watermelons, cabbage, blueberries, cucumbers, cantaloupes, tomatoes, potatoes, squash and pumpkins.
Each Weis Markets’ store will display "Your Neighbor’s, Our Farmer" banners with photographs of the farmers supplying Weis Markets. These photos will be featured in Weis Markets’ produce departments by region and product, as well as in weekly circulars. The photos and videos can also be viewed at https://www.weismarkets.com/about-weis/community/local-farmers.
The Your Neighbor’s, Our Farmer campaign will feature photos of the following farmers on the produce they supply:
Early in my career with fresh produce retailing, I entered a management training program with a dynamic world-class 70-unit Northeastern grocery chain. My three-inch training binder held nearly 20 1.5-hour training class modules to complete in addition to my daily in-store role as a produce team leader.
The rigorous reading list added eight to 10 books on varied management and leadership topics such as, Whale Done, Fish!, and Good to Great, all read on personal time.
Regular coaching and one-on-one mentoring sessions were required as well as regular written reports.
Here was the catch: The training program was self-directed. No superiors planned to nag me or schedule sessions for me, and they rarely carved out time for me.
I controlled my “destiny,” holding the key requirements for career progression. My motivation (or lack thereof) to learn would also demonstrate my candidacy for promotion.
Produce professionals today are in a similar place. With constantly changing regulations, food-safety requirements, packaging, merchandising, marketing and retailing innovations, as well as the need to follow trends, ideas and best practices, learning can be challenging without a systematic approach.
The amount of data, news and advertisements at our fingertips is staggering. I often glaze over from the pressure of a pile of magazines I’ve wanted to read on the edge of my desk. It’s daunting to consider the number of webinars, trade publications, trade shows, memos, lunches with industry veterans, reading books and corporate training programs one might hope to engage in.
Don’t let these common hurdles limit you or provide an excuse to change or learn. Here are some ideas for a systematic approach to grow professionally and strategically in any organization without being overwhelmed.
Choose the most helpful learning topics
As a produce retailing and merchandising consultant, I chose category vs. consumer-centric category management. Write these down and focus. For a month, review trade publications’ tables of contents and only read articles aimed at this topic rather than being overwhelmed by a 90-page novel. While all articles might be helpful, they may not be meaningful today. Be realistic.
I regularly invite people I’d like to meet to lunch. In about one hour you can learn a lot about someone and his or her expertise all for about 20 bucks, while building a long-term relationship.
Connect experts with content
When I discover a contact is an expert on a specific subject matter, I often add this keyword into my online contact memo field. Later, I can quickly search this word in my contact file or LinkedIn database to recall a real live resource in my network.
Notes and files
Topical digital or hard-copy files can be helpful. Keep a sheet of paper in the front for quick notes and include print-outs, sell sheets or brochures behind it.
Social bookmarking sites such as Delicious.com enable you to access researched web site bookmarks on varied topics anywhere you’re online while improving your ability to find later with searchable keywords.
Set aside an hour a week, 10 minutes a day or a specific day of the week to read industry updates. A scheduled or length of time is more important.
Sift through an inundated inbox more efficiently with the use of inbox filters. Select keywords you are looking for and only allow email newsletters with these phrases into the inbox, while redirecting others to minor priority folders.
Similarly, Google Alerts is time-saving and helpful to stay current with innovations or industry news. By adding a “produce merchandising” Google Alert, I am sent new content links containing this phrase when new content is posted.
Get out of town
Business or even personal trips present great opportunities to review other retailers. Spend time with family on vacation, but if you need to grab a pack of hot dogs and ice cream, volunteer for the trip to the local grocer. As retailers, we cannot stay the same. Progress requires learning, knowledge and innovation. Successful people do the things unsuccessful people don’t want to do. It’s not easy, but the best companies follow suit.
For retailers, consider a more corporate approach. Divide up subject areas, and learn and have leaders give a report on the topic at an upcoming merchandising or team meeting. In any case, with a little focused strategy, we can all home in on key learning opportunities.
COLUMBIA, SC — Supermarket produce departments are moving an excellent volume of quality South Carolina peaches this summer, despite a cold snap that damaged early-season peaches in the state, according to Martin Eubanks, assistant commissioner for the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.
“We lost the first six weeks of the growing season due to a late-spring freeze, but we’ve had high-volume and high-quality peaches in our peak production months of July and August,” Eubanks said Aug. 1. “We will see volume falling off late this month, with some shipments into September.”
