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Buying local produce increasing in popularity

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Mike Mandarino, an Alachua County resident, picks strawberries as it begins to rain at Rogers Farms on a recent Saturday afternoon.  Rogers Farms is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

ALACHUA COUNTY – As he was picking strawberries Saturday afternoon and placing them into one of his two red buckets, it began to rain.

Mike Mandarino, an Alachua County resident and proponent of supporting the local community, was picking strawberries at Rogers Farms, which is located three miles north of Gainesville city limits on State Road 121.

“Everything we do, we do local,” he said.

As strawberry season gets fully underway in the Alachua County area, increased strawberry sales underscore a growing trend of area residents buying produce locally.

Larry Rogers, owner of Rogers Farms since it opened in 1984, said that he has seen an increase in people wanting to buy local produce.

"They're realizing that fresh is much better," he said.

Rogers opened his five-acre strawberry field for the strawberry season on March 15 and plans to keep it open until mid-April, weather permitting.

Although local residents have always bought products such as fruits and vegetables locally, the phenomenon has recently become more prominent, said John VanSickle, professor of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Florida.

"It's a fad," he said. "It's growing in popularity."

The reason why people are buying more local produce is because they equate local with quality, he said. Some people also buy local because of the social atmosphere.

"They do it because the quality is considered to be higher and [because of] the community appeal of it," he said.

Although getting produce locally can be more time-consuming and less convenient than getting it at a supermarket, he supports residents buying produce locally because it helps the surrounding economy.

"Buying local is good from a community perspective to support local farmers," he said.

Although buying local is becoming more widespread, most produce consumed still comes from long distances away.

"The average distance from farm to plate is 1,500 miles," said Ashley Pennington, Outreach Coordinator for the UF Office of Sustainability.

Pennington believes that it is important to have a strong and vital local economy. Because of this, the UF Office of Sustainability hosts off- and on-campus events to encourage people to buy local produce.

As a local food producer, Rogers is glad that people are increasingly appreciating locally-grown produce.

"You're helping the local economy, that's for sure," he said.