Buy Fresh, Buy Local boosts sales of South Dakota foods
The mission statement of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local Chapter is to increase awareness and consumption of local foods in South Dakota. Patrick Garrity oversees this program through the South Dakota Specialty Producers Association, and he talked about the great opportunities for farmers and ranchers to diversify, specialize and capitalize on opportunities to feed area consumers and gain top premiums for the products they are already raising.
“The South Dakota Value-Added Program has provided great incentives for locally-raised products, but now we are ready to take things a step further and get these foods into schools,” said Garrity, who spoke at the 2011 South Dakota State Fair in Huron. “There are many backyard gardeners and livestock producers who are already selling in farmers markets across the state, and the opportunity to sell to schools would grow their market substantially.”
Buy Fresh, Buy Local is currently working out the finer details of contracting South Dakota-raised products to schools, and one of the things farmers and ranchers will need to be aware of is the Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) that need to be followed to keep consistency of products for the kids.
“Basically, GAP has a trained evaluator go out to the farm and make sure they are following the standards of the program,” Garrity explained. “With GAP, we can proudly stamp these products and stand behind them, knowing that the produce was raised following certain protocols. Of course, the worry on the farmer-end of things is costs, compliance and premiums.”
Garrity said that schools are ready to move forward with this, and now the challenge is identifying the farmers and ranchers to fit the needs of the program. The remaining months of 2011 will be dedicated toward compiling a list of producers, followed by workshops where growers will learn about GAP, go through training and be ready to hit the ground running next spring.
“Once we get into schools, we hope to move to hospitals and nursing homes, as well,” he explained. “In addition to growers, we will need aggregators and processors, too. There are a lot of opportunities in this program for agriculturalists to take advantage of. We are looking for vegetables, fruits, specialty meats like buffalo, and eventually beef, pork, poultry and eggs, too. We hope to keep expanding to other areas.”
According to Garrity, seven years ago, South Dakota only had 27 farmers markets. Today, there are 72 across the state. For livestock producers interested in getting involved in farmers markets, there are a few things to note. Eggs aren’t required to be candled; they must simply be clean. Meats must be inspected and harvested at a state-licensed facility. Poultry can be butchered by the farmer themselves, if that individual is also doing the selling. These opportunities could be of special interest to young producers who are looking to diversify their small operations, he said.
“If we could get 10 percent of the produce sold here in the state to be locally grown, it would be worth $143 million to the state’s producers,” added Garrity. “I ask folks to give 10 percent of their food dollars to state farmers and that money will stay and circulate into our state’s economy. It’s win-win for everyone involved here in South Dakota.”
For example, at the Mitchell Farmers Market, some growers have grossed $60,000-$70,000 in garden sales coming from a five-acre plot.
“This is a great opportunity for a parent to stay at home with their kids and still have a solid paycheck,” said Garrity. “The money made would be pretty consistent because we will always need to eat. People are literally making their living off of these opportunities. Farmers markets only continue to grow in popularity and many folks prefer to do their shopping this way.”
For livestock producers, Garrity said it will be important to identify what the state’s consumers are looking for. There are many options for beef including grass-fed, grain-fed, natural and organic, but he said it’s more important to create a relationship with the consumer and regardless of the way it was raised, many will be loyal for life. Additionally, he explained that pasture-raised pork and poultry were hot-ticket items at farmers markets.
There are certainly many opportunities to pursue as farmers markets expand to schools, nursing homes and hospitals. To be on the cutting edge and gain premiums through Buy Fresh, Buy Local, Garrity suggested producers join the South Dakota Chapter. Contact Garrity at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and visit http://www.bfblsd.org for complete program details.
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