"Haywood" Brand for Local Produce
Haywood shows off produce
by Josh Boatwright
December 7, 2006 12:15 am
WAYNESVILLE — You’ve probably heard of Idaho potatoes or Vidalia onions, but how about Haywood County tomatoes?
A local group wants to make “Haywood” the brand name for quality tomatoes and other produce grown in the area through a $60,000 marketing program.
“When you buy a tomato you don’t really know where it’s coming from,” said Bill Yarborough, an agronomist for the state department of agriculture.
“What we intend to do is have a sticker on every tomato that shows where it comes from and lets people know it’s a good, wholesome, healthy product,” he said.
Yarborough and others believe boosting the popularity of home-grown produce may give the county’s shrinking group of tomato growers an edge in an ever-expanding global market. The Golden LEAF foundation agreed, providing the funds for the 18-month program called “Buy Haywood” that will involve heavy advertising among local grocers and consumers, as well as designing a special label for the produce.
Tomato farms in the region have shrunk in recent years from 300 acres to a mere 50.
Faced with limited farmland, growers still feel pressured to produce a large volume of crop each year to make the work profitable.
Tomato grower Bill Holbrook has been growing tomatoes specifically for 13 years. Though the market varies every season, Holbrook says it is getting tougher and tougher each year to produce enough crops to make a good living.
He hopes marketing local produce may be effective because of a rising demand from consumers for premium produce.
“People come from the Southern states looking for tomatoes from our area. They want mountain tomatoes,” he said.
Holbrook remains realistic, yet hopeful about the “Buy Haywood” project. For it to be a success, he said it will take a great deal of cooperation among growers to get their best produce out in the market.
“It’s a long shot, but it’s worth taking,” Holbrook said.
Buy local - The smaller farms in Western North Carolina may not produce huge quantity, but they do produce quality. That’s what farmers need to emphasize, according to Stephanie Wise, marketing specialist for the state Department of Agriculture.
Health food stores like Earth Fare and Fresh Market in the Asheville area demonstrate a big demand in the region for local, organic foods, Wise said.
“Folks are really in tune with things being local versus being shipped in. They realize it’s fresher, and because it’s fresher, it’s probably picked at a prime time, so the taste is better,” she said.
Hunger for one mountain fruit even draws lots of people from out of state each year, Wise said. The logo “NC Apples” brings many visitors to Henderson County who have come to associate the North Carolina name with tasty apples.
One of the state’s premiere tomato breeders, Randy Gardner, is working on creating a new kind of tomato that Wise hopes will bring people to Haywood County for the same reasons they visit Henderson. It doesn’t have a name, but she compares it to the heirloom variety; those round, thin-skinned tomatoes that are traditionally grown in a garden. They don’t ship as well as tougher, greenhouse-grown tomatoes, but they keep a lot more flavor and are well suited for local sale, she said.
A tomato success story - Fame of the tomatoes grown in nearby Grainger County, Tenn., has reached well beyond its state borders. Some tomato growers in this mostly rural county located just west of North Carolina ship their produce to buyers as far away as the Northeast and Midwest.
Locals say they have a distinct flavor, created by the added acidity in the soils around Cherokee Lake where many of the area’s tomato farms are located.
Their popularity became so great over the years that the county established a festival in honor of the fruit. Fifteen years running, the Grainger County Tomato Festival began with only a few growers and a couple of booths for vendors.
This past summer, the festival drew about 30,000 visitors over two days.
Grainger County only has one motel.
“Our only claim to fame in Grainger county is tomatoes. We don’t have any industry, we don’t have any rock stars, we don’t have any movie stars, just tomatoes,” said James Clark, chairman of the tomato festival for the past two years.
Clark said the grower that gets their tomatoes out first in the season can get $100 a bushel (60 pounds). Tomatoes have replaced tobacco as the big money crop in the area, he said.
“If you find something that works, you stick with it,” Clark said.
“Buy Haywood” aims to have their tomatoes out in test markets as early as this summer.
The project will also advertise locally grown cucumbers and peppers.