It’s harvest time for some of the local crops. The fields are ripe with homegrown produce. Some supermarkets are advertising homegrown vegetables for sale. But some supermarkets define “homegrown” a lot differently than you might think. As part of an ongoing series called, “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak reports on some misleading marketing that’s hurting local farmers:
It’s harvest time for some of the local crops. The fields are ripe with homegrown
produce. Some supermarkets are advertising homegrown vegetables for sale. But some
supermarkets define “homegrown” a lot differently than you might think. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak reports on some misleading marketing that’s
hurting local farmers:
(sound of market)
This time of year you can find the true veggie-lovers at the roadside stands and
farmers markets. Here you can fill your bags with vegetables and fruits so fresh
from the field that they’re still warm from the sun.
But many people racing between work and home don’t have time to make an extra
shopping trip. And they don’t have to. They can pick up the same succulent,
homegrown produce right at the local supermarket.
At least that’s what the stores advertise. Shelley Stieger shops at the
supermarkets. She says she’s been a bit disappointed by her grocery store’s
“My impression from the ad would be that they’d be from around here – but I don’t
think they are.”
JK: “Why is that? What do you base that on?”
“Well, I bought some tomatoes the other day and it said homegrown. I thought they
were. But I got them home and they aren’t homegrown tomatoes. They still taste like
plastic tomatoes, so they’re not.”
That all kind of depends on your definition of homegrown. The tomatoes that Stieger
bought were homegrown in New Jersey. But Stieger lives in western New York. Where
she lives, the tomatoes were still pretty green on the vine. And the homegrown
eggplant that her store advertised in its flyer? That local crop won’t be ready for
another week. The plump, purple eggplant in the produce section now is actually
from out of state. Stephanie Zakowicz is a
spokesperson for the supermarket chain Tops.
“For Tops, our definition of homegrown is anything grown within a 250 mile radius of
the store. And this year with the weather not cooperating as much with our farmers
as usual, unfortunately, when our ads are produced so far in advance, sometimes the
product doesn’t get delivered and we
need to procure it elsewhere.”
Tops may not be alone. Other supermarket chains may also be defining homegrown a
little far a field.
When shoppers learn about the broader definition, they’re usually not very happy.
Zakowicz says Tops puts signs in the stores saying where their produce comes from.
But apparently a lot of people never see the signs. It was news to the people who
have been calling county politician Jeanne Chase. She says her constituents feel
they’ve been fooled.
“They were very concerned. Because they read when it says homegrown produce and
they get a very warm and fuzzy feeling, because they assume they know the people who
are growing the produce and that it’s really being grown in their county, in their
own backyard, so to speak. And they were a little outraged to find out it was being
grown in Pennsylvania or New Jersey’s backyard.”
Zakowicz from Tops says supermarkets really don’t have a choice. It’s a question of
supply and demand. People now expect year-round access to their favorite produce.
And this year’s particularly wet season has prevented local farmers from bringing
those crops in on time – or in peak condition.
Bill Zittel’s family has been farming in Eden for about a hundred years. Zittel
says the definition of homegrown isn’t the only thing that’s changing. When stores
can’t get local produce because isn’t yet in season, they buy from out-of-state
instead. Zittel says that might leave local farmers with nowhere to sell their
crops once they are ready.
“There’s a fine line between production, quality, what you have to sell the product
for, and who’s going to buy it. The end result is you can produce all the food you
want, but if there’s nobody to buy it, then you might as well not do it, because
it’s going to go to waste.”
Bottomline, Zittel says it’s difficult to compete with growers from warmer climates
that get multiple growing seasons. Great Lakes states get one – and in northern
areas, it’s a very short one. Still, local shoppers expect the sweet corn they buy
in late summer to be local… not the second or third crop of the season shipped in
Despite the disagreement about the use of the term “homegrown,” Stephanie Zakowicz
from Tops says the supermarket chain is committed to local farmers.
“It’s a high priority for us to supply our customers with homegrown products.
They’re wonderful. Our customers look for them. And we try to work with our farmers
to get as much as we can, as long as they meet our quality standards.”
And apparently, only if they meet the timing of their ads.
So, if it’s important to you that your produce is truly locally “homegrown,” it’s a
good idea to check the fine print. Most supermarket chains say “homegrown” produce
should have a sign declaring near whose home it was grown.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Joyce Kryszak.