Promoting Local: What State Departments of Ag Can Offer

Hannaford Supermarkets, based in Scarborough, ME, participates in state branded programs in several states. It highlights local produce through these programs whenever it can. For example, in this Albany, NY, store, local produce is highlighted with a sign indicating the name of the farm and the city and state in which it was grown.

State branded programs have been supporting the local fresh produce message for decades, even before local became a fad.

Originally printed in the May 2023 issue of Produce Business.

Buying local continues to trend, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA NASS) reports in 2020 farmers produced and sold $9 billion of local edible food commodities. Promotion programs through state entities have helped growers for decades and continue to evolve, expand and gain more visibility as growers, retailers and even wholesalers look to capitalize.

State programs such as NYS Grown & Certified help create alignment among consumers, growers, producers, regulators and retailers on what is considered local to them and of good quality, explains Kimberly Kuusela, local merchandising specialist for Hannaford Supermarkets in Scarborough, ME. “We strive to offer local products that resonate with our consumers in all 185 of our stores.”

Such programs are important because retailers should be promoting produce from the state they’re in, asserts Brian Gibbons, produce director at Highland Park Market in Farmington, CT, with three stores.

“You should be able to make great relationships and partner with local farmers,” he says. “For us, it is more than buying local — we try to really push the CT Grown.”

Growers find these programs an easy way to amp up promotion and outreach. “We participate in the Pick Tennessee Products, because it reaches statewide and is an outstanding way to promote our produce at no cost,” says George McDonald of fourth-generation Catesa Farms in Riddleton, TN. “Growers who participate in the program have their names in front of thousands of customers, and customers can go to one place to select growers in their area and see what products they have to offer.”

The Jersey Fresh program is a great resource for Procacci Brothers Sales Corp. in Philadelphia, both as a grower and a wholesaler, explains Rick Feighery, vice president of sales.

“The whole program just has so much to offer,” he says. “As a grower, we use it to support marketing our products. The logo has a great deal of consumer recognition. As a wholesaler, we can really utilize a lot of tools and information, from signage to gaining contact with local growers.”

Consumers are the driving force for local promotion, according to Richard A. Ball, commissioner of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets in Albany, NY. “They’re looking for local products,” Ball says. “It’s not unusual for us to do a promotion and then have retailers calling us to find out where they can get it because their shoppers are asking for it.”


Almost every state has some type of ag promotion program, from CT Grown to Georgia Grown to California Grown. Most programs are state-funded, with some exceptions. California Grown is funded through public and private contributions. In New Jersey, growers pay to enroll in the Jersey Fresh program, and the program also receives some state funding and USDA agricultural marketing grants, according to Douglas Fisher, secretary of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) in Trenton, NJ.

The Jersey Fresh brand, implemented in 1984, has evolved to become an internationally known brand.

Programs vary in implementation and offerings. Arizona Grown requires a local producer to apply and be approved for participation. “Then, the Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA) sends them templates for signage and labels they can print to market their products as locally grown,” explains Heather Flowers, AZDA assistant director of strategic initiatives and policy in Phoenix.

California Grown, also known as the Buy California Marketing Agreement (BCMA), was created in 2001 to promote all California-grown agricultural products. “Through creative marketing, effective storytelling and leveraging of the brand, this organization is reaching millions of consumers,” says Cherie Watte, executive director.

The Jersey Fresh brand, implemented in 1984, has evolved to become an internationally known brand. “Our hyper-targeted media promotes crops grown in New Jersey as they come into season,” says Fisher.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) in Tallahassee, FL, has marketed Florida commodities with the Fresh From Florida program since 1990. “During peak season, Fresh From Florida runs an integrated marketing campaign engaging consumers and driving them to purchase Florida produce,” says Susie McKinley, director of marketing and development. “FDACS has retail relationships in more than 26 countries, with 100-plus retail partners operating over 12,000 stores.”

North Carolina’s promotion started in earnest in 1985 and, over time, has enveloped more aspects of agriculture, including wholesale and retail buyer opportunities. North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) Marketing Division in Raleigh, NC, holds several events, such as event days at markets and Flavors Of Carolina to link buyers and growers.

“We also do in-store signage and flier promotion with stores as well as the Certified Roadside Farm Market,” says Kevin Hardison, ag marketing specialist. “Marketing materials and displays are provided by the Got To Be NC program.”

South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDA) in Columbia, SC, launched Certified South Carolina in 2007. Members can use the logo on products and in marketing. “We promote Certified South Carolina as a whole through social media, advertising, events, sponsorships and more,” says Katie Rees, market development director.

