Duane Smith, left, discusses his rice and crawfish operation with growers as Terreca Bates-Wells, the director of special projects at Capitol City Produce, right, looks on during the Meet the Buyer Day hosted by the LSU and Southern University ag centers in St. Landry Parish on Aug. 6. Smith is considering adding strawberries to his rice and crawfish operation. (Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter)
Kevin Cazeaux, the local produce buyer for Rouses Markets, right, discusses with a small farmer the type produce he’s in search of during the LSU and Southern University ag centers’ Meet the Buyer Day in St. Landry Parish on Aug. 6. (Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter)
A group of next-generation St. Landry Parish farmers discuss crops they need to grow to meet the demand of produce buyers. The growers were participating in the LSU and Southern University ag centers’ Meet the Buyer meeting in Opelousas on Aug. 6. (Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter)
Ag centers bring buyers to small farmers
Small-scale vegetable growers in St. Landry Parish recently met face-to-face with major produce buyers in the area to discuss ways to market their produce.
Many times small farmers are left out of the equation when produce buyers go looking for products to buy, said LSU AgCenter extension associate Alessandro Holzapfel.
Holzapfel, along with Antonio Harris, director of sustainable agriculture and rural development with the Southern University Ag Center, coordinated the Meet the Buyer Day in Opelousas.
Harris said the goal of the meeting was two-fold.
“First, we wanted to get the producers to have a conversation with the buyers from Rouses Supermarket and Capitol City Produce, and then we wanted them to learn what type produce the buyers are looking for,” he said.
Many small farmers have gotten in the habit of planting certain crops without knowing what the market demands, he said.
“We want the growers to have first-hand knowledge of the demand from the market, and this may cause some of them to expand, stay where you are or to diversify,” Harris said.
Terreca Bates-Wells, director of special projects at Capitol City Produce, said she is always looking to partner with local farmers.
“We realize that connecting with growers is often a grassroots effort, and it takes the help of the LSU and Southern ag centers to make the connection through their outreach efforts,” she said.
Two of the main challenges she runs into when dealing with small farms is that they don’t have their food safety certification and they are not always sure of the best items to grow. So they tend to grow what they are used to growing.
“This is not good because I have to buy what the market demands,” she said. “We’re looking for yellow fresh corn, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, watermelons and all the greens.”
Kevin Cazeaux, the local produce buyer for Rouses Markets, said he found a good bit of okra and possibly some purple hull peas.
“I’m here to get to know some of the growers in this area and to see what they are growing or can grow that we can use,” he said.
William Lavergne, a young local producer who is getting started in the business, said he came to learn what the demand is and to get a good idea of how to price his produce.
“What I’m actually doing is R&D (research and development) work for a company that my business partner and I are starting up, and we wanted to make sure that we’re growing what the demand calls for,” he said.
Holzapfel said they want the growers to listen to the buyers, who say they are looking for a number of specialty crops like eggplant, cucumber, pumpkins and strawberries.
“Many of these farmers have the land. And instead of telling them to cut some of the crops they grow now to grow new crops, we are showing them how they can actually add to the crops they grow,” he said.
During the meeting the growers and buyers visited four local farms, which consisted of three small produce growers and one large-scale rice and crawfish producer, who is looking into adding strawberries to his operation.
“The next step in the process will be to have the growers sit down one-on-one and face-to-face with the buyers to find out what they need,” Harris said.