The Ohio Department of Agriculture is taking full advantage of consumer interest in locally grown produce through the ongoing efforts of its in-state promotion, Ohio Proud.
Lori Panda, senior program manager of the Ohio Proud and the state's specialty crop block grant programs, runs the campaign. Her office is in Reynoldsburg, OH. She said Ohio Proud now has 400 members, which vary from small farms to small processed food companies to a plethora of family businesses. "They use us as their marketing arm. They depend on us and they use our promotional materials," she said.
Panda's office is still finalizing 2014 plans, but she discussed several items that are in the works.
Details are pending for another Ohio food summit this summer. This will involve bringing Ohio retailers and foodservice operators together for a meet-and-greet session. "We have done this program three times in the last five years. It has been very successful," she said.
Panda is working with a distributor of Ohio-grown tomatoes to develop a large in-state retail promotion featuring stickered tomatoes bearing the "Ohio Proud" logo.
She is also working with another Ohio distributor to create branded "Ohio Proud" display bins for melons and watermelons.
"It's nice to partner with produce distributors to make this work," she said.
This summer, Ohio Proud will continue a foodservice promotion program that was launched in late 2013. About a dozen restaurant operations, including a couple of three- or four-unit Ohio chains, worked with Ohio Proud to have the Ohio Proud logo on menus. "I expect the program to grow more as we get more into this growing season," Panda said. "Last year was at the end of the season" when the menu program started.
Related to the Ohio Proud effort, Panda's office has received a $650,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture specialty crop block grant for 2014. These farm bill funds will be used to promote specialty crops throughout Ohio. The Ohio Proud office is providing sub-grants to various nonprofit agricultural promotion groups, such as the Ohio Produce Growers & Marketers Association and the state's floriculture organization, AmericanHort.
The Ohio block grant from USDA in 2013 was used to fund the July-September Oh So Fresh campaign. This collaborative effort involved the Ohio Grocers Foundation, OPGMA, the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association and the Ohio Department of Agriculture to support the marketing and promotional efforts of Ohio's specialty crops.
Panda said Oh So Fresh won't be repeated this year because the USDA specialty crop grant rules "don't allow the same project year after year."