FreshPoint’s Dan Batchelder explaining grading requirements to a producer at a recent Postharvest Handling workshop.

April 2016 — NC Growing Together is bringing together small-scale farmers and food service and retail buyers for capacity-building along the local food supply chain. Events such as Grower-Buyer Mixers and Postharvest Handling Workshops provide opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and facilitate business connections that benefit everyone.

NCGT partners Lowes Foods, Foster-Caviness, and new NCGT partner FreshPoint have participated in several of these events. FreshPoint Senior Vice President Chris Woodring originally made the connection with NCGT and has participated in several NCGT-sponsored panel discussions and Grower-Buyer meetings. “It has been great for FreshPoint to hear ideas from growers at these meetings and share our knowledge of food service pack sizes and the complete chain from farm to fork,” he says.

FreshPoint’s VP of Sales, Dan Batchelder and Purchasing Manager, Kelly Smith, recently attended an NCGT Postharvest Handling workshop in Durham. Smith notes that what sets a local grower apart — and helps justify adding them as a new vendor — is when they are able to provide high-demand specialty crops as well as staples like kale and sweet potatoes. “Local growers can respond quickly and provide niche items in demand by high-end chefs, and while we’re picking [those] up we can also get our staples like kale and sweet potatoes,” she explains. At the recent Durham event, Smith was able to share with attendees the specialty items that are currently in demand, including baby turnips, green strawberries, and edible flowers.

Smith also notes that interacting with local farmers allows her to share the different requirements for produce destined for food service versus retail markets. For example, produce does not have to be cosmetically perfect to be marketable to chefs — who will chop and cook the ingredients and care more about the product’s taste — whereas cosmetically imperfect produce cannot be accepted in most retail environments. FreshPoint’s UBU (Unusual But Usable) program separates cosmetically imperfect produce and markets it for the farmer — helping to move product that otherwise might be a financial loss for farmers. “It’s a win-win,” Smith says.

FreshPoint will be hosting an NC Growing Together apprentice in Summer 2016 whose sole focus will be bringing on 8 new local farmers over the course of the summer. Smith says North Carolina represents a “huge area of opportunity” due to its climate and location. “Really it’s our future — the more we are able to support local farmers, it helps everyone, including consumers, and helps to support our local economy,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 NC Growing Together Newsletter.