The lack of hot weather in June and above-average rainfall in July prevented area crops from flourishing and has cut the number of local vegetable products available to consumers in some stores.
Kristen Brechter was steering a grocery cart through the produce department at Trucchi’s West Bridgewater store when something caught her eye.
She grabbed a plastic bag and began filling it with ears of corn.
“This is the freshest-looking supermarket corn I’ve seen,” said Brechter, of Bridgewater. “It’s bright green, not wilting and moist.”
For those who don’t get to farmers markets or roadside produce stands, the supermarket is often a good source for vegetables grown in southeastern Massachusetts.
But this year is an exception, farmers and retailers agreed, due to the rainy start to the growing season.
“Last year, we had 16 local products. This year, we have only eight,” said Bernie Oates, produce supervisor for Trucchi’s Supermarkets. “The weather really affected the crops.”
The spring rain that ran into the summer ruined many crops, frustrating home gardeners as well as farmers, said Deborah Swanson of the Plymouth County Extension service.
“We need another month of summer and we’re not going to get it,” Swanson said.
The National Weather Service in Taunton reported June’s rainfall totaled a normal 3.22 inches for the month. But it rained on 22 days of the month, more than average, depriving hot weather crops of the sun they need to thrive.
And July’s rainfall was 5.95 inches —which was 3.4 inches above normal, said meteorologist Bill Simpson.
Sun-loving crops include sweet corn, red tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans and pumpkins.
The corn that Brechter found at Trucchi’s in West Bridgewater, sold for five ears for $1.99, was being delivered from the field to the supermarket daily from nearby Robert’s Farm, Paul Faria, the store’s produce manager, said recently.
“It’s so fresh the steam (from the just-picked corn) is coming off it when it arrives,” said Faria, who sees more than 4,000 ears of corn go through his store every week during the summer.
But many consumers are seeing few locally grown products in grocery stores. For example, Cathy DiAuteuil of Brockton said didn’t find the tomatoes she was looking for at Trucchi’s last week.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “locally grown” as within 50 miles of the location where it’s sold.
Compare that with the average of 1,500 miles that most produce grown in the United States travels before it gets sold, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group.
“Some markets are using ‘locally grown’ as a marketing tool,” said Scott Soares, commissioner of the state Department of Agricultural Resources.
“Consumers should really know their farmers and ask where the products came from,” he said.
Farmers say they are hurting this year from the season’s rainy start, and so they have less locally grown produce for area grocery stores.
Steve Lipinski of Lipinski Farm in Hanson has supplied fresh produce to three Shaw’s supermarkets, but said many of his crops were destroyed by the rain this year. He said he doesn’t have the quantity needed to keep supplying the stores.
“You’re lucky if you have 25 or 30 percent of the crops left,” Lipinski said.
“We’re doing the best we can,” added Frank Cervelli of Cervelli Farms in Rochester. “We have some nice products but not enough of it.”
According to Cervelli, Shaw’s supermarkets tries hard to get local produce and he supplies some corn and tomatoes to the markets in Plymouth and Carver, but said, “We haven’t been able to do 100 percent.”
The Shaw’s store on Brockton’s East Side gets produce from Reed Brothers Farm in Rochester, according to Shaw’s. Reed Brothers did not return phone calls. At the store, a clerk said the corn was from Bridgewater.
Shaw’s said the chain gets produce from 150 farms throughout New England and some areas had a better season than southeastern Massachusetts.
“We can ship and obtain product from another farm whenever we have supply issues,” Shaw’s spokeswoman Judy Chong said.
Sometimes the farms are located outside southeastern Massachusetts, so Chong said the chain advertises the produce as “New England grown.”
This year, Roche Bros.’ produce is coming from Hopkinton and communities in western Massachusetts and goes through a supplier, said Jeff Hathaway, produce manager at the supermarket in Easton.
In years past, Roche Bros. featured corn, tomatoes and more from farms in East Bridgewater, Bridgewater and other local communities.
In its Bridgewater store, Roche Bros. signs indicated where all the produce was from. Corn, at eight for $1.99, and some tomatoes were labeled “Massachusetts grown.” Other labels said the products were from the U.S.A., Mexico and other areas.
Stop & Shop has been dealing with local farmers for more than 60 years, providing seasonal fresh vegetables to consumers, according to a company spokesman.
COMING NEXT: Too much rain and too little sun have brought pumpkin production to a standstill at local farms.
Elaine Allegrini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.