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Big Y, which operates stores throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts, along with Local Farmer Award and the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, awarded 47 local farmers $2,500 each to make physical infrastructure improvements to their farms. bigy

Along with the support of sponsors, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation and MGM Springfield, farmers have already put to great use the award for projects for farm improvements. This represents a 42 percent increase in awards from the 2015 inaugural year.

With the collaboration of local agriculture advocacy organizations, Berkshire Grown and Community Involved in Sustained Agriculture, the applications selected for the Farmer Awards were announced in December. One hundred twenty-eight farmers submitted applications describing their improvement projects. The award recipients are diverse: 32 percent have been farming for more than 20 years with 23 percent for five years or less; and over 40 percent of the farms have sales of over $100,000 while another 30 percent recorded sales of less than $49,000.

“Farmers don’t typically ask for help," said Harold Grinspoon, founder of the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation who launched the Local Farmer Awards in 2015. "They are genuinely appreciative of these awards and use the money in creative ways for projects to help their businesses."

Charlie D’Amour, president and chief operating officer of Big Y, said, “Through our partnership with the Grinspoon Foundation we are providing one more way to help local growers thrive in our community.”

Arrow Farms of New York has paid a $15,000 civil penalty for slow pay violations relating to the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act.

To settle a complaint, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Arrow Farms of New York entered into a consent decision in which the company agreed to pay a $15,000 civil penalty for failing to make full payment promptly to four sellers in the amount of $69,719. 

The company’s failure to pay all of the undisputed produce debt described in the complaint until January 2016 constitutes slow payment under PACA.  The company satisfied the terms of the consent decision and order on May 11, 2016, and, as a result, the finding of violations has been permanently abated.

In the past three years, the USDA resolved approximately 3,700 PACA claims involving more than $66 million. Its experts also assisted more than 7,100 callers with issues valued at approximately $100 million.

The Organic Trade Association has a lot going on this year. In early March a record-setting crowd of more than 650 organic visionaries, activists and business executives gathered in Anaheim, CA, for the Organic Center’s Annual Benefit Dinner. Attendees enjoyed an organic feast, caught up with old friends, made new ones and celebrated the science of organic. In the process it raised over $415,000 to help advance the projects of the nonprofit research and education organization.growor

The annual fundraiser, one of the headline events at Natural Products Expo West, also drew an unprecedented audience for the event on social media channels, with its reach almost doubling from last year. The gala was based around the theme, Good Food. Good Company. Good Science. It featured restaurateur, organic food activist and healthy-eating pioneer Alice Waters as the keynote speaker.

“Organic is completely right, and completely delicious,” said Waters. She cited what she called the dangerous impacts of “fast-food values” on eating habits, health and culture. “This is why I believe so profoundly in edible education.”

Waters, who founded the Edible Schoolyard Project that advocates for a sustainable food curriculum in public schools, praised the center’s educational mission.

A feature story published in the spring edition of the OTA’s online magazine, www.theorganicreport.com, headlined “Rising interest in organic transition requires diverse strategies" by Maggie McNeal, points out that there are currently more than 2,000 farms across the country transitioning almost 175,000 acres of cropland to organic, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture. About two-thirds of these operations are already organic and are expanding their organic acreage. The remainder are farms converting to organic production for the first time.

Another big group of more than 5,000 organic farms — almost 40 percent of the 12,634 certified organic farms in the U.S. — intends to increase organic production over the next five years.

Certified-organic fruit and vegetable acreage in the U.S. climbed nearly 40 percent between 2011 and 2014, and certified-organic field crop acreage saw an almost 10 percent rise. USDA estimates organic cropland acreage in 2014 at almost 3.5 million acres, a 12 percent increase from 2011.

In the same edition, another article headlined “Pursuing transitional certification to encourage more farmers,” by Nate Lewis, addresses how the significant limit to the continued growth and sustainability of the U.S. organic industry is a gap in domestic supply of organic ingredients and raw products.

The article states that growth of organic acreage in the U.S. has never kept pace with demand for organic products and increasing amounts of imports continue to fill the gap. Overcoming barriers to the growth in domestic organic acreage will require a multi-faceted and regionally oriented approach, and formally recognizing farms in transition to organic production through a federally administered process verification could be a piece to this puzzle.

For the past six months, OTA’s Transitional Task Force has provided industry stakeholder input on the merits of a transitional certification program and the framework necessary to ensure that such a program truly provides an on-ramp to organic without detracting from the organic label’s presence in the marketplace.

The task force considered The National Organic Standards Board recommendations on transitional certification, current practices by accredited certification agents that offer transitional certification, and risks to the organic industry from the emergence of a new transitional market.

A Round One projection for the 2016 Northwest cherry crop has been compiled by the 22-person Northwest Cherries Field Estimate Team. According to data, the first estimates indicate that a total of 20.5 million 20-pound equivalent boxes are expected to be produced during the 2016 cherry season.OpenerShot2

“As always, it is important to note that this Round One estimate has the most potential for variance from the eventual actual size of the crop; not all of our orchards are far enough along to determine what will stay on the trees. However, as of today the estimation team is predicting a crop that will be up 7.5 percent from last year’s 19.3 million box crop. A strong and early Rainier crop of nearly the same volume (1.7 million 15-pound boxes) including the early sub-varieties is expected as well,” the team stated.

