Organic and Local? Yes, It's Possible!07/01/2007
The “Organic v. Local” story in the summer issue of Edible Portland has generated a lot of discussion. Some people, rightly so I might add, are asking, “Wait a minute, why can’t it be local AND organic!?” Of course we can have local AND organic. In fact, you need look no farther than Lizzy Caston’s story about Ladybug Brand Organics for proof. I love this story because it demonstrates that we’re getting closer to "mainstreaming" local organic – not just organic produced en masse in places far from home.
OGC Marketing Director David Lively explains, “This allows local produce to be better distributed locally along with other organic produce, and as Ladybug is also offered to wholesalers throughout the U.S., it allows small Northwest farms a better chance for an increased market share.” These are crops our region is known to grow well, such as berries, onions so sweet you can eat them like apples, heirloom potatoes, cranberries, root vegetables, and greens.
On less than 10 acres of certified organic land, Fir Oak grows a variety of top quality produce, but is known for its outstanding blueberries and mouthwatering heirloom cherry tomatoes, such as Sweet 100s and Sun Golds. “Ladybug has definitely helped our farm,” JC states, “we realized that we have no market here in Douglas county, and Ladybug has allowed us to continually expand northward, thus allowing us new and specialty niche markets to keep us going.”
But there is more to it than just the business component. Many Ladybug growers cite ethics and the feeling of community, support, and trust that comes along with membership. “It’s convivial; it’s about helping people stay healthy; it’s about culture,” says Chambers.
Jamie Kitzrow of Spring Hill Farm in Albany, Oregon sells about half of his product through Ladybug and half directly at farmers’ markets. Kitzrow says that selling at the market gives him instant feedback from consumers. He brings this information back to other farmers in the Ladybug group, strengthening the business for everyone involved. Spring Hill specializes in popular greens, like spinach and collards, and lesser known greens, including watercress and rare chards.
Kitzrow loves that Ladybug represents top quality, and he thrives on the camaraderie of the cooperative. “Ladybug encourages me to challenge myself and refine my techniques. I am constantly learning.”
Cooperative not Competitive
Farmers make decisions together on what crops are in demand and will be profitable, determine emerging specialty niche markets, learn from each other, and decide how to stagger their crops so that each is cooperating and not competing. For instance, tomatoes in southern Oregon ripen earlier than those in the Willamette Valley. By coordinating crop times and specialty niche types (such as different heirloom varieties), each farm is successful.
It’s this combination of a cooperative business practices plus the sheer number of farms involved that makes Ladybug different from almost all other cooperative organic wholesalers in the nation. And with sales that have grown to be as high as $4 million annually, accounting for over 25% of OGC’s total sales, Ladybug is no small crop of potatoes.
Each year new farmers are added to the cooperative to keep up with growing consumer demand for quality organic produce grown locally. As David Lively says, “Brand success comes partly from fact that OGC has strong marketing reach making it available to many outlets selling organic; partly from its position as a regional brand; and partly because people have come to associate Ladybug with such high quality food.” That’s something very special indeed.
Lizzy Caston is a writer, urban planner, and business consultant. She shares her small northeast Portland home with her dog Mabel and three lovely hens: Flossie, Fiona, and Fidget.
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