The Pick Tennessee Products (PTP) program was developed in 1987 to connect consumers and retailers directly with producers. “Marketing and advertising focus on directing consumers and retailers to the comprehensive PTP directories on the website and mobile app,” says Andy Holt, assistant commissioner for business development at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Pick Tennessee Products Program in Nashville, TN.


Some state programs back their promotions by offering production certification assistance. Tennessee offers a Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) cost-share for producers seeking GAP certification. South Carolina’s new GAP Outreach Program provides guidance and cost-share grants to farmers as they seek GAP certification. It also offers support for organic certification, packaging, trade show participation and cold storage solutions, says Rees.

Commissioner Ball explains New York State Grown & Certified is the first statewide, multi-faceted food certification program. “It is designed to build awareness and confidence in New York State branded agricultural products,” he says. “We wanted to elevate our program, so we added a few more criteria than just being a New York producer. Our participating growers must have an audited food safety program and an environmental stewardship plan.”

Hannaford operates 52 stores in New York and works with the NYS Grown & Certified program. “For Hannaford, knowing a product is made, grown or produced by a member who has the NYS Grown & Certified seal gives us a sense of confidence that the products we seek and offer our consumers are authentically local and, imperatively, safe to consume,” says Kuusela.

Educating consumers on the value a seal such as NYS Grown & Certified adds to a product goes a long way in helping create authenticity, alignment and support for local growers, explains Kuusela.
“It means more having it come from a trusted and regulatory source,” she says.


Growers and retailers alike benefit from a state program logo on a label. By seeing a picture of the actual grower and the Pick Tennessee Products logo, customers can buy with confidence, states Catesa’s McDonald. “It helps validate who the grower is,” he says.

Watte notes California growers benefit from the California Grown brand. “It’s a successful marketing tool, a consumer call to action encouraging them to make a conscious choice to purchase California Grown and embrace the California lifestyle,” she says.

Each year, Jersey Fresh creates a new theme tied to current sentiments and preferences. “For the 2023 season, the theme is Grown Right. Here,” says Secretary Fisher. “The message makes it clear the product is grown, picked and packed right here in New Jersey. Also, due to New Jersey legislation passed last year, if a retailer lists produce as being locally grown, it means it was grown in New Jersey.”

Florida growers benefit from the widely recognized Fresh From Florida brand when they display the logo on their packaging, McKinley says. “Surveys indicate nine out of 10 consumers are more likely to buy products labeled Fresh From Florida, and 83% are willing to pay more for products labeled Fresh From Florida.”


Television, radio and social media platforms help programs reach shoppers directly. New York State will be actively marketing through a campaign that includes television, print, radio and targeted internet advertising. “The campaign will encourage New York State consumers to look for the NYS Grown & Certified seal and drive them to retailers that stock those products,” says Commissioner Ball. “We’ve served somewhere around 15 million ads.”

Jersey Fresh uses Facebook, Instagram and Twitter on a daily basis and is constantly interacting with followers and influencers. “One example from 2021 is when we connected with Chef Amanda Freitag from the Food Network on social media and, after further discussions, filmed a Jersey Fresh recipe video series together,” says Secretary Fisher. “Jersey Fresh Four Ways highlighted tomatoes, squash, peaches and corn, and resulted in 16 unique recipes created by Chef Amanda.”

Social media, particularly Instagram and Facebook, have become crucial at Certified South Carolina. “The Certified South Carolina brand now enjoys a 78% to 80% recognition rate among in-state consumers,” says Rees. “This past year, we launched a consumer education campaign with the help of some Specialty Crop Block Grant funding. The goal of this project is to go beyond raising awareness of seasonal produce and teach consumers about country of origin labeling, how to select and store fresh produce, how certain crops are grown and more.”

FDACS has launched a statewide radio campaign promoting seasonal produce and a supporting social media campaign. “The campaign is designed to increase brand awareness and keep Florida products top of mind for shoppers,” says McKinley.

“Fresh From Florida has more than 545,000 social media followers and nearly 100,000 email subscribers,” she says. “Our social media features seasonal commodities, new recipes, cooking videos and behind-the-scenes Florida farmer videos. Last year, the farmer selfie videos had over 17 million views.”

Pick Tennessee Products has developed a series of ads focusing on Tennessee farm families and the importance of buying local and supporting local economies. “These ads are reinforced with social media posts,” says Holt. “PTP has a strong social media presence focusing on members across the state.”

Watte shares that California Grown is extremely active on a number of social platforms. “We have a team of California Grown creators (influencers) we work with on a regular basis to promote California Grown fruits and vegetables,” she says.