A 28-year veteran of the department and an old hand at riding the weather roller coaster for produce crops, Eubanks added, “We had several bad spells of weather. Another degree or two colder, our entire crop could have been lost.”
Handling is critical for peaches, and Eubanks stressed, “They are hand-picked in a ‘hard-ripe’ condition so they won’t be bruised in shipping. Then they are chilled for a day, which puts them to sleep so they don’t ripen further until placed on the shelf.”
The slumbering peaches arrive at supermarkets in prime condition.
South Carolina, despite being a small state (41st in size among the 50 states), ranks high in produce. It is the nation’s second-largest grower of peaches, behind California, and ahead of Georgia, which is known as “The Peach State.” It places in the top 10 for leafy greens, cantaloupe, peanuts, watermelons, tomatoes, mixed vegetables and sweet potatoes, Eubanks noted, and its Southeast location allows overnight shipments to reach most of the U.S. population.
Other advantages include 842 miles of interstate highways and 9,500 miles of state primary roads, the flow of the growing seasons and “growers learning and adapting to make the state’s produce better,” he said.
Over his nearly three decades at the department, Eubanks said, the number of produce stock keeping units has grown from about 60 to more than 500 — some SKUs reflecting new processing for existing products, others, such as broccoli, due to new varieties.
“Diversity has increased rapidly, and that’s a real plus,” he said. Retail marketing lessons learned over the years, Eubanks observed, include “having a program for marketing a fruit or vegetable throughout the time it is available — a season-long plan, not just one or two special promotions.”
Eubanks credits South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh E. Weathers with starting the Certified SC Grown program, which makes it easy for consumers to identify, locate and buy South Carolina produce. Weathers won a 2006 appropriation from the state legislature to begin the program, citing a consumer survey that found 90 percent of the state’s residents would buy South Carolina food products if they knew where to buy them.
On average, the state has invested $1 million a year in Certified SC Grown and signed up more than 1,300 participants, who invest an average of $7 for every $1 in state funding for the program.
Also in the program are 500 in-state retailers, including more than a dozen supermarket chains and several out-of-state retailers.
Eubanks said sales of South Carolina-grown fruits and vegetables climbed to more than $200 million from $131 million in 2006.
Meanwhile, Eubanks has a timely word for retailers: In South Carolina, everything’s peachy.
WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released on Wednesday a six-month progress report on the 2014 farm bill that includes updates on scores of hard-fought specialty crop programs.
Since the bill was signed into law on Feb. 7, Vilsack said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made “tremendous progress” in implementing the massive legislation, such as by distributing critical disaster assistance to farmers in record time and developing new risk-management programs for producers.
USDA issued updates on a slew of critical programs, many of which have expanded over the years as a result of the growing influence of the produce industry.
Under the Horticulture title of the farm bill, USDA said it announced, on April 17, the availability of $66 million in specialty crop block grants, and, on April 3, $48.1 million for plant pest and disease management projects. A day later, USDA published an interim rule that allowed bulk containers of apples to be shipped to Canada without U.S. inspection.
Under the Trade title, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service announced $9 million was available from the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program, and later expanded the range of projects funded by the program. In April, FAS announced 2014 funding for the Market Access Program, and 62 organizations received $171.8 million for projects.
The Nutrition title also houses programs advocated for by the produce industry during the last battle over the 2014 farm bill.
For example, USDA announced plans July 21 to launch a pilot project in up to eight states that tests ways to give states flexibility in using USDA food entitlement dollars in their competitive procurement of unprocessed fruits and vegetables, including fresh-cut products. The goal of the project is to develop additional ways schools can use entitlement dollars to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, while using existing commercial distribution centers, USDA said.
USDA is also moving ahead with a pilot project during 2014-2015 to test schools participating in the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program to offer canned, frozen or dried fruits and vegetables.
On the research front, USDA announced several projects under way this year, including a $6.9 million grant to Michigan State University on pollinator research aimed at helping specialty crops.
USDA is working on doling out the $125 million for citrus disease research tucked into the farm bill spanning the next five years, and has made appointments to the newly named Citrus Disease Subcommittee, housed under the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education & Economics Advisory Board.
“Thanks to the hard work of thousands of USDA employees across the country, we are continuing to get new initiatives off the ground and make important reforms to existing programs that are helping to boost the country’s economy,” Vilsack said.