One fateful morning, a local chef was strolling through the season’s freshest at the farmers market. He was always hunting for new local farms to supply his restaurant where he prefers to serve local fare. That day, he found it. Smitten with the most delicious blueberries he had ever tasted, he immediately called his local distributor, Capitol City Produce, to find out if they could work with that local farm to supply his restaurant with those amazing berries.
This was the lightbulb moment. These days, local produce has gained in popularity as much as organic. It became clear that for Capitol City Produce to meet their customers’ desire for more local produce, they would have to help the farmers to gain scale. Growing their operation from the weekend market to full-scale distribution is a difficult path for farmers to navigate, so Capitol City Produce found a solution; connecting these promising farmers with the resources they needed to grow.
While Capitol City Produce has always supported local farms like the Liuzza Produce Farm in Independence, they have now made growing their partnerships with local farms a much larger part of their mission. President, Darin Arceneaux, told us how this project has grown into one with greater purpose.
“Supporting local farmers with both the resources for growing their farms and a distribution network for their produce, is rewarding on so many levels,” Darin said. “We feel good about helping to build a community of local farms, certified for food safety, while also supporting our local economy. Offering local produce, through our local family-owned business, to local restaurants, serving local people with safe, fresh, local produce feels really good. All the dots of our community are connecting. And when that local produce gets in the hands of a local chef, well, we all know the magic they create with food!”
Capitol City Produce acts as a connector for the farmer to their customer. They purchase locally grown produce directly from the farm, then sell them to a variety of customers like restaurants, schools, hospitals, universities, grocery stores and more. Beginning with the end distribution in mind, Director of Special Projects, Terreca Bates-Wells, makes certain their farmers have the resources and connections they need to grow and become a Capitol City Produce local supplier. Even if a farm can produce the quantities necessary for distribution, there are other requirements to consider when trying to gain market entry. Capitol City Produce understands that small businesses need support and they lend the necessary help because they too still feel like a small family business.
As of 2014, Capitol City Produce had long-term partnerships with seven local farms but quickly realized this was not enough to supply the demand. The Local Farm Initiative was Capitol City Produce’s response, which would be responsible for identifying farms, assisting with food safety certification, introducing them to our customers and offering small business support through their community partners.
“In 2018, we partnered with several agencies to help our farmers gain access to the market quicker such as CLEDA and the LSU AgCenter. Our ultimate goal is to be able to start distributing a farm’s produce in less than 30 days after our initial meeting,” Terreca said.
Capitol City Produce is currently working with 14 local farms in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. They have plans of adding at least nine additional farms that are growing new and exciting items like golden zucchini, white sweet potatoes, micro greens and specialty peppers. Click here for more information about Capitol City Produce and the amazing things they are doing in the Baton Rouge community.
LOCAL FARM INITIATIVE HELPS
Learn regulatory laws and standards
-Department of Agriculture
-Department of Health and Human Services
-United States Food and Drug Administration
-Make a clearly established food safety plan.
-Document that they have an appropriate water source to wash produce.
-Provide product liability insurance.
-Certificates that back up any claims they make about their product like an organic certification if they are selling organic produce.
Meet packaging standards
-When distributors are handling products in bulk, they need to protect and handle it efficiently.
-Packing must be durable and standardized in terms of weight or count in each box.
-Products must be labeled with their farm name and a lot number so that the product can be traced back to the field and harvest date, in case of any safety or quality concerns.