“Southern Exposure” – Southeast Produce Council Expo in Tampa Bay, Florida 2012

“Southern Exposure” – Southeast Produce Council Expo in Tampa Bay, Florida 2012

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The Southeast Produce Council, a industry association non-profit dedicated to promoting fresh fruits and vegetables from the southeastern region of the United States, hosted their annual conference this past weekend at the Tampa Bay Convention Center. I was invited to speak on a panel on How Food Bloggers Are Influencing Produce Consumers along with The Tampa Tribune’s Food Writer and author of The Stew food blog Jeff Houck, Aggie of www.AggiesKitchen.com, and Julie Fagan of PBFingers.com. The discussion was moderated by Heidi McIntyre, Co-founder of Produce for Kids (PFK).

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The discussion was lively and focused on topics like how do folks in the produce industry approach food bloggers with regards to their product and what the latest interesting trends were in both the social media aspect of reaching audiences as well as the latest trends in the food industry. It was generally agreed that the movement was going to be more and more fresh, natural and local based and sourced.
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One discussion topic that was brought up during the conference was the lack of diversity and variety in our local supermarkets. How often do you see exotic fruits or produce in your neighborhood Publix, and even worse how often are the fruits and vegetables there often tasteless? I had this problem a few times with cucumbers, they were just bland and lacking any distinguishable cucumber taste. Rather than shopping for what is in season, we have fruits and vegetables year round that are imported from thousands of miles away and treated with chemicals correspondingly to make them last longer en route to your local grocer. Proponents say that this is good for us because they can provide the produce cheaper and year round allowing for more consumers, but I wonder at what cost to health and the environment.

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Paula Deen is the queen of steamed veggies (butter included)

During the morning brunch, guest speaker Adam Putnam, Florida Commissioner of Agricultural and Consumer Services, spoke eloquently about the numerous threats to agriculture in Florida to the hundreds of produce industry folks from the Southeastern region (and with great composure, I might add, during unexpected interruptions at the Tampa Bay Convention by a neighboring fantasy card playing meet up).

Dramatization: Fantasy game players reacting when told to quiet down during Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam’s speech

Disastrous anti-immigration policies in neighboring Alabama has led to thousands of acres of fruits and vegetables rotting in the field due to lack of field hands to pick them. The immigration policy passed in Alabama was on the cusp of passing here in Florida, but luckily the legislature had enough sense to pull back and evaluate before criminalizing the undocumented workers that pick and pack the produce, a fact that went unspoken here at the breakfast. In addition to the quandary of labor policy, Florida faces countless threats from invasive species such as the Burmese Pythons, Giant African Land snail, and more that could throw off the delicate balance of nature in Florida and lead to disastrous billion dollar losses to the industry. In spite of all this, the outlook is cheery here at the Tampa Bay Convention Center with the Southeastern Produce Council, especially with aforementioned recent trends of more locally sourced food and produce.

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Sweet Vidalia Onions from Vidalia, Georgia

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“There’s a melon joke in there somewhere” – quipped Jeff Houck

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Squeezable garlic in a bottle, the wonders of Spice World

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Medjool dates – Natural Delights

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Avocado does wonders for your skin says the National Avocado Council

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Purple Sweet Potatos from North Carolina

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Grapples, apples flavored with grape juice

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