By STEPHEN SINGER, AP Business Writer

STURBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ New England farmers can look around the world or to the next town to sell a huge range of products, agriculture experts said at a farm conference Thursday.

Dennis Lynch of Food Export Northeast, a non-profit organization that promotes food and agricultural exports, told farmers that the region’s agriculture industry is capitalizing on its brand to significantly increase overseas exports.

And an organizer of a Connecticut winter market advised farmers not to ignore the year’s coldest season to sell their food.

The export of agricultural products has more than doubled to about $1.2 billion last year since 2008, Lynch said, crediting rising global demand. He said U.S. Commerce Department statistics show that exports to China from New England jumped from $85 million to $236 million.

Other countries buying from New England include Nigeria, Poland and Russia. “Globalization creates a customer everywhere,” he said.

“New England is a global brand. Everybody knows what that means,” Lynch said. “And it’s not just seafood.”
The six-state region also is known for producing processed foods, baked goods and preserves, he said.

More than 800 participants attended the three-day conference in Sturbridge that offered advice on marketing and merchandising, agritourism, finance and other topics.

Winter Caplanson, an organizer of the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market in Coventry, Conn., told farmers that winter markets offer farmers opportunities to broaden their markets and make more money.

Winter markets, which typically operate from late November to the end of February, offer little competition, provide an opportunity to develop niche markets and allow farmers to distribute their work over 12 months, she said.

However, Caplanson warned that winter markets draw only about one-tenth the attendance of summer markets.
Wayne Hansen, an organic farmer in Oneco, Conn., said he has successfully sold kale, spinach, bok choy and other leafy produce at winter markets.

“I sell out greens in the first hour of a three-hour market,” he said. “People are really excited to get greens in February that are not from California or Florida.”

Judy Blaisdell, agriculture promotions coordinator at the Maine Department of Agriculture, said winter markets are the “new buzzwords.”

For example, organizers are operating a winter market at an abandoned mill in Topsham. “The markets are becoming very creative and innovative,” she said.

Winter markets are still few in number, said Richard Macsuga, a marketing representative at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture.

“Farmers are working 16-hour days from April to October. Come November, December, they want to relax and gear up for the next season,” he said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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