- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

MOUNDVILLE, Ala. (AP) - Don Chamberlain of Moundville has a growing network of small farmers with hothouse-produced certified organic vegetables to sell. Alan Rose of Asheville, N.C., provides field-grown organic vegetables to a growing number of Southeastern grocers who want more organic produce than he can provide.

The two men believe they can grow their businesses by teaming up.

Chamberlain is head of Southern Fresh Produce, a company that started last year in Moundville to set up a network of tunnel hothouses that can grow organic vegetables year round.

Chamberlain said in December when the first hothouses opened at an independently owned small farm about six miles south of Moundville that he hoped to have a network of 11,000 tunnel hothouses across the Southeast in ten years. There now are five independently owned tunnel hothouses in the Southern Fresh Produce network with five more planned by the end of the month.

“We are projecting that we will have 50 (tunnel hothouses) on farms in 11 months,” Chamberlain said Tuesday.

Driving that growth in part is Rose’s interest in getting a year-round supply of fresh organic produce to the Southeastern supermarkets he supplies.

Rose owns New Sprout Organic Farms LLC in Asheville. The farm has about 100 acres on which it grows organically certified produce.

“We have a short growing season. We plant in April and harvest in October,” he said.

Its crops are planted in fields and being in mountainous area, its growing season is shorter.

That limits the amount of fresh, locally grown produce it can get to customers. In the cooler months, his farm can furnish only sweet potatoes and potatoes, which can be kept in cold storage without perishing.

His customers -which include grocers like Whole Foods, Earth Fair and Ingles Market - have to get additional produce shipped in from parts of the country, he said.

“They (Southern Fresh Produce) have a more regional product,” Rose said. “It’s grown closer to its market and will be fresher and more nutritious.”

That’s important to customers who are willing to pay more for fresh organic vegetables.

Harvested fruits and vegetables lose nutrients the longer they are kept, he said. The goal is to get the produce to market and to consumers as quickly as possible after harvesting.

“People are more focused on their health and they are looking for ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Rose said. “People know if they eat healthier foods they will be healthier and can save on health care costs.”

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