By Donna Balancia

Call it the new patriotism.

Cheryl Goos of Melbourne Beach says she buys only fruits and vegetables that are grown in America.

“I only buy local produce. It’s fresh and it’s beautiful,” said Goos, who is willing to drive the extra miles and pay a few extra cents to buy fruits and vegetables at the Produce Place in Melbourne.

“They have everything that’s grown in this country, and they hand-pick their produce,” she said. “I’m buying the Georgia peaches here, Silver Queen corn from upstate New York and the Jersey tomatoes.”

Goos and her husband, George, are among a growing breed of consumers who opt to use their purchasing power to support their country.

The move to buy American produce — whether from a farm stand or supermarket — can help give the Florida economy a boost, too. There are 44,000 commercial farms in the state, and total cash receipts for Florida farm products totaled more than $6.8 billion in 2002, the last year for which complete statistics are available.

While known worldwide for its citrus, Florida also is a major U.S. producer of peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Nationwide, about 85 percent of fresh vegetables and 77 percent of fresh fruit consumed in the United States is grown in this country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And agriculture officials want to keep it that way — and even boost those percentages.

Ray Gilmer, director of public affairs at the Orlando-based Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, said the trend to buy American is good news for U.S. agriculture.

“Buying domestically grown fruits and vegetables is one way consumers can support American farmers, ensure they’re getting the freshest produce, and many believe that American-grown produce is just better,” Gilmer said.

Among them is Mary Posetti of Queens, N.Y., who visits her daughter in Indian Harbour Beach each summer.

“Quite frankly, I don’t want the vegetables from Central America or Mexico,” Posetti said, noting she shops in supermarkets for her vegetables, but she picks her items carefully.

“You don’t know what they spray the vegetables with when they’re outside of our country’s jurisdiction,” Posetti said. “They have child labor in many of these countries, and you don’t know what’s in the water they’re using.”

Cocoa-based psychologist Linda Martin said now is a time when the push to buy American is gaining momentum.

In times of war or threat of terrorism, people tend to band together in a variety of ways, Martin said.

“It’s a patriotic thing to support your own,” she said. “People have become more jingoistic.”

Martin said it’s a natural instinct to want to support your own people when there is a threat.

“Buying American products makes people feel more patriotic, and it’s really a good way to pump up the economy,” she said.

Teri Stonesifer of the Lake Washington section of Melbourne is an example of someone who wants to pump up the U.S. economy.

She said, in these times of international conflict, she has a mission.

“There are simply certain things I won’t buy,” she said. “I think we’ve given enough money over to Iraq. I buy American produce for that reason. And there really is nothing like Virginia tomatoes. My husband likes any vegetable that’s grown in New Jersey, so if I see something from there, I buy it. There are definitely some things I won’t buy now, if they’re from a foreign country.”

Sydney Mason, who moved to Indian Harbour Beach from Arkansas, said she also hunts out American produce.

“I go to the produce store at least four times a week,” she said. “Everything’s fresher, and it’s cool if it’s grown here in the United States. I like the strawberries, and even if the price were higher, I’d pay it.”

“I don’t think we’re out of the ordinary,” George Goos said, while shopping at the Produce Place. “I think there are a lot of people out there who support their country and, at the same time, want the best. I mean, look at those Idaho potatoes — they’re the size of footballs.”

His wife, Cheryl, said the extra pennies she’ll pay for her Silver Queen corn from New York represent a way of giving something back.

“The price reflects the quality of American-grown products,” she said. “The world knows America makes the best of everything.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 77 percent of the fresh fruit consumed in the United States are grown domestically:
Fruit percent
Apples 91
Apricots 77
Avocados 56
Blueberries 59
Cherries 90
Grapefruit 92
Lemons 91
Oranges 96
Plums 79
Peaches 93
Pears 79
Strawberries 93

In addition, 84.7 percent of the fresh vegetables consumed in the United States are grown domestically:
Vegetable percent
Bell peppers 72.9
Broccoli 92.5
Cabbage 95.9
Carrots 92.8
Cauliflower 96.4
Celery 95.0
Cucumbers 56.4
Onions 85.9
Spinach 97.4
Sweet corn 98.0
Tomatoes 63.2