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The secret to local, organic success in Michigan

Organic items as well as locally sourced commodities continue to climb in popularity in Michigan.

Dominic Riggio, president of Riggio Distribution Company, Detroit, BB #:104709 also points out how much demand is driven by holidays, from Thanksgiving and New Year’s to Valentine’s Day and Cinco de Mayo—most everything sells well across multiple categories during the holidays.

According to Riggio, New Year’s tends to emphasize healthy eating, including plenty of vegetables and salad items, while Valentine’s Day guarantees robust demand for strawberries.

Organic Ascent
A number of distributors carry organic, with Riggio stocking around 100 different items on a fairly consistent basis due to growth of the category. In addition, Riggio explains, “The stabilization of availability and price in organics has helped sales and consistency.”

Dominic Russo, a buyer for Rocky Produce, Inc., Detroit, BB #:104786 echoes the observation, citing “slow and steady growth” in organics.

And another regional business, Mike Pirrone Produce, Inc., a grower in Capac, MI, BB #:105238 is handling an expanding line of organics.

According to Matt DeBlouw, director of operations at Mike Pirrone Produce, the company plans to double its acreage this year, triple it in two years, and have five times the current amount of organic acreage in three years.

“It’s better for the environment and we’re proud to be taking this step—it’s a leap forward,” said DeBlouw.

Local Allure
Grow Eastern Market, which entered its third season this year, is living up to its motto: “Dirt. Dock. Door.”

Known as Detroit’s Locavore Wholesale Connection, the market is reaching its aspirations of supporting the state’s small growers while assisting wholesalers who desire a wider range of local produce options.

“Grow Eastern Market has been well received by restaurants and retail partners here in Detroit metro,” said program manager Caroline Michniak. “Food hubs like this program are gaining traction across the United States as a way for farmers to share resources and logistics.”

Michniak said the group is working to increase access to locally grown items by optimizing both communication and financial processes to eliminate unnecessary duplication.

Grow Eastern Market offers a wide array of produce, but also specializes in niche and harder to find items like heirloom tomatoes, specialty greens, and what Michniak calls “flavor-driven vegetable varieties”—items chefs and retailers alike are excited to procure from smaller southeastern Michigan growers.

“This past season we expanded to a twice-a-week delivery schedule to better serve the needs of our restaurant clientele,” Michniak said.

The Market has also improved operations and cool chain efficiency with a new refrigerated van. “We’re focused on continuing to expand our offerings while training small farmers about the processes of wholesaling their products to a wider market.”

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full version.