Whole Foods opening energizes ag
'I think everybody is motivated for next year to plant and grow more'
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- The recent opening of a Whole Foods store in Boise has energized producers in the region.
"It's a big deal for the local producers in this state," said Arlie Sommer of Purple Sage Farms, an organic farm in Middleton that sells herbs, potatoes and winter squash to the store.
Whole Foods, a national supermarket chain headquartered in Austin, Texas, features organic and naturally produced food items and touts its array of locally produced products.
Nate Jones, owner of King's Crown Organic Farm, a 600-acre organic farm near Glenns Ferry, said the store is paying good prices for his winter squash, potatoes and onions.
"I think for those producers who are chosen to be vendors and are in the system, it's huge right now," Jones said. "I've made three deliveries to the store and it's only been open a week."
Whole Foods officials have already asked Purple Sage, King's Crown and other local farmers what additional products they can provide next year.
Sommer said Purple Sage hopes to begin selling dry beans to Whole Foods soon and believes the store's presence in Idaho will help her and other small farmers grow.
"It's an infusion to all the local producers and an incentive to produce more next year," she said. "I think everybody is motivated for next year to plant and grow more."
Whole Foods officials did not respond to questions for this story, but Idaho State Department of Agriculture officials say the local store is purchasing from at least 14 producers in the area as well as several Idaho wineries.
That list includes tomatoes, apples, squash, herbs, potatoes, milk and goat cheese, trout, poinsettias, garbanzo beans, and milk.
"It really is significant the amount of local products they're using," said Leah Clark, who manages the ISDA's Idaho Preferred program and set up more than 50 individual meetings between local vendors and Whole Foods officials earlier this year.
"They are very, very excited to have another opportunity to sell their products locally at a major retail store," Clark said. "And it's not just all little producers. There are some big ones as well."
For Jones, selling to Whole Foods could boost his bottom line by reducing costs. He ships most of his products out of state, including to Los Angeles, and only about 20 percent of the farm's income comes from local sales. The more he sells in Idaho, the more he saves on transportation costs, he said.
"If I could get that number closer to 30 or 40 percent, that would be great," he said. "That is less I have to ship out of state."