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Pundit’s Mailbag — 
The Local Conundrum
Is What We Really Have A Failure To Communicate?
We Need Each Other To Boost Consumption

Producers outside New Jersey are watching with interest what the Garden State does in defining local.

Our piece, New Jersey Prepares To Define Local, But Do We Need To Penalize Retailers? How The Initiative Will Hurt Jersey Farmers And Consumers Vic Savanello Speaks Out, along with our follow-up piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Jersey Fresh: Local Before Local Was Local! Can Vic Savanello And Beth Feehan Find Common Ground? Do Consumers Actually Need An Official Definition For Everything? — brought a comment from a producer who has contributed to Pundit pieces such as these:

Pundit’s Mailbag — Kudos To Wegmans And An Industry Willing To Work Together

Pundit’s Mailbag — Green Acres Is The Place To Be?!?

Pundit’s Mailbag — Flavor Consistency

Pundit’s Mailbag — Temperature Monitoring

Perishable Thoughts — Politics And Cynicism

Pundit’s Mailbag — Retailers Should Pay For What They Say They Want

Pundit’s Mailbag — No Matter What Growers, Shippers Or Retailers Do About Food Safety, ‘You Will Be Sued’

Pundit’s Mailbag – Who Should Pay When Bananas Are The Focus Of A Store’s Promotional Effort?

Here is what he had to say on this issue:

I am not a great writer as I have a tendency to write from the heart and not the head but here goes:

I have to agree with Vic Savanello.  Though what we really have here is a failure to communicate.

The American farmer, the men and women who grow the healthiest, safest fruits and vegetables in the world — without Government subsidies like half the farmers behind program crops, what we call welfare farmers — are being hit by lefts, rights and uppercuts and have no one to hit back at.

A bad law or regulation is not going to help New Jersey or any other states; we all know politicians will pass anything for a vote or do nothing for a vote. Politicians do not change from state to state.

The New Jersey growers, like most of us, are frustrated, and they are grasping for help — good, bad or indifferent.

As the Pundit has pointed out many times before, there is a big question for the industry to confront: Will a grower who is doing a better job actually get a profitable return on the investment required to do this job, or will he still have to match prices from Mexico, China or just from bad growers domestically.

Locally grown is a great marketing tool, and we have been using O’Brien Family Farms labels for years to convey that message — even if our product from Florida is out of state, even if it is being sold in New Jersey.

Marketing is a great tool, but in the end it is the customer who makes the final decision and from my experience (and I’m old and have worked both sides) the customer wants fresh, healthy, good-tasting, safe and American grown fruits and vegetables locally or from an OBFF (online best friend forever) 1,000 miles away.

So God Bless the farmer AND the retailer, wholesaler, foodservice provider and everyone else who is stepping up and meeting the difficult challenges that lay ahead of us. In other words, we need each other to keep the customer coming back and enjoying produce 10 times a day.

—Tom O’Brien
C&D Fruit and Vegetable
Bradenton, Florida

The question comes down to this: What are consumers really aiming to achieve by buying local? If, as Tom suggests, they want American produce, well why can’t Hawaiian Pineapples or California and Florida avocados all be “local” — if these are the closest domestic sources of these products.

The problem with creating legal definitions is they are inherently arbitrary. Look at the organic rules.  There is no basis for banning GMO product from organics. Hybridization is allowed under organic rules, so why would the tools used to achieve hybridization matter? It is marketing.

This wouldn’t be a problem if a private organization undertook it. In other words, anyone can form an organization, establish a logo, create rules for being marketed under that logo and prevent those who don’t conform to the rules from marketing their product under that logo.

But allowing the government to establish these standards gives them a special weight — this is what organic is or this is what local is — that really isn’t merited. It is just telling us who is politically powerful in this particular sphere, not who or what is right.

We thank Tom for weighing in on this important issue.

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