In a nation founded on the values of hard work and entrepreneurship, we often look to industry leaders for the next game-changing idea. So it’s no surprise that I was excited to hear what the members of one of the fresh fruit and vegetable industry’s leading trade associations, United Fresh Produce Association, had to say about the future of farming in America.
At their annual Washington Public Policy Conference, United Fresh presents their “Grower Achievement Award” to honor “a role model for the industry” who has “taken agriculture to new heights in the areas of consumer-oriented marketing, technology; food quality and safety; industry leadership, and the spirit of achievement.”
So who was it that industry praised as a role model and what was the fresh idea that garnered this grower such notoriety?
Kurt Alstede runs a 500-acre vegetable, fruit, and flower farm along with a farm market, a pick-your-own operation, and an agri-entertainment business. He also supplies 25 farmers markets in the area around his New Jersey farm, and just launched his own Community Support Agriculture (CSA) program. By the end of the year, he hopes to finish certifying 10 acres of his land as organic. In response to consumer demand, he grows 250 vegetable and market varieties, translating diversification of his crops into profit. And, he communicates regularly with his customers on Facebook and Twitter, while educating them about the importance of New Jersey agriculture on his own farm’s website.
What’s so great about Alstede Farms? In the words United Fresh representative Rosemary Gordon, “Consumer driven defines Alstede Farms.” She extolled the farm as an example of how “to stay one step ahead and keep customers coming back” by realizing “the importance of knowing what consumers want and presenting them with new ideas,” giving special praise to the agritourism ventures—pick-your own, pumpkin patches, volunteer and class fieldtrip days—that Alstede Farms have used to gain additional income, and bolster urban and suburban interest in farming.
Indeed, Jeff Pomeroy of Syngenta, the sponsor of United Fresh’s “Grower Achievement Award,” emphasized that Alstede Farms has “gone beyond responding to market demands. They put an increasingly urban population back in agriculture and that’s very important. . . They’re putting voters back in touch with agriculture.” I couldn’t agree more! Kurt Alstede has taken advantage of domestic market opportunities, such as direct-sales and selling local, and has augmented his returns on these opportunities with brilliant, consumer-oriented marketing. And, he’s a leader in the agricultural industry, educating his New Jersey and New York neighbors about farming.
Deputy Secretary Merrigan appeared at the United Fresh conference to congratulate Kurt Alstede and to discuss a range of opportunities that now exist for the fresh fruit and vegetable industry.