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June 21, 2005   Email to Friend 

Buy Fresh, Buy Local
Debra Davis

Chilton County farmer Henry Williams, above, is one of hundreds of producers who have benefited from the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" campaign.
The sign that made taste buds tingle gathered a huge following its first year in the state, and producers are hoping Alabama's "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" campaign will harvest even more fans this year, translating into more profits for farmers.

Reminiscent of an antique seed packet, the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" logo guarantees Alabama consumers are getting the freshest fruits and vegetables possible, and nothing tastes better than fresh. "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" is a joint venture of the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Alabama Farmers Market Authority and this year will cover the entire state.

"There will be billboards across the state along with radio and print advertising," said Don Wambles, administrator of the State of Alabama Farmers Market Authority. "Our website, BuyLocalAlabama.com, has been a tremendous success as well. It helps connect consumers with farmers markets and roadside stands in their area."

Farms that participate in the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" campaign through the Alabama Farmers Market Authority range in size from an acre to several hundred acres. But they all have one thing in common--they're owned by Alabama farmers.

Brian Hardin, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation's Horticulture Division, said "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" gave the state's fruit and vegetable industry a noticeable boost last year. He believes the trend will increase this year.

"Farmers were so excited to see a wonderful campaign that they could connect with," Hardin said. "Consumers loved it, too. It reminds them of where their food comes from, and it gives them an opportunity, in many cases, to meet and talk with the person who actually grew the food they're buying."

Hardin said the program was so well received last year that many producers chose to incorporate the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" logo into their own promotion plans.

"The message was effective, and farmers were buying T-shirts, posters and signs for their own stands," he said. "When farmers make that kind of investment of their own money, you know they see value in it."

The Federation's State Horticulture Committee has endorsed the program again this year and is looking to build on the success of last year's campaign.

"There have been some pretty good promotion programs in the past, but this campaign is one that farmers expect to be around a long time," Hardin said. "We're especially proud that the Farmers Federation was able to partner with the Farmers Market Authority to help promote 'Buy Fresh, Buy Local' because farmers have witnessed a direct impact of what the program has done for them."

Art Sessions, who operates a diversified farm in Mobile County near Grand Bay, is one of those farmers. In addition to his cotton, peanuts and cattle, he's been growing fruits and vegetables for more than 30 years.

"'Buy Fresh, Buy Local' was a great success in the Mobile area," Sessions said. "We had a lot of positive reaction from the farmers, market managers and our customers. It's just been great, and we're excited about what we hope it will do for us this year."

Sessions is a member of the Mobile County Farmers Federation Board of Directors and the Federation's State Horticulture Committee. He grows squash, collards, cabbage, peppers, watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, peaches, nectarines, satsumas and pecans. He also is one of eight volunteers who serve on the board of directors for the State of Alabama Farmers Market Authority.

About 90 percent of what Sessions grows is sold to wholesale distributors. When he sells directly to consumers through his brother's roadside stand, off the farm or at the farmers markets in Mobile, consumers get a bargain, but he receives more than double the price of what it would have brought wholesale.

Wes Isom, who grows peaches, apples and vegetables on his farm in Limestone County near Athens, has a "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" sign posted in his roadside stand at Isom's Orchard.

"The 'Buy Fresh, Buy Local' program is a great idea," Isom said. "It makes people aware of the produce that's grown here, and they know a local farmer grew it. Buying from a local farmer helps everyone--the farmer, the consumer and the local economy."

And the interest in farmers markets is growing, according to Wambles. In addition to a more nutritious product, the best thing about fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables is the taste.

Henry Williams of Thorsby agrees. He grows strawberries, peaches and sod on his farm in Chilton County. For him, farming is more than just a way to make a living.

"In addition to providing income for my family, as farmers, we're providing a service by giving people a delicious, healthy product," Williams said. "I think the 'Buy Fresh, Buy Local' program is great and helps consumers identify with that. We have a lot of people moving to our state, and because they haven't always lived here, they aren't aware of what our state has to offer. I like the fact that we're telling people they don't have to go somewhere else to buy fruits and vegetables. The quality of our produce is better; it's good for the local economy; and it's good for customers."

Williams said one of his favorite things about growing fresh fruits is that he gets to talk to his customers.

"It's a lot different than if we were shipping these off to Atlanta or somewhere and never saw who bought them," he said while looking over dozens of buckets filled with fresh-picked strawberries. "With our crops, we make an extra effort, and we see how much our customers appreciate it. These strawberries were picked this morning, and we're going to sell them today. The strawberries we pick tomorrow, we're going to sell tomorrow.

"That's the biggest difference between what you buy from me and what you might buy at a grocery store," he said. "Fruits and vegetables in a grocery store or other outlets have to be picked while they're still green just to make the journey from the farm--sometimes across the country. You just can't get any better than fresh, and the only way to really get fresh--other than grow it yourself--is to buy it from a local farmer."

To locate a market, roadside stand or U-pick operation, visit BuyLocalAlabama.com.

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