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Women In Ag: Is Your Grocer Selling ‘Local’ Food?

Last month I walked into a large retail store that sells groceries and other items. The “Got to Be NC” logo on a stand-alone sign promoting “Local Features” caught my attention.

Then I realized the fruits and vegetables being promoted as local weren’t in season in North Carolina. 

As consumers, it’s our job to pay attention when we shop. We may think we are supporting local farmers, but it's important to remember a store’s definition of local may not meet our own. 

My definition of local means it was grown, processed, and packaged in North Carolina. None of the items promoted as local that day met my criteria.  

The list, which you can see in the photo, included red potatoes, seedless watermelon, and red bell peppers.  Remember, this was March – in North Carolina.

Watermelon harvest doesn’t start in my state until around July 4. Red potatoes won’t be dug until June. All North Carolina potatoes are sold within 24 hours of being harvested, so there’s no chance the advertised potatoes were last season’s crop. 

I gave them the benefit of the doubt on the red bell peppers, which could have been grown in a greenhouse. Field-grown bell peppers aren’t in season until June.

Of course, I had to find these items and see where they were from. The red potatoes could be considered local – if Florida meets your definition. Red bell peppers on the shelf were clearly labeled as grown in Canada. The watermelons were grown in Honduras.

Not NC Produce

The “Got to Be NC” logo was also displayed above black plums from Chile, halo oranges from California, and New York apples. 

This is a North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services program designed to increase awareness of NC agriculture and promote products grown or made in our state. When I see the logo, I automatically expect the item to originate from my state. Clearly, these foods don’t fit that description. 

I can understand items being mislabeled as local if the produce section is in the process of being rearranged and the signs just haven’t been updated. This could have been the case for the plums, oranges, and apples. 

I asked someone working in the produce section why the sign promoted local watermelons when they were from Honduras. She told me the sign was a preview of what local produce would be available. 

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen produce in a grocery store advertised as local that didn’t meet my definition. Several years ago, I found peaches labeled local in a different chain’s store. I asked and found out they were Georgia peaches.  Nothing against Georgia, but that doesn’t meet my definition of local.   

As a farmer, I applaud retail stores for purchasing from local farmers. Personally, I think sourcing locally should be an industry standard.  

As a consumer, I look for products grown in my state. However, as these trips show, consumers need to be do a little research to see if the food advertised as local meets their definition of the term. It also helps to know the growing season of fruits and vegetables for your area. In North Carolina, we can check this seasonality chart. Your state’s Department of Agriculture may have a similar one specific to where you live.

What is your definition of local when buying groceries?

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