In Season: Regional produce

That doesn’t happen by accident. At Whole Foods, there’s a guy whose job is to make sure local farmers are represented.

“Ultimately, the goal is to grow and support Southeastern agriculture,” says Kevin Doty, who, as Whole Food’s South regional produce coordinator, connects farmers with nearby Whole Foods locations. If an item is approved — say, African squash from Crystal Organics in Newborn or live basil from Sweetwater Growers in Canton — then it could appear in all 18 Whole Foods stores in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama or in just one, depending on each store’s definition of “local” and each producer’s output.

“If it’s a grower in Atlanta and they can only supply the Cobb store, that’s perfect; we have that going on all the time,” Doty says.

In its regional produce program, the company looks for unusual items, local varieties or produce that doesn’t travel well. Baby vegetables, local peach varietals and black raspberries are some examples. And if it can stock local broccoli instead of broccoli shipped from California, all the better. But all produce must meet the company’s standards for flavor and quality. “We’re looking for the highest-quality product that’s out there,” Doty says.

Products change seasonally, with the largest variety of local items sold between May and September. Current local produce in at least some metro stores includes broccoli and corn from Rosemont Farm in Tifton, hydroponic bibb lettuce from BJ’s Produce in Athens, sprouts from Vonnie’s Greens in Decatur and muscadine juice from Paulk Vineyards in Wray. It also sells local meat from producers, including White Oak Pastures in Bluffton and Thompson Farms in Dixie.

Whole Foods supports regional growers in other ways, too. It has helped farms receive organic certification. Through its Local Loan and Producer Program, it has helped small producers, such as Sweetwater Growers and White Oak Pastures, expand their businesses.

The company even supports farmers with whom it does not have a direct business relationship. Of the 18 Whole Foods stores in the South region, three host pickups for community supported agriculture ventures, in which subscribers get a weekly box of food from local growers. And five stores permit farmers markets to be held in their parking lots.

“The ultimate goal is to support local agriculture, whatever that means,” Doty says. “I would love to see a farmers market a week at every store.”

At local farmers markets

Beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, escarole, green onions, herbs, kale, lettuce, mixed greens, mustard greens, parsnips, radicchio, radishes, Swiss chard, turnip greens, turnips, winter squash

Local reports and the Packer

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Carrot and Sunflower Sprout Salad With Basil and Green Peppercorn Oil

Hands on: 5 minutes Total time: 5 minutes Serves: 4

We’ve revised this Whole Foods recipe slightly to accommodate the package size of Decatur-grown Vonnie’s sunflower sprouts, which are sold in area Whole Foods stores.

2 carrots, grated

1 (2-ounce) package sunflower sprouts

1/2 small head radicchio, sliced thin

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons Basil and Green Peppercorn Oil, recipe below

In a serving bowl, toss together carrots, sprouts, radicchio, vinegar and salt. Drizzle with oil and toss again to coat well.

Per serving: 69 calories (percent of calories from fat, 64), 1 gram protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 148 milligrams sodium.

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Basil and Green Peppercorn Oil

Hands on: 10 minutes Total time: 2 hours, 10 minutes Makes: about 1/2 cup

Use this oil to add a mild peppery accent to steamed or grilled veggies, mashed potatoes and vinaigrettes or to make Carrot and Sunflower Sprout Salad.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons green peppercorns, cracked using a mortar and pestle or pepper mill

16 basil leaves with stems (2 to 3 sprigs), roughly chopped

3 tablespoons canola or flax oil

Combine olive oil, cracked peppercorns and basil in a bowl. With a wooden spoon, smash the ingredients into the oil until well muddled. Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours to infuse flavors. Strain through a cheesecloth or fine strainer to remove solids. Stir in canola or flax oil, cover and refrigerate. Use within 2 weeks.

Per tablespoon: 176 calories (percent of calories from fat, 93), trace protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 19 grams fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 2 milligrams sodium.

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