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Pine River Family Market to offer local produce

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This summer the Pine River Family Market could carry produce grown by your neighbors.

Owner Chuck Welte and Produce Manager Carl Anderson are gearing up for a summer of local produce. The first steps to getting local food in the store include research into regulations as well as gathering willing growers.

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“I think we’re going to have some greens like a lettuce product. There are going to be berries. People grow berries and have berry farms anyway. There are people that have emailed here now and have products. We would have to get together and find out if it matches with the store,” said Anderson.

“I’m thinking tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, beans or peas,” Welte said.

Though it may be months before most produce is ready for harvest, Welte said his store could be accepting some varieties of produce early in the summer.

“I guess when I say as soon as possible, I’m thinking May or June. If someone had a greenhouse or something, definitely as soon as something is ready this summer,” Welte said.

In the meantime, Welte and Anderson are taking these cold months to research any regulations that might be imposed on local produce. They are consulting with the health inspector who inspects the Family Market. Consulting with the health inspector will also inform them whether they can accept cultivated mushrooms, locally produced syrup, foraged wild food or other specialty items.

“We’ll get her opinion. We certainly don’t want her calling and saying, ‘Hey, I heard you are doing this. What’s going on?’ Those are not calls you want to have, so we’ll talk to her first,” Welte said.

Welte and Anderson are determined to only sell local produce if it is safe and sanitary for clients.

Welte said he would like to work with growers who can provide enough produce to keep a designated section of the store stocked, much like chip, soda and bread vendors do. Anderson said prices would have to be fair when compared to his current line of produce, which will still be available at Family Market.

“In fact it should be the same (price) if you are going to sell it (local produce). Then people would probably prefer local produce if it was priced the same. That could work out good for people. It’s just whether that price could work for them. That’s something we’ll have to work out,” said Anderson.

Once the local produce is available at Family Market, Welte would like to keep it stocked as long as he can, meaning growers with greenhouses could potentially sell greens well into the winter. Furthermore, Welte is determined to give this local produce project a good opportunity to take hold.

“I think that with anything, you can’t just try it once. When you are in business you have to give it a solid opportunity. A one time deal isn’t really a solid opportunity. I think that we will try it a few years. If we get the right mix of vegetables, the right mix of farmers, and of course it all depends on regulations, right now it seems like everything would be fine. If it is, then this would be a positive and we could do it every year,” said Welte.

The possibility of stocking local produce came up when a customer asked about it approximately a year ago. Welte didn’t think too much about it again until his wife chaperoned a field trip to The Farm on St. Mathias near Brainerd, which sells produce to restaurants and schools in the surrounding area. Welte felt a real push toward local produce in February when the store sent customer surveys and received an overwhelming number of inquiries about local produce.

“That really got the ball rolling then. It was a little before that, but the real force was this survey. It was really something customers were interested in,” said Welte.

Travis Grimler can be reached at travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him at facebook.com/PEJTravis and on Twitter @PEJ_Travis.

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