“Organic fresh produce retail sales are at about the $5 billion mark according to a recent Organic Produce Network/Nielsen survey,” Vertrees continues, “and organic berries are playing a key role in this.” As a major berry grower, these market trends have led Naturipe Farms to expand operations in Salinas last year for both organic strawberries and blackberries.
Vertrees attributes this strong demand to shifting consumer trends. “Those of us in the industry often forget most consumers have no idea where or how their produce is grown, so we see continued interest in this as consumers rediscover the ‘roots’ of where their produce comes from.”
Plenty and Not
Despite some declines in crop numbers, the Salinas Valley is still one of incredible abundance. This land of plenty, however, doesn’t always reflect local conditions. According to the Food Bank of Monterey County, a growing portion of the region’s residents are hungry.
Ag Against Hunger, founded back in 1990, works with dozens of area growers to collect surplus produce for the county food bank, local schools, and other organizations to help feed those in need.
In the same spirit of collaboration and caring, a handful of local growers and suppliers came together back in September to gather fresh produce for victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, TX.
Another initiative works to combat inequality and hunger through a farmworker training program. The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association’s five-year Farmer Education and Enterprise Development Program is tailored to providing farmworkers with the skills and support needed to grow and sell their own organic crops in the Monterey community.
Feeling the Squeeze
For many in the industry, 2017 and early 2018 has revolved around shortages—from tight supply of some crops to labor to trucks and drivers. Pricing also fluctuated wildly from highs last spring to plummeting lows around the holiday season with amazing weather creating a glut on the supply side.
The shipping side of the coin
Despite the promise of a new year, negative effects lingered in January, especially in shipping and transportation. Sergent has been in the industry for 25 years and still can’t find the trucks he needs on a consistent basis, even with strong relationships built over the decades.
He had plenty of “trouble putting produce on trucks heading to the East Coast” early in the year, which Sergent attributes in part to the December deadline for implementing electronic logging devices in trucks.