(05/19/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — Blueberry growers are hoping to avoid the drastically reduced sales that some other farms have experienced because of lost markets as a result of the coronavirus.
With limited movement, it may be hard to find local berries in stores, but there are ways to get the produce that you want and stay safe in the process.
LSU AgCenter agent Mary Helen Ferguson said farmers market operations are altered, school lunchrooms are closed and restaurants have not been able to offer dine-in service.
“At the same time, we still have to — and want to — eat,” she said. I want to make sure that you are aware of ways to find locally grown fruits and vegetables.”
Many people already know of local growers, roadside stands or grocery stores where they normally buy local produce. There are also websites that can help you find it.
The AgCenter and Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry have recently partnered to put together a map of local producers.
This service is available under the “LA Farm Food Map and Directory” tab on LDAF’s Coronavirus Information Center website www.ldaf.state.la.us/covid-19/. Growers who have not yet submitted their request to be listed on that site can go there to do so as well.
“Because that site has been just recently put together, only a few of our growers have listed themselves so far,” Ferguson said. “There are also other sites where you can find out who offers local produce.”
The Louisiana MarketMaker site, la.foodmarketmaker.com, allows you to search for a particular product in a specific area.
LocalHarvest at www.localharvest.org provides information in a similar way as the MarketMaker site, but not as many local operations are listed on this site, she said.
Growers who are part of the LDAF Louisiana Grown program can be found online at www.louisianagrown.com under the “Where to Buy” tab. There, choose among “Fruit & Veggie Producers,” “Horticultural,” “Sod Producers” and “Farmers Market.” Businesses are listed by parish.
People particularly interested in a pick-your-own experience can go to PickYourOwn.org to find information about u-pick farms.
First, select Louisiana, either from the list of states or on the map. Note that there seems to be a glitch with the map. To find farms in Washington or Tangipahoa parishes, for example, click on St. Tammany Parish (or another parish in the New Orleans area) or choose “New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana” from the list.
Just clicking on Washington or Tangipahoa on the map does not lead to the farm listings for these parishes, even though farms from both are listed on the website.
“If you’re thinking of visiting a u-pick farm, please contact them first to make sure they will be open when you plan to go,” Ferguson said.
AgCenter food safety specialist Achyut Adhikari said the nature of pick-your-own farm operations allows customers to go out in the field and harvest their own produce, which necessitates the importance of following best safety practices against COVID-19 at these operations.
“While at the farm, consumers should follow best management practices, which include maintaining a social distance of 6 feet from one another, wearing face coverings if required and following proper hygiene,” Adhikari said.
Growers should inform their customers that they will have hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer available at the facility entrance, he said.
Ferguson said local growers have already had Southern highbush blueberries available, and the more standard rabbiteye blueberries are starting to come in.
Rabbiteye blueberries. Photo by Allen Owings/LSU AgCenter