Warm weather along the West Coast continues to make daily headlines. Looking at the early side of production, the report states that some of the earliest growers may begin their harvests May 23-25. “If the consistent weather continues, the estimate projects nearly 200,000 boxes to be shipped by May’s end,” the report said.

According to the team, warm sunny weather which occurred during bloom time accelerated the pollination window. This translates to lower fruit sets in the earliest orchards. Once production ramps up, the team said it expects “solid production in similar fashion to 2015.”

As has been noted by regional growers, the weeks mid-June through mid-July will be slated for peak production. Producers are also talking about a compression of the 2016 marketing season as different cherry varieties in different locations come to maturity at the same time.

The Mushroom Council set off a virtual recipe storm when it launched The Blend initiative a couple of years ago. The project calls for a portion of meat protein to be replaced with mushrooms, resulting in less fat and calories and higher nutrition and flavor.

Mushroom producers jumped on the opportunity to participate, and chefs and consumers are following suit.

Kathleen Preis, marketing coordinator for the San Jose, CA-based Mushroom Council, said The Blend continues to be central to its marketing activities.Blenditarian-Blog-Graphic

“It has extended into all segments with activation in schools, colleges, retail chains and restaurants with the Blended Burger Project,” she said. “This is a partnership with the James Beard Foundation that runs from Memorial Day through July 31. Upon conclusion, the five chefs with the most votes in our online image-voting gallery will win a trip to New York City in October 2016 to cook their blended burger dish at the official welcome reception for the annual JBF Food Conference at the historic James Beard House.”

The council sources recipes from a variety of developers. Besides participating chefs, they come from retail dietitians, foodservice management companies, university dining and school nutrition directors.

“In April, the council activated the Blenditarian Influencer Campaign, a special blog series that focuses on creating consumer awareness about The Blend and Blenditarians,” said Preis. “Twenty popular food- and nutrition-focused bloggers were selected to bring The Blend to life in authentic recipes spotlighting mushrooms and The Blend. The posts that feature easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions include beautiful photography.”

The recipes featured in the blog are shared on the Mushroom Council website, and council member-growers can also take advantage of them in their own recipe offerings. The council’s internal marketing team also develops The Blend recipes for the website and recipe books.

Kevin Donovan, national sales manager for Phillips Mushroom Farms, based in Kennett Square, PA, told The Produce News that recipes are offered on its website are linked directly to the variety, such as Portabella, Oyster, Maitake and others.

“The majority of these recipes were provided by Jack Czarnecki, a chief promoter of mushrooms, and are taken from his Portobello Cookbook,” said Donovan. “We also recommend other mushroom cookbooks.”

He noted that some of the company’s customers have requested revolving recipe cards for their produce departments.

“We have done that,” he said. “And we offer brochures with recipes for all of the mushrooms we produce. We also point our customers toward the Mushroom Council because of the great amount of materials and recipes it offers.”

Phillips Mushroom produces a full line of white, brown and specialty mushrooms. Donovan said that The Blend has absolutely had a positive effect on mushroom sales, and it is happy to currently be completing the first phase of its third expansion at its Warwick, MD, facility.

“Our expansion in Warwick will ultimately take us from 20 to 40 growing rooms,” said Donovan. “It’s important to give a shout out to organic mushrooms. This is a category that is growing tremendously for Phillip Mushroom Farms.”

Giorgio Fresh headquartered in Temple, PA, is also riding the wave of high mushroom demand, and agrees The Blend is one of the greatest things to happen in the mushroom industry.

Mitch Arment, in-house corporate chef for Giorgio Foods, said the research and development team at Giorgio is continually involved in recipe development with a focus on product development.

“We also utilize the talents of independent chefs who consult with us on developing imaginative recipes for various food shows,” said Arment. “We select these independent chefs in the city where the shows are being held.”

Arment added that Giorgio promotes its recipes primarily at trade shows. This gets the team in front of the industry and it gets good feedback.

“This has helped us immensely as we broaden our book of recipes,” he added. “We also have a wide range of recipes on the Giorgio Foods and Giorgio Fresh websites, and we encourage visitors to submit their own recipes to us.”

He said he’s seen a jump in the company’s mushroom production and recipe development since The Blend campaign took hold.

“We are a major player in the industry and our customers look to us for new ideas and new recipes, especially when they hear about the council’s campaign,” he said. “At Giorgio, we’re big on The Blend.”

The Mushroom Council promotes its recipes on its consumer facing website, mushroominfo.com, and its industry websites, mushroomsonthemenu.com and mushroomsinschools.com.

“We also share recipes with home chefs on our various mushroom channel social media accounts, including Facebook, twitter, Instagram and Pinterest,” said Preis. “Mushroom recipes and photography are key to our media outreach.”

The council also partners with additional organizations such as the American Egg Board and the Beef Checkoff to develop and share custom recipes through each organization’s various channels.

“Many Mushroom Council recipes are included in handouts and recipe books shared directly with consumers at demos and sampling events,” added Preis.