Farmers learn what buyers want

Published 9:21 am Wednesday, February 8, 2012


SUFFOLK—A farmer can grow all the produce possible, but he has to get it to market. No less important is having quality seeds to cultivate the best food.

Both topics dominated a recent meeting for farmers to learn how to improve profitability and output. It was held at the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Daniel Budi, director of sales for Ashland-based Produce Source Partners, told those attending he sells to retailers, colleges, hospitals and amusement parks and explained why he buys local produce.

“It’s fresh, nutritious and delicious,” said Budi. “You know where the food is coming from. Know your farmer, know your food. We promote Virginia-grown products, and help support farmers in local communities.”

To participate in the organization, farmers need at least $1 million in product liability insurance, and must sign a hold-harmless agreement and provide a history of their farms.

“We’re trying to work out delivery regionally, and encourage farmers that if they can find top dollar (for their produce), go for that deal,” he said.

Randy Brittain, director of procurement for Military Produce Group, supplies 29 commissaries in Norfolk and 100 in the Eastern United States.

“We’re a full-line distributor,” said Brittain. “We buy a cornucopia. We’re always looking for close food resources. That keeps us all going.”

He added that opportunities for specialty items, such as ginger and mushrooms, are welcome.

Joyce and Forrest Johnson of Produce and Grilling in Courtland said that although they don’t have a large field, they are very interested in selling their crops.

Janet Pomier and Carolyn Wright of Cooper Farms in Sussex County said they grow more specialty items such as okra, Japanese eggplant, asparagus and bok choy. Conventional tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and peppers are also raised.

Through a farmer’s market via the Virginia Tech Cooperative, they sell to the VA Hospital in Richmond on Fridays.

Phil Ramsey of South Boston, a seed consultant for Siegers Seed Co., explained that his company sells in volume.

Cantaloupes such as Grand Slam and Athenas are choice melon types. The ship well and have a small seed cavity and thick netting, are more elongated and weigh 7 to 8 pounds.