Just ask the fourth- and fifth-generation farmers of the Matthews family, and they will tell you: The best sweet potatoes grow in Arkansas.
So, using the Arkansas Grown logo on all the sweet potato boxes that leave Matthews Ridgeview Farms seems as natural as the Arkansas soil. The state-generated symbol brands their potatoes along with their farm’s fifth-generation label. And the mark helps distinguish their sweet potatoes for the taste and quality consumers recognize from Arkansas.
Any agricultural product grown or made in the state can bear the trademarked image with the Arkansas Agriculture Department’s approval.
“The potential is unlimited,” says Kim Matthews, who owns the northeast Arkansas farm with husband Terris. “The state is giving us the tools, and it’s up to us to use them. It can push us to separate from other states and other growers. And it can be a great, great tool. It all still falls back on us where we use that marketing strategy.”
The Arkansas Grown program launched in 2006 as a marketing effort of the Arkansas Agriculture Department. Farmers, packers and agricultural processors may apply to use the black-and-green or black-and-white versions of the Arkansas Grown branding label. Many choose to simply note their business on the Arkansas Grown website, arkansasgrown.org, a way to connect buyers with producers. Others, like the Matthews family, choose both.
About 380 farms and small businesses posted their information on the website as of late 2012. And the listings prove diverse. Buyers and consumers use the site to locate locally grown fruits, vegetables, nuts, beef, pork and poultry. They also can find U-pick farms, farmers markets, wineries and restaurants serving locally grown cuisine.
Farmers markets routinely use the program and its branding logo, says Zach Taylor, director of marketing for the department. The state plans to launch a marketing campaign in 2013 to encourage more food processors, wholesale farmers and others to adopt the brand. Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Butch Calhoun shares enthusiasm about the program’s potential.
“I am pleased with what the Arkansas Grown program has accomplished, and I am excited about our prospects for expanding the program,” Calhoun says. “I feel the Arkansas Grown program benefits consumers as well as producers.”
The logo greatly benefits the Matthews family’s ability to differentiate their product from other states and growers, particularly at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, Matthews says. Matthews Ridgeview Farms, the self-claimed largest grower/packer/shipper in Arkansas, sells to wholesalers and chain retailers all over the United States. They also send weekly shipments to Canada. The farm grew more than 1 million bushels of sweet potatoes in 2012.
“It lets people, especially in our state, be able to relate to that product and know that it’s grown in that state,” Matthews says.
Also under the umbrella of Arkansas Grown, the department works with a farm-to-school program, which connects local farmers and schools with the objective of including local food in school meals, Taylor says. And eventually, Arkansas would like to follow successful branding efforts in other states, he says. Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, for example, operate healthy and large-scale programs.
“I think it’s a very good program,” Matthews says. “The Department of Agriculture is doing their part. We just have to do our part to implement it.”