Saturday, October 23, 2010

What were they thinking?

Go to the Reading Terminal Market's website and you'll find the market's logo proclaiming "Fresh & Local Every Day". The same phrase appears in many of the market's promotions and advertisements as it positions itself as the region's premier source of local foods.

So what was the market thinking allowing agro-industry giant General Mills to promote its Green Giant line of frozen produce at today's Harvest Festival? Green Giant even emblazoned its stall with the catchphrase "As Nutritious As Fresh!" (photo) directly across the hay-strewn asphalt of Harry Ochs Way (Filbert Street) from Iovine Brothers Produce's Harvest Festival display.

The RTM's general manager, Paul Steinke, was not available to provide an explanation. He was in Milan participating in this year's Terra Madre, the annual international event dedicated to local, fresh, sustainable artisinal foods sponsored by Slow Food International. That explanatory task was left to Sarah Levitsky, the RTM's marketing coordinator.

Basically, it was for the money. The Green Giant division approached the market looking for an opportunity to do an educational promotion extolling the nutritional value of its frozen vegetables. Although Levitsky didn't volunteer the dollar value she indicated that the fee helped underwrite the market's costs in staging the festival.

Now, I don't question the value and nutrition of frozen vegetables. Petite peas, for example, are a staple in my freezer. (BTW, canned petite peas were one of Green Giant's big hits in the early 20th century, when it was still the independent Minnesota Valley Canning Company based in LeSeur, Minnesota. The company was acquired by Pillsbury in 1979, which itself was gobbled up by General Mills in 2001.)

But if the market is going to promote itself as the year-round source of "Fresh & Local" foods, succumbing to General Mills' cash was regrettable. Especially so in light of the market's proposed acquisition of Farm to City, one of the region's major sponsors of farmers' markets.

One can't help but wonder what Fair Food, Iovine Brothers, O.K. Lee, L. Halteman Family, or Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce (all of which sell local produce) thought of the promotion. Even if they gave their assent, it just had to be grudgingly.

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