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TMCNet:  Bringing the produce to market - online

[January 18, 2013]

Bringing the produce to market - online

Jan 18, 2013 (The Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- One business is striving to erase the miles between farmers and consumers with their version of an online farmers' market.

Backyard Produce is a company that originated in Raleigh and Greensboro, and over the last couple of years has expanded to Charlotte -- and now the Wilmington and Jacksonville areas.

Ben Stone, the owner of Backyard Produce, said the company began delivering in Jacksonville on Jan. 8.

"We had a pretty good response," he said.

Stone said the main mission of the company is to bring farmers and consumers closer together.

"Being across the state, we can offer produce from Charlotte and Ashville to Jacksonville residents and produce from Jacksonville to Charlotte and Ashville residents," he said. "Our mission is to support the local economy more than anything -- to keep the dollars in our state and in our community." Stone said that he believes that people buying fresh and local N.C. foods may encourage them to cook more.
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"If people are cooking more, they are bringing families back together," he said. "People want organic, so why not take it to the next step and deliver it to your door " Stone said that North Carolina has a unique growing season -- it is long because there are three distinct climates: the coastal area, the piedmont and the mountains.

"For example, you start growing strawberries in the coastal area, a few weeks later in the piedmont and a few weeks after that in the mountains," he said.

This extends the season.

The program works on a points system. Customers can select one of four price tiers, which allows them so many points. They can then build their weekly basket based on the points available. Stone said customers also have the option of selecting a variety basket or keeping their basket on hold for that week.

The North Carolina produce available on the site can be organic or conventional, and the site is supplemented with organically grown produce from out-of-state; products that Stone says can't be found in North Carolina.

There are several different types of greens and other produce in season right now in the state.: kale, herbs, beets, collards, baby greens, bok choy, broccoli florets, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, turnip greens, cabbage and radishes.

Stone said they will have greenhouse tomatoes available from Elizabethtown in February.

"There is a pretty substantial movement in NC to start greenhouses and grow year round," he said. "That is going to increase our ability to offer NC produce, even in the winter." The company made 75 delivers to Jacksonville this past week, and Stone said another 50 had already signed up for deliveries in the coming week.

"We're haven't started working with farmers in the Onslow area," Stone said. "This is our first week in Jacksonville. We'd like to send a van to Jacksonville with our customer's produce and bring back produce from our farmers. We don't like to have an empty load because it isn't green." Katherine Benoit, the Farmer's Market Co-Manager for the N.C. Cooperative Extension in Onslow County, said that a business like this could have a positive or a negative effect on local farmers.

"Any time you expand your customer base and the number you are able to reach out to, it is going to boost your sales," she said. However, she added, "It could negatively affect farmers in our area," she said. "(The Backyard Produce) customer base is in our area where local farmers do business. With other products being brought in, it is competition." Benoit also thought that an online farmers' market could take away from the personal relationship that farmers get to build with their local clientele. She did say that the service will definitely benefit farmers who are certified organic and need to be able to reach that wider market.

Stone said that while he understands the concern, the added competition locally is offset by a larger client base throughout the state.

"People can decide who they want to support," Stone said. "The farmers who are at the markets now, we can get on board with them. While it is competition in the direct area, it increases the area that they can sell to as well." Those who want to learn more about Backyard Produce can visit their website at byproduce.com. The order page is open Thursdays through Saturdays, with orders going out to Onslow County residents the following Tuesday.

Contact Daily News Reporter Tabitha Clark at 910-219-8454 orTabitha.Clark@jdnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @TabithaLClark or friend her on Facebook.

___ (c)2013 The Daily News (Jacksonville, N.C.) Visit The Daily News (Jacksonville, N.C.) at www.jdnews.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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