“It is pretty much business as usual for us,” said Bobby Creel, director of business development. “There’s a lot more interest in locally grown and people wanting locally grown in the Carolinas.”
L&M’s program focuses on locally grown product, and “that is absolutely by design — but that comes from the consumer,” Mr. Creel said. “Studies show that 75 percent of consumers prefer locally grown produce and half of people dining out in restaurants. As farmers, we try to provide that — and we always have. Even though there are all kinds of definitions for what is ‘locally grown,’ it’s a practice we’ve been involved with for a few years now.”
Locally grown makes sense for L&M for a variety of reasons. Consumer and retail demand are obvious drivers, and minimizing the company’s carbon footprint is further incentive, Mr. Creel said. But perhaps the most obvious advantage is freight.
“We’re growing 3,100 acres of broccoli on the East Coast,” Mr. Creel said. “Look at the delivered cost of broccoli from California vs. locally grown two hours away. Not only are they getting it three or four days sooner, so it’s fresher, but look at how that reduces the carbon footprint and the ecological impact.”
After great growing weather this spring in North Carolina and South Carolina, L&M’s deals in those states are ahead of schedule. The company has had “a pretty good broccoli crop” in South Carolina in Ridge Spring and near the coast in Beaufort. The deal came on early, and Mr. Creel expects it will finish before the end of May.
L&M has partnered with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture to launch a pilot program for sweet onions in that state. “It’s kind of a historic crop,” Mr. Creel said. “It must be to get [Hugh Weathers, the commissioner of the department] out there.”
From its Raleigh headquarters, L&M runs a nation-wide network of more than 50 produce specialists based in 13 U.S. locations, and it also imports from Mexico, Central America and South America. Its year-round inventory includes potatoes, onions, apples, pears, cherries, melons, limes, mangos, tropical fruits and a wide variety of vegetables. The company also trades in organic varieties of many of those items.
L&M is expecting excellent yields and quality as it transitions from South Carolina and Georgia into North Carolina. The firm slated its squash harvest for May 20, about 10 days ahead of usual, and that crop will run into early July. Cucumbers will begin around May 25, also ahead of schedule, and run into early July. Eggplants and bell peppers will come on around June 10, which is 10 or so days ahead of schedule, and those crops will continue until late July.
The early harvests are just a result of excellent growing weather. “We’ve tried to build fires and make smoke and put paper clips on bees’ wings to keep them from pollinating, but Mother Nature calls the shots,” Mr. Creel joked.
The L&M Cos. are subdivided into five groups: vegetables; melons; potatoes and onions; apples, pears and cherries; and limes and mangos. Sister companies handle everything from transportation — shipping 35,000 loads annually — to logistics, packing, warehousing and inspecting.