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Marketing program launched for Alabama-grown produce, products

Alabama consumers will soon have an easier time identifying locally-grown products, as the “Sweet Grown Alabama” initiative get underway, which will slap a logo on produce, meat and other natural, Alabama-made commodities to ensure shoppers know what’s local and what’s not.

“As I travel across the state, most of the questions I receive from consumers are about their food and where it comes from,” said ADAI Commissioner Rick Pate in a press release. “We want residents of Alabama to walk into a grocery store or farmers market and easily identify products grown in Alabama. The ‘Sweet Grown Alabama’ brand logo will allow them to do so and ensure the product they purchase is grown to the highest standards of quality and food safety.”

At least one farmers market is already looking into the program.

“We’re really looking forward to seeing how the program develops and love the idea of branding Alabama-grown items,” said Judy McKinney, Owner of the Orrville Farmers Market. “I’m very anxious to get sales and support materials that will help us help farmers and food artisans showcase their products.”

The program, which will be open to “farmers and value-added product makers,” aims to “enhance marketing opportunities for Alabama farmers by connecting retailers and consumers to Alabama-grown foods and other agricultural products.”

Membership in the program is available in three categories and dues are based on the farm or company’s annual sales – the first category is Sweet Grown Alabama Member, open to farmers and makers with at least 50 percent of ingredients grown in Alabama; an associate-level membership is open to associations, institutions, retailers, restaurants, businesses, farmers markets, agri-tourism operations and similar outfits who support the organization’s mission but don’t have a product to brand themselves; a supporter-level membership is open to anyone that supports the program’s mission and can contribute at least $5,000 annually.

“Sweet Grown Alabama” is a non-profit foundation governed by a board of directors, which is assisted by an advisory board made up of farmers, chefs, association representative and other industry experts.

Along with branding Alabama products, the program offers an online directory, “robust” consumer advertising campaigns, newsletters, farm-to-table dinners and more.

For McKinney, she sees the program as a way for Dallas County to “shine.”

“Most Dallas County consumers aren’t aware of how saturated Dallas County is in agriculture,” McKinney said. “In just our county alone, you have producers of beef, pork, eggs, cotton, fruits and vegetables, honey, grains…and so much more. I’m a firm believer that our biggest asset, other than the farmers themselves, is this rich Black Belt soil we get to work with – it makes a big difference in the quality, flavor and texture of our products.”

Beyond the opportunity for Black Belt produce to find a statewide customer base through the program, McKinney is excited about the possibility of getting more farm-fresh foods on dinner tables across the state.

That, she believes, will have a real impact locally.

“First and foremost, fresh is best,” McKinney said. “The simple joy of sinking your teeth into a fresh, chilled, locally-grown peach, tomato or watermelon speaks for itself, but knowing that you’re buying from a local farmer, who’s your neighbor – because we’re all neighbors – is keeping those dollars in our community. That farmer, in turn, is paying local taxes, shopping locally, sending children to our schools and using our local doctors and hospitals, which in turn is keeping people in jobs. To use the simplest example: if you’re buying a watermelon from California, that money goes to California; if you buy a locally grown watermelon, that money stays in Dallas County.”

To learn more about the “Sweet Grown Alabama” program, visit www.sweetgrownalabama.org or contact program Director Ellie Watson at 334-399-7748 or via email at ellie@sweetgrownalabama.org.