New York growers like Paulette Satur — a leafy greens grower from Satur Farms in North Fork, Long Island, N.Y. — are beefing up the local angle to their products. After all, it’s a competitive advantage to living in the Northeast, the most densely populated U.S. region.
Large-scale retailers and restaurants are doing the same. And meanwhile, the New York State Grown & Certified program, launched fewer than three years ago, is herding all the players along, from seed to plate. The program combines food safety, traceability, sustainability and the locavore ethos.
New York State Grown & Certified is the first statewide, multi-faceted food certification program designed to strengthen consumer confidence in New York products, address food product labeling and assist New York farmers so they can take advantage of the growing market demand for foods locally grown and produced to a higher standard, according to the Institute for Food Safety at Cornell University.
“I find it very interesting that Whole Foods Market is again focusing on local producers with their new ‘We Love Local’ campaign,” Satur said.
“Because Walmart and Costco are stocked with organic produce, the category is commoditized and is not the point of distinction for them it once was. Larger chains say they’re committing to locally grown product, but few do it in a committed fashion or as well as Whole Foods or smaller independents.”
Satur Farms is a participating farm in the local pledge program of Baldor Specialty Foods, Bronx, N.Y., which distributes to foodservice providers and markets.
“I truly believe that regional sourcing is the biggest opportunity that will affect growers and marketers,” Satur said, adding that value-added products are another huge growth opportunity.
Land stewardship is part of the local package.
Like Satur Farms, New Hampton, N.Y.-based Minkus Family Farms practices crop rotation to help minimize disease and feed the soil.
Both farms use cover crops that can bind nitrogen and prevent toxic runoff, deter erosion from wind and rain, and make what Satur calls “beautiful green manure” that’s tilled down to enrich the soil and its microbiological activity.
Minkus Family Farms received a U.S. Department of Agriculture producer grant of $250,000 in 2018 to roll out the New York State Grown & Certified program with labels and market it at trade shows.
“Retailers are willing to pay a little more with that label because their shoppers will too,” said Dylan Dembeck, director of operations at the Minkus packing facility.
“It’s local, but also sustainable and food safety-oriented. That label means we have certain food safety standards on our farm as well.”
Minkus Family Farms plans to push local sourcing even more to retailers and foodservice. The company is making headway.
Chipotle’s restaurants from Boston down to Maryland use Minkus red onions when in season, typically September through April, through its local program. Minkus has a contract with fast-casual salad chain Sweetgreen to do the same, Dembeck said.
“Our trucks are just driving an hour away to deliver, so there are less emissions and all that. It’s sustainable and also fresher and higher quality and less waste at retail level. All businesses don’t want inventory,” he said.
The New York State program featured both Minkus and Satur in promotional videos.