LSU AgCenter workshops link growers with markets

Bruce Schultz  |  4/20/2017 8:55:54 PM

(04/20/17) LAFAYETTE, La – Demand for local food is increasing, and that is opening doors of opportunity for selling agricultural products to restaurants and groceries, LSU AgCenter horticulturist Carl Motsenbocker told growers at a MarketReady workshop on April 13.

About two dozen people attended the event, with more sessions planned throughout the state.

The session included information on distribution, storage, invoicing, quality assurance, marketing, working cooperatively and insurance.

“All over our country, we’re seeing support for local food,” Motsenbocker said.

He said customers want to know more about where their food originates and how it’s grown, and more restaurant staffs are asking to visit farms to see how the food is grown, he said.

Communication and relationship building is the key to doing business with restaurants and grocers, he said, and chefs require good communications with growers, usually by text message, so they will know what products will be available.

He said more school systems are opening their lunch programs to local food. A farm-to-school conference is set for Oct. 24 at the Pennington Biomedical Center in Baton Rouge.

Alessandro Holzapfel, LSU AgCenter extension associate, said Louisiana law now allows local school districts to choose local food products even if it’s not the lowest cost. Some school systems have a program to feature a local food once a month called Harvest of the Month. Farmers are brought to schools to explain how their product is grown, and students are encouraged to try new foods.

Pam Hodson, LSU AgCenter instructor, said packaging is important. Restaurants want ingredients in bulk containers. Labels should have the name of a farm, along with contact information, ingredients, nutritional information and contents, she said.

Ryan Trahan of Dark Roux restaurant in Lafayette said he relies heavily on local food vendors. “I would say 90 percent of the stuff we use is local.”

He said his restaurant doesn’t require organic food. He agreed that personal contact is essential to building a relationship. “If you come and take the time to get to know me, I’m going to buy from you.”

Celeste Hay, dietitian from the Lafayette Parish School System, said bids will be received for Louisiana rice to be used in parish schools. She said rice has come from an Arkansas cooperative in the past. “This year, we approached several area mills.”

She said the school system probably will buy local sausage also.

Patrick Morris, a buyer for the Louisiana-based Rouse’s grocery chain, said the company works with area farmers to supply the 54 stores in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He said more governmental regulations are being imposed to ensure food is safely grown and handled.

Nolan Maturin, a buyer for Kevin Guidry Produce, encouraged growers to be persistent in their efforts to sell their products to stores. “Be relentless. Keep going there. Do not get discouraged.”

Morris encouraged growers to talk with grocery buyers to find out what they need. He said local produce outsells shipped products. He said customers prefer Louisiana strawberries two-to-one at Rouse’s.

“We are interested in meeting and working with producers of fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops. We also hope to see producers of meat and dairy products and fishermen at these events.” Holzapfel said. “Anyone who is interested in learning more about how to best go about selling their products in more ways than just the local farmers market should attend.”

Other MarketReady workshops are scheduled in Monroe on April 28, Hammond on May 4, Alexandria May 10, Northwest Region (DeSoto Parish) May 11 and New Orleans May 31. Additional workshops are anticipated in Alexandria, New Orleans and Shreveport and will be announced later this year, Motsenbocker said.

Admission to the MarketReady training is free, but participants are required to register online at the following sites:

– Monroe: https://marketreadymlu.eventbrite.com

– Hammond: https://marketreadyhdc.eventbrite.com

-Alexandria: https://marketreadyaex.eventbrite.com

-Northwest Area: https://marketreadygdc.eventbrite.com

-New Orleans: https://marketreadymsy.eventbrite.com

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